United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
TING YOU, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated and also known as Danny You, Plaintiff,
GRAND CHINA BUFFET & GRILL, INC., doing business as Grand China Buffet & Grill; ATLANTIC BUFFET & GRILL, LLC, doing business as Grand China Buffet & Grill; QI FENG CHEN; AMANDA CHEN; and HUI CHEN, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 93], GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SANCTIONS [DKT. NO. 86], AND
DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO WITHDRAW AS COUNSEL [DKT.
M. KEELEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
suit presents claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act of
1938 (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219, as
well as state law claims for unlawful employment practices.
The plaintiff, Ting You, also known as Danny You (“Mr.
You”), asserts that he is a former employee of Grand
China Buffet and Grill (“the Buffet”), a
restaurant previously located at 270 Emily Drive in
Clarksburg, West Virginia.
is a motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Grand
China Buffet & Grill, Inc., doing business as Grand China
Buffet & Grill (“Grand China”), Qi Feng Chen
(“Mr. Chen”), and Hui Chen (“Mrs.
Chen”). Also pending is a motion for sanctions filed by
Grand China and the Chens, as well as a motion to withdraw as
counsel filed by Mr. You's attorneys. For the reasons
that follow, the Court GRANTS the motion for
summary judgment (Dkt. No. 93), GRANTS in
part and DENIES in part the motion
for sanctions (Dkt. No. 86), and DENIES the
motion to withdraw as counsel (Dkt. No. 83), subject to
must, the Court reviews the evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party, Mr. You. See
Providence Square Assocs., L.L.C. v. G.D.F., Inc., 211
F.3d 846, 850 (4th Cir. 2000).
alleges that he worked as a waiter at the Buffet from
approximately April 10, 2013, to March 29, 2015, with the
exception of two months in the summer of 2013 (Dkt. No. 1 at
3, 6).According to Mr. You, Mr. and Mrs. Chen
owned and/or operated the Buffet throughout the duration of
his employment. Mr. You alleges that the Chens, as
owner-operators, had the authority to hire and fire
employees, to create work schedules, and to decide how much
employees were to be paid. Id. at 4-5.
asserts that he worked twelve to thirteen hours per day, six
days per week at the Buffet, for a total of seventy-four (74)
hours each week. Id. at 7. According to Mr. You, the
defendants paid him no wages, and he relied solely on tips,
which were subject to a “demerit system” if
customers complained about their meals or left without paying
the full bill. Id. Mr. You further alleges that he
did not receive any overtime pay, nor was he informed that
his tips counted toward the minimum wage. Id. at
filed suit against Grand China and the Chens in this Court on
March 16, 2017, alleging violations of the FLSA and of West
Virginia labor laws relating to minimum wages, overtime
wages, and the illegal retention of tips (Dkt. No. 1 at
12-17). Mr. You's complaint also named as a defendant
Atlantic Buffet and Grill, LLC, d/b/a Grand China Buffet
& Grill (“Atlantic”). Mr. You's specific
allegations against Atlantic are limited and, at most, allege
that the Buffet was owned by Atlantic at some point during
his employment. See id. at 3-4. As relief, Mr.
You seeks “(1) unpaid minimum wage, (2) unpaid overtime
wages, (3) the full portion of tips illegally retained and
pocked [sic] by Owner/Operator Defendants; (4) liquidated
damages, (5) prejudgment and post-judgment interest; and (6)
attorneys' fees and costs, ” and any other relief
the Court deems appropriate. Id. at 2.
the entry of an initial scheduling order (Dkt. No. 26), Mr.
You moved for conditional certification of a collective
action under the FLSA and the implementation of a
court-facilitated notice plan (Dkt. No. 34). In support of
his request, he alleged that the defendants regularly failed
to compensate him and other employees for time worked in
excess of forty (40) hours per week in violation of the FLSA
and proposed to represent a collective of former and current
restaurant employees. Based on insufficient factual evidence,
the Court concluded that Mr. You had failed to meet even his
minimal burden of demonstrating the existence of a putative
class of similarly situated persons and therefore denied his
motion for conditional certification (Dkt. No. 77). The case
thereafter proceeded as to Mr. You only.
discovery, Grand China filed a motion to compel based on Mr.
You's inadequate responses to its requests for
production. During a hearing on February 2, 2018, the Court
granted the motion to compel and ordered Mr. You to
supplement his responses within ten (10) days (Dkt. No. 62).
Thereafter, counsel for Grand China notified the Court of Mr.
You's failure to comply with the order (Dkt. Nos. 61;
62). During a subsequent show cause hearing, the Court
ordered that Mr. You be deposed within thirty (30) days at
the Clarksburg, West Virginia, point of holding court, and
that the parties divide equally the cost of the interpreter
required for the deposition (Dkt. No. 76).
being advised of Mr. You's availability by his counsel
and after obtaining a qualified translator, counsel for Grand
China and the Chens noticed Mr. You's deposition for
April 10, 2018 (Dkt. Nos. 82-3; 82-4). On March 30, 2018, Mr.
You's attorneys advised opposing counsel that they could
no longer confirm their client's availability on that
date, and that he “refused to consent to any
date” to be deposed (Dkt. No. 82-2). When defense
counsel sought clarification, Mr. You's attorneys
confirmed that Mr. You would not be appearing at his
deposition, despite the Court's prior order (Dkt. No.
pending is Grand China and the Chens' motion for summary
judgment on Mr. You's claims (Dkt. No. 93). In support of
their motion, the defendants argue that the claims against
them are time-barred by the applicable statutes of
limitations (Dkt. No. 94 at 2-5). Specifically, Grand China
and the Chens contend that they sold the Buffet to Atlantic
on August 31, 2013, a date prior to Mr. You's earliest
possible “reach-back” date for alleged violations
under the FLSA and West Virginia labor laws. Thus, they
cannot be liable for Mr. You's allegedly unpaid wages or
any other alleged wage and hour violations. Id. In
response, Mr. You contends that genuine issues of material
fact exist as to when Grand China and the Chens stopped
operating the Buffet (Dkt. No. 96 at 6-8).
China and the Chens have also moved for sanctions under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. They argue that sanctions
are appropriate in this case because Mr. You repeatedly
failed to satisfy his discovery obligations and twice failed
to comply with orders of this Court (Dkt. No. 87). Also
pending is a motion to withdraw as counsel filed by Mr.
You's attorneys (Dkt. No. 83).
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate only “if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for
summary judgment, the Court reviews all the evidence
“in the light most favorable” to the nonmoving
party. Providence Square Assocs., L.L.C. v. G.D.F.,
Inc., 211 F.3d 846, 850 (4th Cir. 2000). The Court must
avoid weighing the evidence or determining its truth and
limit its inquiry solely to a determination of whether
genuine issues of triable fact exist. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court
of the basis for the motion and of establishing the
nonexistence of genuine issues of fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party
has made the necessary showing, the non-moving party
“must set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 256 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The
“mere existence of a scintilla of evidence”
favoring the non-moving party will not prevent ...