United States District Court, D. Colorado
ESMERALDO VILLANUEVA ECHON, JR., MARIBEL ECHON, and JUSTIN ECHON, Plaintiffs,
WILLIAM SACKETT and LEONIDA SACKETT, Defendants.
A. BRIMMER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the issue of damages. The Court
has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and
Court held a three-day jury trial in this case, beginning on
February 12, 2018. Docket Nos. 198, 199, 200. On February 14,
2018, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs on
their claims under the Colorado Minimum Wage of Workers
Act/Colorado Minimum Wage Order, the Colorado Wage Claim Act,
and 18 U.S.C. § 1589. Docket No. 205. The jury awarded
the following damages on plaintiffs' Colorado wage
claims: Esmeraldo Echon - $40, 022; Maribel Echon - $14, 811;
Justin Echon - $15, 678. Id. at 3. The jury
apportioned these damages evenly between the two defendants.
Id. The jury also awarded economic and non-economic
damages to Esmeraldo and Justin Echon under 18 U.S.C. §
1589. Id. at 5. The economic damages consisted
entirely of unpaid wages and matched the amounts awarded to
Esmeraldo and Justin Echon under the Colorado wage laws.
See Id. Under § 1589, the jury attributed
liability for 33% of the total economic and non-economic
damages awarded to defendant William Sackett and 67% to
defendant Leonida Sackett. Id. at 5-6.
trial, the Court adopted the magistrate judge's
recommendation and granted summary judgment in favor of
plaintiffs on their breach of contract claims in the amount
of $31, 439.50. Docket No. 138. In determining
defendants' liability for breach of contract, the
magistrate judge compared the support provided by defendants
to plaintiffs for the years 2012 through 2014 with 125% of
the poverty threshold for each year. See Docket No.
116 at 36. To calculate the support provided by defendants,
the magistrate judge relied on the following amounts that
were deemed uncontested in light of defendants' failure
to disclose information during discovery: housing valued at
no more than $750 per month; food valued at no more than $12,
500; transportation for Justin Echon and plaintiffs'
minor son to and from school valued at no more than $1, 600;
and utilities valued at no more than $300 per month.
Id. at 37. The magistrate judge further accounted
for other income received by plaintiffs during the relevant
time period, including $1, 400 earned by Esmeraldo Echon
through a construction job in 2012, $1, 888 in food stamps
received by plaintiffs in 2013, $4, 412 in food stamps
received by plaintiffs in 2014, and $3, 500 that Leonida
Sackett allegedly gave Esmeraldo Echon in 2011. Id.
The magistrate judge noted that defendants denied giving
plaintiffs any additional monetary support after 2011.
Id. Additionally, defendants did not respond to
plaintiffs' interrogatories regarding defendants'
financial support of plaintiffs or produce written evidence
of any other support they provided during the years 2012
through 2014. Id. As a result, the magistrate judge
found that “Defendants should be precluded from
offering such evidence now or at trial.” Id.
Based on the undisputed support provided by defendants during
the relevant time period, the magistrate judge determined
that the difference between plaintiffs' household income
and 125% of the federal poverty guideline was $13, 916.50 for
2012, $7, 305.50 for 2013, and $10, 217.50 for 2014.
Id. at 38. This came to a total difference of $31,
439.50 for 2012-2014, which established defendants' base
liability for breach of contract. Id. Although the
magistrate judge noted that some of the support amounts
“extend[ed] to liability only” and recommended
that “the issue of damages be reserved to the jury,
” id., n.13, plaintiffs submitted a trial
brief on January 24, 2018 in which they stipulated to $31,
439.50 in damages on their breach of contract claims. Docket
No. 175 at 8. In support of the stipulation, plaintiffs noted
that the $31, 439.50 represented the “floor” of
their possible recovery and that the “damages owed to
Plaintiffs on [their breach of contract claims] could only
increase.” Id. The Court accepted
plaintiffs' stipulation at the trial preparation
conference held on January 26, 2018. Docket No. 181.
Accordingly, the issue of contract damages was not submitted
to the jury.
Court instructed the jury that it could “award damages
in the specified categories of damages on more than one
claim” and that the Court would “ensure that
damages in any specified category [were] awarded to plaintiff
only once.” Docket No. 201 at 26 (Jury Instruction No.
19). Accordingly, the Court must determine whether to reduce
the jury's damages award in order to ensure that
plaintiffs do not recover twice on their claims. On February
16, 2018, the Court directed the parties to file briefs
addressing four questions related to the issue of damages:
(1) are the unpaid wages awarded to Esmeraldo and Justin
Echon duplicative of the economic damages awarded under
§ 1589 and, if so, which law(s) should serve as the
basis for recovery; (2) how should the Court allocate
economic damages between the two defendants; (3) is the award
of unpaid wages under the Colorado wage laws or § 1589
duplicative of the damages for plaintiffs' breach of
contract claims and, if so, which law(s) should serve as the
basis for recovery; and (4) are any other categories of
damages awarded by the jury duplicative. Docket No. 207.
Plaintiffs filed their response to the Court's minute
order on February 27, 2018. Docket No. 211. Defendants, now
represented by counsel, filed a response on March 5, 2018.
Docket No. 212.
Unpaid Wages Under the Colorado Wage Laws and 18 U.S.C.
parties agree that the damages awarded to Esmeraldo and
Justin Echon under the Colorado wage laws are duplicative of
the economic damages awarded under § 1589. Docket No.
211 at 1; Docket No. 212 at 2. However, neither party was
able to find any case law addressing the question of which
law should serve as the basis for recovery. Docket No. 211 at
1; Docket No. 212 at 2. Plaintiffs “request that the
judgment of the Court be entered under 18 U.S.C. § 1589,
” but do not provide any basis for their selection.
Docket No. 211 at 2. Defendants request that the damages be
awarded under the Colorado wage laws because this “case
reflects more closely a wage dispute under state law than a
human trafficking or forced labor case under a federal
criminal statute.” Docket No. 212 at 2. The Court will
award Esmeraldo and Justin Echon their unpaid wages under the
Colorado wage laws. The Court's instructions for
calculating unpaid wages were taken directly from the
Colorado Minimum Wage Order, see Docket No. 201 at
28 (Jury Instruction No. 21), and awarding damages under the
Colorado wage laws obviates the need to address any
inconsistency in the jury's allocation of liability
between the two defendants.
Proper Allocation of Damages Between
Court asked the parties to brief the issue of how to properly
allocate liability between William and Leonida Sackett for
the unpaid wages awarded to Esmeraldo and Justin Echon.
Docket No. 207 at 1-2. Both parties assert that the Court
should apportion liability 50/50 between the two defendants.
Docket No. 211 at 2-3; Docket No. 212 at 3. Because this is
consistent with the jury's verdict on plaintiffs'
Colorado wage claims, see Docket No. 205 at 3, the
Court will apportion liability for the unpaid wages evenly
between the two defendants.
Damages for Unpaid Wages and Breach of
Court asked the parties to discuss whether the unpaid wages
awarded under either the Colorado wage laws or § 1589
are duplicative of the $31, 439.50 awarded by the Court on
plaintiffs' breach of contract claims. Docket No. 207 at
their response, defendants challenge the premise of the
question, asserting that damages were never awarded on
plaintiffs' breach of contract claims. Docket No. 212 at
4-5. This is incorrect. Although it is true that summary
judgment was not granted on the issue of contract damages,
the Court's order adopting the magistrate judge's
recommendation established certain facts as true for purposes
of this action. As explained in the magistrate judge's
recommendation, those facts establish defendants' base
liability in connection with plaintiffs' breach of
contract claims. Docket No. 116 at 37-38. Plaintiffs
subsequently stipulated to that “floor” in order
to avoid a jury trial on the issue. By the Court's
acceptance of that ...