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Henry v. Community of Hope Center, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division

March 1, 2017

WILLIE MACK HENRY, BRIAN POWELL, SHAUN POWELL, MELVIN THOMAS, EBB O'NEAL, JR., AUTHOR LEE HAVARD, CHARLINE WRIGHT, and CAROLYN HORNE, Plaintiffs,
v.
COMMUNITY OF HOPE CENTER, INC., d/b/a WALTER WESLEY JOYNER ACADEMY and JOHNNY VAUGHN, Defendants.

          ORDER

         On October 21, 2014, Plaintiffs filed this action against Defendants Community of Hope Center, Inc. d/b/a Walter Wesley I Joyner Academy (the "Academy") and its Chief Executive Officer, Johnny Vaughn, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. Plaintiffs seek unpaid overtime wages.

         Both Defendants, through counsel, filed an answer on December 4, 2014. (Doc. No. 6.) After an extended discovery period, the case was stayed to allow the parties the opportunity to pursue settlement.[1] (Orders of Mar. 15 & May 23, 2016, Doc. Nos. 31 & 34.) However, on September 1, 2016, counsel for Defendants sought to withdraw from the case, which was permitted pursuant to this Court's Order of September 6, 2016. (Doc. No. 36.) Despite this Court's admonition, the Academy failed to obtain counsel. Ultimately, this Court directed the Clerk of Court to strike the Academy's answer to the complaint and to enter default against it. (See Order of Dec. 27, 2016, Doc. No. 38.) Presently, Plaintiffs have filed a motion for default judgment against the Academy.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         This recitation of facts is drawn from the allegations in the Complaint, which are deemed admitted as a result of the Academy's default. See Nishimatsu Const. Co. v. Houston Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir. 1975)[3] (" [D]efendant, by his default, admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact . . . .").

         The Academy provides residential and educational services to youth placed by the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services. At all relevant times, each of the Plaintiffs were employed by the Academy as "house parents." The Academy classified Plaintiffs as exempt for FLSA purposes such that they were not paid overtime at the rate of one and half times their regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. Despite the classification, Plaintiffs were not exempt employees and were subject to the overtime provisions of the FLSA. Plaintiffs customarily and regularly performed work that was not directly related to the management or general business operations of the Academy. In particular, Plaintiffs' primary duties were the supervision of residents and the provision of security at the school. Plaintiffs' work involved little to no discretion, independent judgment, or managerial decision-making authority. Plaintiffs were closely supervised by their supervisors, and their tasks were largely dictated by instruction and policy lists provided to Plaintiffs by their supervisors.

         Plaintiffs routinely worked in excess of 60 hours a week and were not paid for the overtime work. Plaintiffs allege that the Academy's violation of the overtime provision of the FLSA was "willful" within the meaning of the FLSA.[4]

         Through their motion for default judgment, Plaintiffs seek reimbursement for the overtime hours and the award of liquidated damages as well as attorney's fees and costs under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         w[D]efendant's default does not in itself warrant the court in entering a default judgment. There must be a sufficient basis in the pleadings for a judgment entered . . . . The defendant is not held to admit facts that are not well-pleaded or to admit conclusions of law." Nishimatsu Constr. Co., 515 F.2d at 1206.w[T]hree distinct matters [are] essential in considering any default judgment: (1) jurisdiction; (2) liability; and (3) damages." Pitts ex rel. Pitts v. Seneca Sports. Inc., 321 F.Supp.2d 1353, 1356 (S.D. Ga. 2004).

         II. JURISDICTION

         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1337(a) because Plaintiffs' cause of action arises under the FLSA. Moreover, Plaintiffs sufficiently plead incorporated under the laws of the state of Georgia with its principal place of business located in Georgia.

         III. LIABILITY

         Plaintiffs' complaint sufficiently states a cause of action under the FLSA. Under § 207 of the FLSA, "an employer may not employ his employee for a workweek longer than forty hours unless his employee receives overtime compensation at a rate not less than one and a half times his regular rate." Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1)). To state a claim for unpaid overtime wages, Plaintiffs must allege (i) that they are covered by FLSA; (ii) that the Academy employed them; (iii) that they worked in excess of 40 hours per week; and (iv) that the Academy did not pay them overtime wages. Fresh v. Diamond Dev. & Invs., Inc., 2016 WL 2745836, at *5 (N.D.Ga. May 11, 2016) . By failing to answer the allegations of the complaint, the Academy has admitted to these essential facts. The Academy has also admitted that its failure to pay overtime was willful.[5] Because the Academy has failed to provide overtime compensation to Plaintiffs, it has violated the FLSA and is liable therefor.

         IV. DAMAGES

         A default judgment as to liability is not final until the amount of damages is determined. *[T]he Court determines the amount and character of damages to be awarded" by virtue of a default. Miller, 75 F.Supp.2d at 134 6. The plaintiffs have the burden of proving the amount of damages to be awarded.''It is the employer's duty to keep records of the employee's wages, hours, and other conditions and practices of employment, " and it is the employer "who is in a superior position to know and produce the most probative facts concerning the nature and amount of work performed." Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb Cnty.. 495 F.3d 1306, 1314 (11thCir. 2007) . "For that reason, in situations where the employer has failed to keep records or the records cannot be trusted, the employee satisfies [his] burden of proving that [he] performed work without compensation if [he] produces sufficient evidence to show the amount and extent of that work as a matter of just and reasonable inference." Jackson v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 606 F.App'x 945, 952 (11th Cir. 2015) (citation ...


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