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Echon v. Sackett

United States District Court, D. Colorado

May 4, 2018

ESMERALDO VILLANUEVA ECHON, JR., MARIBEL ECHON, and JUSTIN ECHON, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM SACKETT and LEONIDA SACKETT, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PHILIP A. BRIMMER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the issue of damages. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court held a three-day jury trial in this case, beginning on February 12, 2018. Docket Nos. 198, 199, 200.[1] 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.

         Before 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.

         The 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.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Unpaid Wages Under the Colorado Wage Laws and 18 U.S.C. § 1589

         The 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.

         B. Proper Allocation of Damages Between Defendants

         The 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.

         C. Damages for Unpaid Wages and Breach of Contract

          The 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 2.

         In 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 ...


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