Tag Archives: Burden of Proof

6th Cir.: Where Plaintiff Presented No Other Evidence, Plaintiff’s Testimony Alone Sufficient to Defeat Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment

Moran v. Al Basit LLC

This case was before the Sixth Circuit on the plaintiff’s appeal of the trial court’s order awarding defendants summary judgment on liability. As explained in more detail in the court’s decision, the defendants relied on their own time and pay records, and testimony from plaintiff’s former supervisor, in which they denied that plaintiff ever worked more than 40 hours in a workweek. Although the plaintiff testified that the records were not accurate and that he typically worked approximately 58 hours per week, the court below adopted the testimony of the defendants that plaintiff never worked in excess of 30 hours per week, and thus was properly paid $10 per hour (or $300 per week). The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded, and applied well-settled law regarding the parties’ respective burdens at the summary judgment stage.

The court framed the issue before it as follows:

This appeal raises one simple question: Where Plaintiff has presented no other evidence, is Plaintiff’s testimony sufficient to defeat Defendant’s motion for summary judgment?

The Sixth Circuit held that an FLSA plaintiff’s testimony alone is sufficient to defeat a defendant’s motion for summary judgment:

We hold that it is. Plaintiff’s testimony coherently describes his weekly work schedule, including typical daily start and end times which he used to estimate a standard work week of sixty-five to sixty-eight hours. The district court characterized this testimony as “somewhat vague .” (R. 26, Opinion and Order, Page ID # 475.) However, while Plaintiff’s testimony may lack precision, we do not require employees to recall their schedules with perfect accuracy in order to survive a motion for summary judgment. It is unsurprising, and in fact expected, that an employee would have difficulty recalling the exact hour he left work on a specific day months or years ago. It is, after all, “the employer who has the duty under § 11(c) of the [FLSA] to keep proper records of wages [and] hours,” and “[e]mployees seldom keep such records themselves.”Anderson, 328 U.S. at 687. Defendants emphasize the fact that Plaintiff’s testimony is inconsistent with the allegedly contemporaneous timesheets Defendants provided to the court. But these timesheets do not amount to objective incontrovertible evidence of Plaintiff’s hours worked. Plaintiff denies the validity of these timesheets, which were handwritten by Defendants, and contends that Defendants sanctioned his overtime work. Whether his testimony is credible is a separate consideration that is inappropriate to resolve at the summary judgment stage.

Putting this case in perspective, the Sixth Circuit discussed its prior jurisprudence regarding the same issue:

We have previously found that a Plaintiff’s testimony can create a genuine issue of material fact foreclosing summary judgment in a lawsuit brought under the FLSA. In O’Brien v. Ed Donnelly Enters., Inc., 575 F.3d 567 (6th Cir.2009), we considered a collective action brought against an employer for underpayment of wages in violation of the FLSA. Although we affirmed the district court’s decertification of the collective action in O’Brien, we considered the district court’s grant of summary judgment as to the lead plaintiffs. Plaintiff O’Brien alleged both that the defendants altered her time records and that she was required to work off-the-clock. With respect to O’Brien’s “off-the-clock” claim, the defendants argued that they were “not liable under the FLSA because there is no evidence that defendants knew that O’Brien was working without compensation.”Id. at 595–96. Nonetheless, despite the lack of corroborating evidence, we held that the district court “erred when it granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to O’Brien’s ‘off the clock’ claim,'” since the plaintiff’s own “deposition testimony clearly creates a genuine factual issue, because she asserts that [the defendants] knew that she was working off the clock.”Id. at 596. The O’Brien court reached this conclusion despite the plaintiff’s at times contradictory testimony. Id. at 595.

This holding is consistent with our decision in Harris v. J.B. Robinson Jewelers, where we explicitly found that a plaintiff’s testimony is itself sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. 627 F.3d 235 (6th Cir.2010). In Harris, we considered the appropriateness of summary judgment where a plaintiff testified that her jeweler had replaced a diamond in her ring with a smaller, less-valuable diamond. In that case, we reviewed the district court’s decision to exclude the plaintiff’s testimony as well as its decision to exclude the affidavits of three corroborating witnesses. Notably, we determined that “[the plaintiff’s] testimony alone is sufficient to create a jury question regarding the alleged replacement [of her diamond].”Id. at 239 (emphasis added). The district court in this case disregarded the applicability of that determination to the case at hand, focusing instead on the fact that the Harris court also deemed admissible the sworn affidavits of the three corroborating witnesses. Such disregard was mistaken. Our opinion in Harris clearly states that, regardless of the three additional affidavits, the plaintiff’s testimony was itself sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact.

The same principles at work in Harris and O’Brien apply here. Despite the lack of corroborating evidence, Plaintiff’s testimony is sufficient to create a genuine dispute of material fact that forecloses summary judgment at this juncture. Defendants cite to no Sixth Circuit precedent for the opposite conclusion; rather, they rely on three district court opinions and a handful of opinions from other circuits. None of these cases counsel in favor of ignoring clearly applicable Sixth Circuit caselaw. The district court cases cited by Defendants are neither precedential nor instructive in the present case, and we note that this Court did not have an opportunity to review their reasonableness on appeal. Nor do the out-of-circuit cases cited by Defendants belie the applicability of our own Circuit’s on-point precedent and the basic tenets of summary judgment law to the case at hand.

As such the court concluded:

On summary judgment, all reasonable inferences must be made in favor of the non-moving party and, as we have held in the past, a plaintiff’s testimony alone may be sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact thereby defeating a defendant’s motion for summary judgment. This is such a case. Here, Plaintiff put forward testimony that contradicted that of Defendants, describing his typical work schedule with some specificity and estimating that he worked sixty-five to sixty-eight hours a week on average. This contradictory testimony creates a genuine issue of material fact.

We therefore REVERSE the ruling of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Click Moran v. Al Basit LLC to read the entire Sixth Circuit decision.

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W.D.Tex.: Plaintiffs Retained Right to Open and Close at Trial; Defendants’ Attempt to Shift Burden With Admissions on the Eve of Trial Denied

Ransom v. M. Patel Enters, Inc.

This case was before the court on the Defendants’ Motion to Open and Close Evidence and Case.  Apparently seeking to gain the tactical advantage of addressing the jury first and last (opening and closing), normally reserved for the plaintiff in a typical case, the defendants sought leave just prior to trial to file a third amended complaint.  If granted, defendants’ motion would have permitted them to admit the plaintiffs’ prima facie case (i.e. that they worked uncompensated overtime), and rendered the issue of whether plaintiffs were exempt the sole issue at trial.  The plaintiffs refused to accept defendants stipulations regarding their prima facie case, instead preferring to retain the right to open and close the case.  Largely due to the fact defendants’ filed their motion on the eve of trial, the court denied defendants’ motion.

Denying defendants’ motion(s), the court reasoned:

“This presents the Court with an atypical controversy—and one which the Court could not find case law discussing: the Plaintiffs oppose the Defendants’ motion to admit facts proving a portion of the Plaintiffs’ case, facts that the Plaintiffs have the burden of proving at trial. Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs’ refusal to agree to the amendment demonstrates that they are trying to unnecessarily prolong the evidence solely to hold on to the right to open and close.

The deadline to amend pleadings passed months ago. Therefore, the Defendants must demonstrate good cause to obtain leave to amend. Meaux Surface Prot., Inc. v. Fogleman, 607 F.3d 161, 167 (5th Cir.2010). “Four factors are relevant to good cause: (1) the explanation for the failure to timely move for leave to amend; (2) the importance of the amendment; (3) potential prejudice in allowing the amendment; and (4) the availability of a continuance to cure such prejudice.” Id. As the Defendants admit, this is a strategic move. They want to present their evidence first. Obtaining a strategic advantage is not good cause for leave to amend. Had the Defendants wished to obtain this advantage, they should have admitted these facts early in the case, instead of contesting them until the final pretrial conference. The Plaintiffs note that they spent time and money gathering evidence on both their prima facie case and on the issue of the individual defendants’ status as “employers” under the FLSA. Therefore, the Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion for Leave to File Third Amended Original Answer (Clerk’s Doc. No. 135).

That still leaves the order of proof. The Defendants argue that, regardless of whether the Plaintiffs accept the stipulations they have offered, the Defendants bear the burden of proof on the primary issue at trial, whether the Plaintiffs were exempt employees under the FLSA.  Because the Defendants bear the burden of proof on that issue, they contend that they should present their evidence first.

It appears that there are three primary issues for trial: (1) whether the Plaintiffs can demonstrate a prima facie case under the FLSA (on which there appears to be little or no controversy); (2) whether the Plaintiffs were exempt employees under the FLSA; and (3) whether the Defendants failed to pay overtime “willfully.” The Plaintiffs bear the burden of proof on the first and last of these three items, and the Defendants on the second. As the Defendants note, the bulk of the evidence at trial will no doubt relate to the issue on which they bear the burden of proof. This does not mean that the Defendants should automatically be permitted to open and close, however. The Plaintiffs were the parties who were forced to take the initiative to file this lawsuit, the Defendants have vigorously defended it, and only in the last few days have they sought the right to open and close the evidence. Rule 16 makes it clear that these issues should be raised early in the case, not late. See FED. R. CIV. P. 16(c)(2)(A), (D), (N) and (P) (directing courts at the pretrial conference to address, among other things, “formulating and simplifying the issues,” “avoiding unnecessary proof and cumulative evidence,” “ordering the presentation of evidence early in the trial on a manageable issue that might, on the evidence, be the basis for a judgment,” and “facilitating in other ways the just, speedy, and inexpensive disposition of the action”).

The Court has wide discretion on these matters. Moreau v. Oppenheim, 663 F.2d 1300, 1311 (5th Cir.1981) (“The matter of a court’s allocation of the right to open and close … does not go to the merits of a controversy and has long not been the subject of writ of error, even when coupled with the denial of requested party realignment.”) (citing Day v. Woodworth, 54 U.S. 363, 370, 13 How. 363, 14 L.Ed. 181 (1851)). On balance, considering all of the above, the Court believes that it is appropriate to leave the order of proof as is, so that the Plaintiffs shall open and close. Accordingly, the Court DENIES the Defendants’ Motion to Open and Close Evidence and Case (Clerk’s Doc. No. 128).”

Click Ransom v. M. Patel Enters, Inc. to read the entire Order.

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