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Martinez v. Tri-State Enterprises LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

November 16, 2018

ANGEL MARTINEZ, on his own behalf and PLAINTIFF On behalf of all others similarly situated
v.
TRI-STATE ENTERPRISES LLC, REGINA BROCK, MICHAEL L. BROCK, and LEE BROCK DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          MICHAEL P. MILLS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [113]. The Court, having considered the memoranda and submissions of the parties, along with relevant case law and evidence, is now prepared to rule.

         Background

          Plaintiff, Angel Martinez, began working for Defendant, Tri-State Enterprises LLC (Tri-State), in 2012. Tri-State, located in Walls, Mississippi, is owned by Defendant, Michael Brock. Defendant Mike Brock's wife, Regina Brock, and his son, Lee Brock, were also involved in certain operations of Tri-State. Regina Brock was responsible of ensuring all workers were compensated their earned wages and Lee Brock helped with other needs.

         Plaintiff contends that Tri-State, Michael Brock, Regina Brock, and Lee Brock (collectively “the Defendants”) failed to compensate him with overtime pay for all hours worked over the normal forty hours per week, thereby violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). According to Plaintiff, the Defendants owe him $16, 000 (estimate) in overtime pay for his labor since February 16, 2013. In the motion at hand, Plaintiff seeks summary judgment on grounds that he was an employee for purposes of the FLSA; that the Defendants are joint-employers; and that the Defendants acted willfully in violating the FLSA. Plaintiff would also have this court grant summary judgment as to liquidated damages and attorney's fees.

         Standard

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). At the summary judgment stage, the court must “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000). Once the moving party shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, the nonmoving party “must come forward with specific facts showing a genuine factual issue for trial.” Harris ex rel. Harris v. Pontotoc Cty. Sch. Dist., 635 F.3d 685, 690 (5th Cir. 2011). “[A] party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or ‘only a scintilla of evidence.'” Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)).

         Discussion

         For a Plaintiff to recover under the FLSA, the Plaintiff must demonstrate that he was an employee of the Defendant. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).

         A. Plaintiff Was An Employee of Tri-State for FLSA Purposes.

         “To determine if a worker qualifies as an employee, we focus on whether, as a matter of economic reality, the worker is economically dependent upon the alleged employer or is instead in business for himself.” Hopkins v. Cornerstone America, 545 F.3d 338, 343 (5th Cir. 2008). As to economic reality, the court considers the following five factors: (1) the degree of control exercised by the alleged employer; (2) the extent of the relative investments of the worker and the alleged employer; (3) the degree to which the worker's opportunity for profit or loss is determined by the alleged employer; (4) the skill and initiative required in performing the job; and (5) the permanency of the relationship. Id. “No single factor is determinative.” Id.

         a. The degree of control exercised by Tri-State and the degree to which Plaintiff's opportunity for profit and loss was determined by Tri-State weigh in favor of employee status.

         As to the control and opportunity for profit and loss factors, the Court finds that both were largely determined by Tri-State. “Control is only significant when it shows an individual exerts such a control over a meaningful part of the business that [he] stands as a separate economic entity.” Brock v. Mr. W Fireworks Inc., 814 F.2d 1042, 1049 (5th Cir. 1987). “The lack of supervision over minor regular tasks cannot be bootstrapped into an appearance of real independence.” Id.

         In the case at hand, Defendants argue that Plaintiff retained control, and that his opportunity for profit and loss was not determined by Tri-State, because Plaintiff set his own hours, negotiated his rate of pay and was originally intended to be hired as a cutter. This court, however, finds that such arguments are not fully convincing. Although Plaintiff was originally intended to be hired as a cutter, he was instead hired to take charge of any support work for the cutters with whom Tri-State contracted (as discussed below). Per Defendant Mike Brock's deposition, he (an employer of Plaintiff-as discussed below) held and negotiated contracts with other companies, cutters then entered into contractual agreements with Tri-State, and Defendant Mike Brock would then pay Plaintiff out of the “contract per ton price of the metal that [he] would buy back from the cutters.” During his time at Tri-State, Plaintiff earned an hourly wage by working for Tri-State to support the contracted cutters. This Court notes that Plaintiff's initial wages were at a rate of $9 per hour and increased throughout his time with Tri-State. However, the fact that Tri-State granted wage increases to Plaintiff does not itself keep Plaintiff from being an employee under the FLSA. This Court finds that Plaintiff had no opportunity to profit beyond his hourly wage earnings, and, although Plaintiff was able to set his own hours, he ...


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