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Simmons v. Twin 918 Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

December 27, 2019

ADIA SIMMONS, on behalf of herself and all other similarly situated individuals, Plaintiff,



         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Plaintiff Adia Simmons's (“Plaintiff”) Motion for Final Default Judgment, ECF No. [26] (“Motion”), filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2) against Defendant Executive Management & Consultants International, LLC (“Defendant”).[1] A clerk's default was entered against Defendant on November 20, 2019, ECF No. [20], because Defendant failed to answer or otherwise plead to the complaint, despite having been properly served. See ECF No. [11]. The Court has carefully considered the Motion, the record in this case and the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion is granted in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initiated this action on September 9, 2019, asserting claims for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 216, et seq. (“FLSA”), the Florida Minimum Wage Act, and unjust enrichment. ECF No. [1] (“Complaint”). According to the Complaint, Plaintiff was employed as an exotic dancer at Defendant's adult entertainment club, VLive Miami, from January, 2016 until December, 2017. Id. ¶ 24, 26, 28. Plaintiff worked between seven and ten hours per shift during her employment. Id. ¶ 29. She never received any wages during her employment. Id. ¶¶ 30-31.

         Plaintiff regularly worked over forty hours in a work week and was not paid the federally mandated minimum wage. Id. ¶ 32. In addition, Defendants charged Plaintiff a “rental fee” per shift worked, and required Plaintiff to share tips with other non-service employees who do not customarily receive tips. ¶¶ 19-20. Plaintiff received tips and/or dance fees from Defendants' customers, but no other form of payment from their employer. Id. 21. Defendants illegally classified dancers as independent contractors, when Plaintiff was an employee. Id. ¶ 23. Defendant required Plaintiff and all exotic dancers to perform private and semi-private dances under pricing guidelines, policies, procedures, and promotions set exclusively by Defendants. Id.

         In the Motion, Plaintiff seeks the entry of final default judgment against Defendant on her claims.


         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b), the Court is authorized to enter a final judgment of default against a party who has failed to plead in response to a complaint. This Circuit maintains a “strong policy of determining cases on their merits and we therefore view defaults with disfavor.” In re Worldwide Web Sys., Inc., 328 F.3d 1291, 1295 (11th Cir. 2003). Nonetheless, default judgment is entirely appropriate and within the district court's sound discretion to render where the defendant has failed to defend or otherwise engage in the proceedings. See, e.g., Tara Prods., Inc. v. Hollywood Gadgets, Inc., 449 Fed.Appx. 908, 910 (11th Cir. 2011); Dawkins v. Glover, 308 Fed.Appx. 394, 395 (11th Cir. 2009); In re Knight, 833 F.2d 1515, 1516 (11th Cir. 1987); Wahl v. McIver, 773 F.2d 1169, 1174 (11th Cir. 1985); Pepsico, Inc. v. Distribuidora La Matagalpa, Inc., 510 F.Supp.2d 1110, 1113 (S.D. Fla. 2007); see also Owens v. Benton, 190 Fed.Appx. 762 (11th Cir. 2006) (default judgment within district court's direction).

         A defendant's “failure to appear and the Clerk's subsequent entry of default against him do[es] not automatically entitle Plaintiff to a default judgment.” Capitol Records v. Carmichael, 508 F.Supp.2d 1079, 1083 (S.D. Ala. 2007). Indeed, a default is not “an absolute confession by the defendant of his liability and of the plaintiff's right to recover, ” Pitts ex rel. Pitts v. Seneca Sports, Inc., 321 F.Supp.2d 1353, 1357 (S.D. Ga. 2004), but instead acts as an admission by the defaulted defendant as to the well-pleaded allegations of fact in the complaint. See Eagle Hosp. Physicians, LLC v. SRG Consulting, Inc., 561 F.3d 1298, 1307 (11th Cir. 2009) (“A defendant, by his default, admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact, is concluded on those facts by the judgment, and is barred from contesting on appeal the facts thus established.”) (citations omitted); Descent v. Kolitsidas, 396 F.Supp.2d 1315, 1316 (M.D. Fla. 2005) (“the defendants' default notwithstanding, the plaintiff is entitled to a default judgment only if the complaint states a claim for relief”); GMAC Commercial Mortg. Corp. v. Maitland Hotel Assocs., Ltd., 218 F.Supp.2d 1355, 1359 (M.D. Fla. 2002) (default judgment is appropriate only if court finds sufficient basis in pleadings for judgment to be entered, and that complaint states a claim). Stated differently, “a default judgment cannot stand on a complaint that fails to state a claim.” Chudasama v. Mazda Motor Corp., 123 F.3d 1353, 1370 n.41 (11th Cir. 1997). Therefore, before granting default judgment, “the district court must ensure that the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint . . . actually state a cause of action and that there is a substantive, sufficient basis in the pleadings for the particular relief sought.” Tyco Fire & Sec., LLC v. Alcocer, 218 Fed.Appx. 860, 863 (11th Cir. 2007).


         Upon a review of Plaintiff's submissions, the Court finds a sufficient basis in the Complaint to enter default judgment in Plaintiff's favor. Because Defendant has not appeared, “all of Plaintiff's well-pled allegations in the Complaint are deemed admitted.” Ordonez v. Icon Sky Holdings LLC, No. 10-60156-CIV, 2011 WL 3843890, at *5 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 30, 2011) (citing Buchanan v. Bowman, 820 F.2d 359, 361 (11th Cir. 1987)). Having reviewed the Complaint, the Court finds Plaintiff's allegations well-pled, and sufficient to establish Defendant's liability. By default, Defendant has admitted the truth of the allegations, and accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff has established its claims against Defendant.

         “If the admitted facts in the Complaint establish liability, then the Court must determine appropriate damages.” Ordonez, 2011 WL 3843890, at *5. “Where all the essential evidence is on record, an evidentiary hearing on damages is not required.” Id. (citing SEC v. Smyth, 420 F.3d 1225, 1232 n.13 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Rule 55(b)(2) speaks of evidentiary hearings in a permissive tone . . . We have held that no such hearing is required where all essential evidence is already of record.” (citations omitted)). Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $318, 254.00, including $33, 486.00 in unpaid wages, $5, 581.00 in unpaid overtime, $120, 060.00 in house fines, fees, and tip outs wrongfully retained by Defendant, and an equal additional amount of liquidated damages in the amount of $159, 127.00. ECF No. [26-2]; see also ECF No. [8]. In support of the claim, Plaintiff submits her own affidavit. Id. Accordingly, under the facts of this case and in light of the evidence contained in the record, the Court finds that a hearing on damages is unnecessary and the requested amount of damages is justified.

         In addition to damages, Plaintiff also requests attorney's fees in the amount of $12, 855.00 and reimbursement of costs in the amount of $1, 148.62. The FLSA provides that “[t]he court . . . shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). In Norman, the Eleventh Circuit provided the framework within which courts may analyze the reasonableness of an award of attorney's fees. Norman v. Housing Auth. of City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1292 (11th Cir. 1988) (“For decades the law in this circuit has been that [t]he court . . . is itself an expert on the question and may consider its own knowledge and experience concerning reasonable and proper fees . . . .”).

         First, a district court must determine the lodestar figure by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. Id. at 1299; Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (“The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonable expended on the ligation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.”); Cuban Museum of Arts & Culture, Inc. v. City of Miami,771 F.Supp. 1190, 1191 (S.D. Fla. 1991) (“[T]his court must begin by calculating the lodestar, the hours reasonably expended by counsel multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.”). “A reasonable hourly rate is the prevailing market rate in the relevant legal community for similar services, by lawyers of reasonable comparable skills, experience, and reputation.” Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299. The relevant legal community is “the place where the case is filed.” ACLU v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 437 (11th Cir. 1999) (quotations and citation omitted). The movant ...

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