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Paredes v. Paulison Car Wash & Detailing, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 23, 2018

RICHARDSON PAREDES, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
PAULISON CAR WASH & DETAILING, INC., etal, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JOSE L. LINARES Chief Judge, United States District Court

         This matter comes before the Court upon the defendants' oral motion during the bench trial to bar six individuals - Sotero Bonilla, Vivian Carrillo, Eusebio Fuentes, Geronimo Fuentes, Bernardino Bonilla Martinez, and Enrique Garcia (hereinafter, "the Six Additional Individuals") - from being deemed to be additional party plaintiffs in this action. (ECF No. 120 at 12-15; see also ECF No. 121 at 4-7.) The caption for the complaint lists ame, i.e., Hipolito Paredes and Richardson Paredes (hereinafter, "the Two Paredes Plaintiffs"). The counsel for the Two Paredes Plaintiffs (hereinafter, "Plaintiffs' Counsel") orally opposed that motion, and argued that the Six Additional Individuals should be treated as party plaintiffs. (ECF No. 120 at 18-19; see a/so ECF No. 121 at 7 8.)

         At the Court's direction, the parties filed letter briefs in support of and in opposition to the oral motion. (ECF No. 117 at 1-3; ECF No. 118 at 1-3.) The Court has reviewed the papers and relevant portions of the trial transcript. For the following reasons: (1) the defendants' oral motion is denied; (2) the Six Additional Individuals are deemed to be party plaintiffs to this action; and (3) the bench trial in this action will resume on the date directed by the Court herein.

         BACKGROUND

         The Court has previously set forth the relevant factual and procedural background underlying this action at length. (See ECF No. 35 at 1-3 (an Order, entered on March 8, 2016, denying defendants' motion to enforce settlement agreements); ECF No. 64 at 1-17 & ECF No. 65 at 1-2 (an Opinion and an Order, both entered on December 7, 2016, addressing the motion filed by Plaintiffs' Counsel for summary judgment); ECF No. 104 at 1-3 (an Order, entered on December 15, 2017, memorializing the Court's determinations concerning the parties' motions in limine following oral argument on those motions).) Accordingly, the Court need not restate, and hereby incorporates, the same herein. However, for the sake of clarity, the Court sets forth the following.

         I. Previous Filings

         This action was initiated in June 2014 as a purported collective action pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a, et seq., by the Two Paredes Plaintiffs, who were employed by the defendant Paulison Car Wash & Detailing, Inc. (hereinafter, "the Car Wash"). (ECFNo. 1.) The Two Paredes Plaintiffs sought to recover for the underpayment of minimum wages and overtime wages by the Car Wash and its owners, the defendants Salah Obeidalla and Samir Abuhaltam, "on behalf of [themselves] and a collective consisting of similarly situated employees who performed work for Defendants as car washers and related jobs at Defendant Paulson Car Wash & Detailing, Inc." (Id. at 3.)

         In July 2014, one month after the Two Paredes Plaintiffs brought this action, Plaintiffs' Counsel filed notices on behalf of the Six Additional Individuals, all of whom: (1) were employed by the defendants; (2) consented to join in the action; and (3) designated Plaintiffs' Counsel as their attorneys. (ECF No. 3 (Notice of Filing by Plaintiffs' Counsel, dated July 24, 2014); ECF No. 3-1 (Bonilla's Notice, signed on July 1, 2014); ECF No. 3-2 (Carrillo's Notice, signed on July 10, 2014); ECF No. 3-3 (Notice of Eusebio Fuentes, signed on July 3, 2014); ECF No. 3-4 (Notice of Geronimo Fuentes, signed on July 3, 2014); ECF No. 3-5 (Martinez's Notice, signed on July 10, 2014); ECF No. 3-6 (Garcia's Notice, signed on July 3, 2014).) The Six Additional Individuals alleged in each of their Notices that they "wish[ed] to participate in a lawsuit to recover any unpaid wages that may be owed to [them] under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act against Paulison Car Wash." (E.g., ECF No. 3-6.)

         The defendants filed an answer to the complaint in October 2014. (ECF No. 11.) From that time forward, even though Plaintiffs' Counsel did not move to certify this action as a class action, move to conditionally certify the action, or move to amend the caption to add the Six Additional Plaintiffs to the case, Plaintiffs' Counsel consistently indicated to the defendants and to the Court that they represented the interests of the Two Paredes Plaintiffs and the Six Additional Individuals. (See, e.g., ECF No. 17 (in correspondence to the Magistrate Judge filed in June 2015, Plaintiffs' Counsel indicating that "[t]his firm is legal counsel to [the Two Paredes] Plaintiffs . . ., Opt-in Plaintiffs Sotero Bonilla, Vivian Carrillo, Eusebio Fuentes . . ., Geronimo Fuentes . . ., Bernardino Bonilla Martinez, and Enrique Garcia . . . and the putative class" in this action); ECF No. 32-1 at 23 (disclosures made by Plaintiffs' Counsel pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 in February 2015, which listed the Six Additional Individuals); ECF No. 50-2 at 1-6 (Statement of Material Facts filed by Plaintiffs' Counsel in August 2016 in support of a motion for summary judgment, which listed the Two Paredes Plaintiffs and the Six Additional Individuals as plaintiffs in this action, and which specifically asserted wage-underpayment allegations on behalf of all of them); ECF No. 87 at 6 (Plaintiffs' Counsel, in a brief filed in support of a motion in limine in September 2017, identifying the plaintiffs in the action as being the Two Paredes Plaintiffs and the Six Additional Plaintiffs); ECF No. 108 at 5, 14 (Plaintiffs' Counsel, in the Pretrial Memorandum of Law, listing the same, and setting forth the expected trial testimony of the Six Additional Individuals).)

         Indeed, Plaintiffs' Counsel reiterated that the Six Additional Individuals were to be treated as party plaintiffs in the Proposed Pretrial Orders that were submitted to the Court. (See ECF No. 81-2 at 2 (first Proposed Pretrial Order submitted in July 2017 asserting that "[t]his is an action for money damages brought by Plaintiffs Hipolito Paredes; Richardson Paredes; Vivian Carrillo Pinto; Enrique Garcia; Geronimo Fuentes; Bernardino Bonilla Martinez; Eusebio Fuentes; and Sotero Bonilla" concerning "Defendants willful[] fail[ure] to pay them at a rate in compliance with the statutory minimum [w]age rate and fail[ure] to pay them overtime compensation at one and one-half times their hourly wage rate"); see also Id. at 5, 9-11 (setting forth wage-underpayment claims on behalf of the Six Additional Plaintiffs, and asserting that they were expected to testify at trial); ECF No. 84 at 2, 6-7 (second Proposed Pretrial Order submitted in August 2017 asserting the same); ECF No. 85 at 2, 7 (third Proposed Pretrial Order submitted in September 2017 asserting the same).) Furthermore, the Court's Joint Final Pretrial Order, entered in October 2017, identified the Two Paredes Plaintiffs and the Six Additional Individuals as the party plaintiffs, without objection from the defendants. (See ECF No. 97 at 2, 7.)

         In addition, the defendants have previously acknowledged in their filings that they: (1) considered the Six Additional Individuals to be party plaintiffs here; and (2) were preparing to defend themselves against any allegations made on behalf of the Six Additional Individuals. (See, e.g., ECF No. 25 (defendants' correspondence filed in October 2015 arguing that "the majority of Plaintiffs in the purported class entered into settlement agreements directly with the Defendants"); ECF No. 27 at 2 (defendants' correspondence filed in November 2015 arguing that "Defendants entered into binding settlement agreements with plaintiffs Hipolito Paredes, Geronimo Fuentes, Bernard[ino] Bonilla [Martinez], Vivian Carrillo, and Enrique Garcia"); ECF No. 32 at 5 (defendants arguing the same, and once again identifying Geronimo Fuentes, Bernardino Bonilla Martinez, Vivian Carrillo, and Enrique Garcia as "plaintiffs, " in a brief filed in January 2016 in support of a motion to enforce the settlement agreements, which the Court eventually denied); ECF No. 32-1 at 98 (defendants' October 2015 correspondence to Plaintiffs' Counsel "to confirm" that Plaintiffs' Counsel represented, among others, five of the Six Additional Individuals); ECF No. 56-7 at 2-26 (defendants' May 2016 correspondence sent to Plaintiffs' Counsel, as opposed to the Six Additional Individuals personally, seeking to depose the Six Additional Individuals, all of whom the defendants identified as being "your clients").)

         This acknowledgement by the defendants as to the status of the Six Additional Individuals continued throughout the stages in this action involving dispositive motion practice and the motions in limine. (See ECF No. 56 at 5-8 (defendants' Counterstatement of Disputed Facts filed in September 2016 in response to Plaintiffs' Counsel's motion for summary judgment, wherein defendants specifically: (1) disputed the wage-underpayment claims that were made by the Six Additional Individuals; and (2) asserted that "Defendants provided voluminous discovery to counsel for [the Two Paredes Plaintiffs and the Six Additional Individuals] (collectively the 'Plaintiffs)"); ECF No. 56 at 16 (defendants' brief in opposition filed in September 2016 to Plaintiffs' Counsel's motion for summary judgment, wherein defendants acknowledged that they sought to depose the Six Additional Individuals in order to prepare to defend against their allegations); ECF No. 61-1 at 1 (defendants identifying the Two Paredes Plaintiffs and the Six Additional Plaintiffs in a certification as being the plaintiffs in this action); ECF No. 92-1 at 1 (defendants' certification filed in support of their motion in limine, wherein the defendants sought to "bar the introduction of the plaintiffs' Hipolito Paredes, Richardson Paredes, Vivian Carrillo Pinto, Enrique Garcia, Geronimo Fuentes, Bernardino Bonilla Martinez, Eusebio Fuentes, and Sotero Bonilla (collectively the 'Plaintiffs') time records stolen from the Defendants"); ECF No. 93-1 at 1 (defendants' certification filed in opposition to Plaintiffs' Counsel's motion in limine, wherein "plaintiffs" are listed as the Two Paredes Plaintiffs and the Six Additional Individuals).)

         Despite the aforementioned apparent acknowledgements concerning the Six Additional Individuals, the defendants did not seek further clarification from the Court concerning the status of the Six Additional Individuals before the bench trial commenced. On the first day of the bench trial, which was three-and-a-half years after the defendants filed their answer in this action, the defendants orally moved for the first time to bar the Six Additional Individuals from being treated as party plaintiffs, and to bar Plaintiffs' Counsel from introducing any evidence on behalf of the Six Additional Individuals at trial. (ECF No. 120 at 12-15.)

         II. ...


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