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Wang v. Chapei LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 19, 2019

WEIGANG WANG and HAILONG YU, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHAPEI LLC d/b/a WOK EMPIRE and CHA LEE LO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MICHAEL A SHIPP. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants Chapei LLC d/b/a Wok Empire ("Chapei") and Cha Lee Lo's (/'Ms. Lo") (collectively, "Defendants") Motion for Judgment on Partial Findings[1] pursuant to Federal Rule[2] of Civil Procedure 52(c). (See July 10, 2019 Trial Tr. (Trial Tr. IF') 36:21-37:7; 95:4-5.) Plaintiffs Weigang Wang ("Mr. Wang") and Hailong Yu ("'Mr. Yu") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") opposed. (Id. 43:17-45:3; 98:17-99:24.) The Court has carefully considered the parties' arguments and conducted a two-day bench trial. For the reasons set forth below, and other good cause shown, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion for Judgment on Partial Findings.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit against Defendants for wage and hour violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §201, et seq. ("FLSA") and New Jersey Wage and Hour Law, N.J.S.A. 34:11 to -56a, et seq. ("NJWHL"). The Court held a bench trial on July 9, 2019 and July 10, 2019. Plaintiffs called two witnesses as part of their case-in-chief-Mr. Wang and Mr. Yu. Defendants called one witness as part of their case-in-chief-Ms. Lo.

         Defendants moved for a Judgment on Partial Findings at the close of Plaintiffs" casein-chief. (Trial Tr. [I 36:21-37:7.) The Court reserved on the Motion until the close of evidence as permitted under Rule 52(c) (id 46:22-47:9), and Defendants renewed their Motion at the close of Defendants' case-in-chief (id 95:4-5).

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 52(c) provides:

If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a nonjury trial and the court finds against the party on that issue, the court may enter judgment against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue. The court may, however, decline to render any judgment until the close of evidence. A judgment on partial findings must be supported by findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Rule 52(a).

         "A judgment pursuant to Rule 52(c) is appropriate whe[n] the plaintiff fails to make out a prima facie case or whe[n] the Court determines that the preponderance of the evidence goes against the plaintiffs claim." Lee v. Kim, No. 12-316, 2013 WL 4522581, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 27, 2013) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); cf. Vazquez v. Caesar's Paradise Stream Resort. 524 Fed.Appx. 831. 833 (3d Cir. 2013) (reviewing the district court's grant of a Rule 52(c) motion that the defendant raised at the close of the plaintiffs case-in-chief and then renewed at the close of evidence). "'Unlike Rule 50, under Rule 52(c), the court does not consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, but rather weighs the evidence, resolves any conflicts!, ] and determines for itself where the preponderance of the evidence lies." Kim, 2013 WL 452258] at *3 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         III- Findings of Fact[3]

         The following section constitutes the Court's factual findings only as it pertains to Defendants' Motion for Judgment on Partial Findings. See red. R. Civ. Proc. 52(c) (requiring the Court to base its disposition on findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Rule 52(a)). The Court, therefore, only makes factual findings with respect to Plaintiffs' FLSA claims and declines to make factual findings with respect to Plaintiffs' MJWHL claims. The below Findings of Fact are derived from facts stipulated to in the final pre-trial order, as well as the parties' trial exhibits, and the witnesses' trial testimony.

         A. Background of Chapei

         1. Chapei is a New Jersey limited liability company. (Final Pre-trial Order, Stipulated Facts. ECF No. 84.)

         2. Ms. Lo has the authority to hire and fire Chapei employees, as well as determine Chapei employees' working hours and pay rates. (Trial Tr. II 61:5-19.)

         3. During the time period in question, Chapei operated seven Chinese "fast food" restaurants, which were located inside ShopRite supermarkets. (July 9, 2019 Trial Tr. ("Trial Tr. I") 17:19-18:4.)

         4. During the relevant time period, all Chapei locations were located within the following New Jersey towns: Aberdeen, Brick Township, [4] Lawrenceville, Middletown, Neptune, Somerville, and Toms River. (Trial Tr. I 16:22-17:1; Trial Tr. 1148:23-49:5.)

         5. Chapei's vendors included Heng Long, located in Union, New Jersey, and Kenkau Market, located in Somerville. New Jersey.[5] (Trial Tr. II 58:9-59:4.)

         6. [n 2012, two employees worked at the following Chapei locations: Aberdeen, Brick Township, Lawrenceville, Middletown, and Somerville. (Trial Tr. II 63:2-21.)

         7. At any given time in 2012, one or two employees worked at Chapei's Neptune location. (Id.)

         8. At any given time in 2012, three employees worked at Chapei's Toms River location. (Id.)

         9. The number of employees located at each Chapei location generally did not change between 2012-2015. (Id. 64:4-6.)

         B. Chapel's Payment System

         10. Chapei paid its employees by check once per month. (Id. 17:3-8; 58:9-14.)

         11. Each paycheck covered the employee's work for the prior ...


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