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Martagon v. Murillo

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

December 18, 2019

Rosa Maria Bello Martagon, and Juan Jorge Marin Hernandez, Plaintiffs,
v.
Alejandro Murillo and Overnight Cleanse LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RENEE HARRIS TOLIVER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court are the parties' cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. Doc. 38; Doc. 39. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is DENIED and Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In October 2018, Plaintiffs filed the operative complaint, alleging that: (1) since 2008, Defendants employed Plaintiffs to perform overnight commercial cleaning every night at two restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; (2) although Plaintiffs generally worked ten hours per day for seven days a week, they were not paid time-and-a-half for their overtime hours; (3) in January 2018, Defendant Murillo (“Murillo”) agreed to pay Plaintiff Martagon $3, 400.00 per month and Plaintiff Hernandez $4000.00 per month for cleaning two Capital Grille locations; (4) from January through March 2018, Plaintiffs generally cleaned the Dallas Capital Grille kitchen between midnight and 5:00 a.m. and cleaned the Plano Capital Grille kitchen and seating area from 5:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.; (5) despite repeated promises, Defendants did not pay Plaintiffs in either February or March 2018; and (6) Plaintiffs were employees of either Murillo or Defendant Overnight Cleanse, LLC (“Overnight Cleanse”) during the period relevant to this dispute. Doc. 8 at 2-7.

         Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendants under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for minimum wage and overtime violations. Doc. 8 at 8. Plaintiffs also invoked the Texas Minimum Wage Act (“TMWA”) and asserted claims for (1) breach of contract and, in the alternative, quantum meruit for the period from February through March 2018; and (2) perpetration of fraud by an alter ego, insofar as Murillo used Overnight Cleanse to perpetrate an actual fraud on Plaintiffs by procuring their continued labor with false promises that they would be paid. Doc. 8 at 8-10. Defendants now move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims, Doc. 38, and Plaintiffs have cross-moved for partial summary judgment on their breach of contract claim, Doc. 39.

         II. APPLICABLE LAW

         Summary judgment shall be granted when the record shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). A dispute regarding a material fact is “genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all disputed facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). Once the moving party has made an initial showing that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the party opposing the motion must come forward with competent summary judgment evidence showing the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         III. PARTIES' ARGUMENTS AND ANALYSIS

         A. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         After reciting the law governing summary judgment proceedings, Defendants essentially reargue the merits of their previous motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Doc. 38-1 at 4 (“Plaintiffs' amended complaint does not comply with the fair notice pleading requirements” and “does not show a plausible right to relief”); Doc. 38-1 at 5 (“[D]espite having had the opportunity to replead, Plaintiffs do not add any factual assertions to support their claim or even address these basic elements of a wage claim.”); Doc. 38-1 at 8-9 (reciting breach of contract elements and asserting that “Plaintiffs do not include these basic allegations, ” which warrants dismissal); Doc. 38-1 at 9-10 (arguing that Plaintiffs' fraud claim “violates Rule 9, which requires particularity in pleading fraud claims.”). Even if such allegations were appropriately raised in the summary judgment context, the Court will not again address them, having already denied Defendants' motion to dismiss on the same bases. SeeDoc. 54.

         Defendants also argue in a conclusory manner that they are entitled to summary judgment because (1) “[Plaintiffs] cannot meet their burden of proof on the essential elements” of their claims; (2) “Plaintiffs are independent contractors;”; (3) Plaintiffs “cannot provide sufficient evidence on the elements of their breach of contract claim”; (4) “without any evidence on any essential claims, summary judgment should be granted” on Plaintiffs' quantum meruit/unjust enrichment claim; and (5) “Plaintiffs lack evidence of any essential element of their fraud claims and summary judgment should be granted.” Doc. 38-1 at 7-10. The only supporting evidence to which Defendants generally point is Murillo's deposition testimony, which they argue supports the “uncontroverted” propositions that “Plaintiffs are not employees” and that Murillo has “conclusively established” his affirmative “good-faith” defense that he acted in reliance on unspecified “regulations, orders, and rulings.” Doc. 38-1 at 6-7.

         While Plaintiffs respond to each of Defendants' points, they first assert that Defendants failed to meet their burden under Rule 56(c) because they make only conclusory statements rather than cite to any evidence of record that entitles them to relief. Doc. 76 at 2-4. The Court agrees. The United States Supreme Court has made clear that “a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24.

         To meet this initial burden, “[i]t is not enough for the moving party to merely make a conclusory statement that the other party has no evidence to prove his case.” Ashe v. Corley, 992 F.2d 540, 543 (5th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). At a minimum, the moving party must “point[ ] out that there is no evidence to support a specific element of the nonmovant's claim.” Austin v. Kroger Texas L.P., 864 F.3d 326, 335 n.10 (5th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). In other words, “[s]imply filing a summary judgment motion does not immediately compel the party opposing the motion to come forward with evidence demonstrating material issues of fact as to every element of its case.” Russ v. Int'l Paper Co., 943 F.2d 589, 591-92 (5th Cir. 1991). Rather, the party moving for summary judgment must cite to evidence that affirmatively demonstrates the absence of a material issue of fact. See Ashe, 992 F.2d at 543-44 (holding that the movant had not met its summary judgment burden because it failed to point out an absence of proof on any factual issues, and its motion was more akin to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion).

         Here, Defendants have not cited to any evidence that tends to illustrate the absence of a material fact on any of Plaintiff's claims. Id. Indeed, Defendants only briefly cite to Murillo's deposition testimony twice. Docs. 38-1 at 6; 38-2 at 37-38. They do so the first time for the supposedly “uncontroverted” proposition that “Plaintiffs are not employees.” Doc. 38-1 at 6. This proposition, however, is anything but “uncontroverted.” In fact, the polar opposite ...


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