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Jackson v. Contemporary Family Services, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 31, 2019

LAPORTIA JACKSON et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CONTEMPORARY FAMILY SERVICES, INC. et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN D. BATES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         LaPortia Jackson, Sequoyah Sherrill, Luc Nicholas Houanche, and Gregory John Tolson (“plaintiffs”) sued Contemporary Family Services, Inc. (“CFS”), and its owner, John L. Monroe, Jr. (collectively, “defendants”), alleging that defendants failed to pay them for work done in April 2018. After defendants failed to appear, file an answer, or otherwise respond to the complaint, the Clerk's Office entered a default against them. Plaintiffs now move for a default judgment under Rules 54(d)(2) and 55(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court grants plaintiffs' motion.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         CFS provided counseling, therapy, and advisory services to Medicaid recipients in the District of Columbia. Compl. [ECF No. 1] at 2-3. Plaintiffs each worked for CFS as counselors and therapists during the relevant period, April 2018. Id. ¶¶ 7-10. On April 30, 2018, CFS- experiencing financial difficulties-terminated plaintiffs' employment. Id. ¶ 12. According to plaintiffs, after their termination, CFS failed to pay them for work they had performed in April. Id. Sherrill alleges that she also was not paid for certain work performed in previous months. Id.

         Affidavits from each of the plaintiffs set out their claimed hourly wages and unpaid hours, which are summarized in the following chart:

Hourly Wages Unpaid Hours Total Unpaid Wages

Jackson

$60.00

72.99

$4, 379.40

Sherrill

$50.00

116.55

$5, 827.50[2]

Houanche

$25.00

52.00

$1, 300.00

Tolson

$45.00

100.00

$4, 500.00

Total

--

341.54

$16, 006.90

See Jackson Aff. [ECF No. 11-3] ¶ 15; Sherrill Aff. [ECF No. 11-4] ¶ 16; Houanche Aff. [ECF No. 11-5] ¶ 12; Tolson Aff. [ECF No. 11-6] ¶ 15.

         Plaintiffs' complaint, filed on October 11, 2018, seeks damages under two statutes: the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 (“FLSA”), and the D.C. Wage Payment and Collection Law, D.C. Code § 32-1301 (“DCWPCL”). ”). Compl. ¶ 1. Defendants failed to appear or answer within 21 days of being served with the complaint and continued to take no action thereafter. See Affidavit of Service [ECF No. 4]; Affidavit of Service [ECF No. 5]; Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(a)(1)(A)(i) (requiring defendants to “serve an answer . . . within 21 days of being served with the summons and complaint”). The Clerk of Court entered a default against them on January 14, 2019. See Entry of Default as to Contemporary Family Servs. [ECF No. 9]; Entry of Default as to John L. Monroe [ECF No. 10].

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs now request that the Court enter a default judgment against defendants in the amount of $16, 006.90 in unpaid wages, $48, 020.70 in liquidated damages under the DCWPCL, $43, 817.40 in attorney's fees, and $1, 435.01 in litigation costs. Pl.'s Mot. for Entry of Default J. & Award of Att'y's Fees & Costs (“Pl.'s Mot.”) [ECF No. 11] at 16-17; Pl.'s Suppl. to Mot. for Att'y's Fees and Costs (“Pl.'s Suppl. Mot.”) [ECF No. 14] at 1.

         Entry of a default judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b) is “committed to the discretion of the trial court, ” and is generally appropriate where a defendant is an “essentially unresponsive party whose default is plainly willful, reflected by its failure to respond to the summons or complaint, the entry of default, or the motion for default judgment.” Reyes v. Kimuell, 270 F.Supp.3d 30, 33 (D.D.C. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted); Int'l Painters & Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Auxier Drywall, LLC, 531 F.Supp.2d 56, 57 (D.D.C. 2008). Where there is a complete “absence of any request to set aside the default or suggestions by the defendant that it has a meritorious defense, it is clear that the standard for default judgment has been satisfied.” Auxier Drywall, 531 F.Supp.2d at 57 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Such is the case here. Defendants have not responded to the summons, complaint, entry of default, or motion for default judgment. Hence, the Court finds that entry of default judgment is appropriate. The Court also finds that plaintiffs' complaint sufficiently alleges facts to support their claims under the FLSA and the DCWPCL.

         However, although a “default judgment establishes the defaulting party's liability for every well-pled allegation in the complaint, ” it does not “automatically establish liability in the amount claimed by the plaintiff.” PT (Persero) Merpati Nusantara Airlines v. Thirdstone Aircraft Leasing Grp., Inc., 246 F.R.D. 17, 18 (D.D.C. 2007) (citing Adkins v. Teseo, 180 F.Supp.2d 15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001)). Courts must “make an independent determination of the amount of damages to be awarded, unless the amount of damages is certain.” Serv. Employees Int'l Union Nat. Indus. Pension Fund v. Artharee, 942 F.Supp.2d 27, 30 (D.D.C. 2013). “In doing so, a court need not conduct an evidentiary hearing if it can establish a basis for the amount of damages through detailed affidavits or other documentary evidence.” Reyes, 270 F.Supp.3d at 34.

         Here, the Court concludes that damages can be established based on the current record without an evidentiary hearing. Each plaintiff provided the Court with affidavits to support his or her damages request. True, none of the plaintiffs supported their affidavits with documentary evidence, such as pay stubs or other records, to support the hours they claim to have worked.[3] But “because the employer is responsible for maintaining such records, courts are reluctant to penalize plaintiffs without documentation in cases where the ...


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