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Han v. Kwak's Wellness

May 20, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freda L. Wolfson, U.S.D.J.


WOLFSON, United States District Judge

Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) brought by Plaintiff Dae Young ("Plaintiff") to dismiss the counterclaims of pro se Defendants Charles Kwak, Joann Kwak, Chung Hyeon Oh, and Jong E. Oh (collectively "Defendants"). In their Answers, Defendants assert identical counterclaims for fees and costs seeking unspecified damages and fees arising from Plaintiff's allegedly frivolous complaint. The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's submissions, and for the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss is granted.


Defendants own, operate, and manage Kwak's Wellness, LLC and JCK Trading LLC (collectively "Corporate Defendants"), located in Warren, New Jersey. Pl.'s Amended Compl. ¶¶ 9-15. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants employed him as a maintenance worker from February 20, 2007 until May 26, 2007. Id. ¶28. During that time, Plaintiff's duties included regular maintenance, assisting with Tae Kwon Do classes, engaging with potential customers, and assembling and repairing massage equipment. Id. ¶30. For Plaintiff's efforts, Defendants promised to pay him $500 a week. Id. ¶31. However, Plaintiff alleges that he only received a total of $1,500 in cash over the course his employment. Id. ¶32. In addition, although Plaintiff consistently worked over 60 hours a week during his time at Defendants' business, he alleges that he was never paid at an overtime rate. Id. ¶34.

On May 29, 2008, Plaintiff initiated this action in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, filing an Amended Complaint on August 26, 2008, adding Jong E. Oh and Chung Hyeon Oh as Defendants. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff seeks unpaid wages and statutory damages, alleging: (1) violation of the Federal Minimum Wage Requirement, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq; (2) violation of the New Jersey's minimum wage requirement, N.J. Stat. Ann. 34:11-56a1; (3) failure to pay overtime wages, in violation of federal and state law; (4) breach of contract; (5) violation of New Jersey's unpaid wages statute, N.J. Stat. Ann. 34:11-4.1; and (6) quantum meruit; and (7) unjust enrichment. On August 29, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal Without Prejudice, dismissing Kwak's American Tae Kwon Do, Inc. Then, Defendants, on September 19 and 23, 2008, filed individual but identical Answers and Counterclaims to Plaintiff's Complaint. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed this Motion to Dismiss Defendants' Counterclaims on October 29, 2008. However, Defendants never filed any opposition to this Motion and on May 15, 2009, this Court notified Defendants that it would consider the Motion unopposed.

On December 1, 2008, this matter was reassigned from the Honorable Garrett E. Brown, U.S.D.J., to this Court. Defendants made individual applications for pro bono counsel on January 5, 2009, which were subsequently denied by the Honorable Tonianne J. Bongiovanni on January 13, 2009. Additionally, in a scheduling order entered on January 30, 2009, Judge Bongiovanni instructed Corporate Defendants to retain counsel and file Answers by March 30, 2009 or face non-monetary and monetary sanctions, including the Entry of Default.*fn1 On March 31, 2009, Corporate Defendants filed Answers and Counterclaims but failed to retain counsel. As a result, Plaintiff requested an Entry of Default against Corporate Defendants on April 2, 2009, which the Clerk of the Court entered on April 9, 2009, pursuant to Judge Bongiovanni's January 30th order. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss Defendants' Counterclaims is granted.


A. Standard of Review

When reviewing a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, courts "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir.2008) (citation and quotations omitted). In Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), the Supreme Court clarified the 12(b)(6) standard. Specifically, the Court "retired" the language contained in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Id. at 1968 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46). Instead, the factual allegations set forth in a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965. As the Third Circuit has stated, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

When a party fails to oppose a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court is still obligated to address the motion on its merits; thus, this Court must determine whether Defendants' counterclaims fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). West v. American Honda Motor Co., No. 08-0700, 2008 WL 4104683, at *2 (D.N.J. Aug. 28, 2008) (citing Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29, 30 (3d Cir.1991)).

B. Construing Defendants' Counterclaim

At the outset, the Court must determine what cause of action, if any, is being asserted by Defendants' Counterclaims. In doing so, the Court is obligated to construe Defendants' pro se pleadings liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2004) ("[The Court will] apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name."). However, pro se parties must still comply with the pleading standards as set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which requires the allegations in a complaint to set out a "short and plain statement of the claim."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Notwithstanding this generous standard, a pro se party cannot rely on bald assertions or legal conclusions to survive a motion to dismiss. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). In applying 8(a), the Court "must determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff[ ] may be entitled to relief, and ... must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom." Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir.1996) (citing Holder ...

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