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Baclawski v. Mountain Real Estate Capital LLC

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

October 27, 2017

ANNE BACLAWSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
MOUNTAIN REAL ESTATE CAPITAL LLC; MOUNTAIN ASSET MANAGEMENT GROUP LLC; and PETER FIORETTI, Defendants.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. KEESLER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on “Defendants' Motion In Limine” (Document No. 103) and “Defendants' Motion To Bifurcate” (Document No. 104) filed October 22, 2017. The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), and immediate review is appropriate. After careful consideration of the record, the parties' written submissions, and oral argument at a hearing on October 24, 2017, the undersigned will grant Defendants' motion in limine, and deny the motion to bifurcate as moot.

         DISCUSSION

         “Defendants' Motion In Limine” seeks “to prohibit Plaintiff Anne Baclawski, and anyone testifying or arguing on her behalf, from presenting any testimony, evidence, and/or arguments to the jury regarding evidence related to Defendants' potential liability for, and amount of, punitive damages.” (Document No. 103, p.1). Defendants “anticipate that Plaintiff will seek an award of punitive damages at trial, ” and the First Amended Complaint states that based on Defendants' alleged retaliation, Plaintiff is entitled to “compensatory damages, emotional distress damages, liquidated and statutory damages, punitive damages, pre-judgment interest, post-judgment interest, attorneys' fees and costs, and other compensation” Id. See also (Document No. 14, p.99).

         As will be addressed below, the Court is not convinced there will be a retaliation claim to present to a jury; nevertheless, even if Plaintiff's retaliation claim proceeds, the undersigned will respectfully decline to allow Plaintiff to seek punitive damages.

         Punitive Damages

         Defendants contend that punitive damages are not available under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and therefore, “Plaintiff should be prohibited from presenting any evidence as to liability for, or amount of, punitive damages.” (Document No. 103, pp.1-2). By their motion in limine and motion to bifurcate, Defendants argue in the alternative that there should be no argument, testimony, or evidence about punitive damages until a second phase of a bifurcated trial, if necessary. (Document Nos. 103 and 104). In support of their position, Defendants identify the following caselaw from within the Fourth Circuit:

Keene v. Rinaldi, 127 F.Supp.2d 770, 772 (M.D. N.C. 2000) (noting that liquidated damages can be recoverable under the FLSA, but punitive damages cannot be recovered); Walker v. Pettit Constr. Co., 605 F.2d 128, 130 (4th Cir. 1979) (“The Fair Labor Standards Act, of course, makes no provision for the recovery of punitive damages.”); Orshal v. Bodycote Thermal Processing, Inc., No. 1:15CV674, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97203, at *10 (M.D. N.C. July 26, 2016) (recognizing that “courts in this district have found that punitive damages may not be recovered for a violation of the FLSA.”); Lanza v. Sugarland Run Homeowners Ass'n, 97 F.Supp.2d 737, 740 (E.D.Va. 2000) (noting that the FLSA does not permit an award of punitive damages, and that the Act “is designed to compensate the aggrieved employee, not punish the offending employer.”); Jordan v. Gobo, Inc., No. 6:09-cv-00059, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42778, at *26 (W.D.Va. Apr. 30, 2010) (“Punitive damages are not permitted under the FLSA.”).

(Document No. 103, pp.1-2).

         In opposition, Plaintiff notes that section 216 of the FLSA provides for “legal and equitable relief” for unlawful FLSA retaliation. (Document No. 109, pp.1-2) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 216(b)). More fully, the FLSA states:

Any employer who violates the provisions of section 206 or section 207 of this title shall be liable to the employee or employees affected in the amount of their unpaid minimum wages, or their unpaid overtime compensation, as the case may be, and in an additional equal amount as liquidated damages. Any employer who violates the provisions of section 215(a)(3) of this title shall be liable for such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate to effectuate the purposes of section 215(a)(3) of this title, including without limitation employment, reinstatement, promotion, and the payment of wages lost and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.

29 U.S.C.A. § 216 (b). (Emphasis added).

         Adopting reasoning from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Plaintiff contends that punitive damages are included in the “legal and equitable relief” allowed by the FLSA. (Document No. 109, p.2) (citing Marrow v. Allstate Sec. Investigative Servs., Inc., 167 F.Supp. 838, 841 (E.D.Pa. 2001) and Travis v. Gary Community Mental Health Ctr., Inc., 921 F.2d 108, 111-12 (7th Cir. 1990)). Plaintiff declines to specifically address the authority cited by Defendants, but acknowledges that the Fourth Circuit “has not ruled upon the recovery of punitive damages for an FLSA retaliation claim” and that the Eleventh Circuit has held that punitive damages are not available under the FLSA. Id. (citing Randolph v. ADT Sec. Servs., Inc., 2012 WL 2234362 (D.Md. June 14, 2012) (citing Snapp v. Unlimited Concepts, Inc., 208 F.3d 928, 933-39 (11th Cir. 2000)).

         Plaintiff concludes that this Court should also adopt the reasoning in Marrow, which followed Travis, and thus ignore the rulings in Snapp, Walker, and other district courts within the Fourth Circuit. (Document No. 109, pp.2-3). Moreover, Plaintiff's counsel at the hearing seemed to suggest that the Court should allow the claim for punitive damages to proceed, ...


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