Burnett v. Ocean Props., Ltd.

Decision Date30 September 2019
Docket NumberNo. 2:16-cv-00359-JAW,2:16-cv-00359-JAW
Citation422 F.Supp.3d 400
Parties Ryan D. BURNETT, Plaintiff, v. OCEAN PROPERTIES, LTD. and AmeriPort, LLC, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine

Laura H. White, Courtney Michalec Hart, Danielle M. Quinlan, Bergen & Parkinson LLC, Kennebunk, ME, for Plaintiff.

Maureen M. Deskins, Ocean Properties Ltd., Tampa, FL, Elizabeth A. Germani, Robert P. Hayes, Germani Martemucci & Hill, Timothy J. Bryant, Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau, & Pachios, LLP, Portland, ME, for Defendants.

ORDER ON OCEAN PROPERTIES' POST-TRIAL MOTIONS

JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

An employer, after receiving an unfavorable jury verdict in an action under the ADA and the MHRA, filed various post-trial motions, including a motion for judgment as a matter of law, a motion for a new trial, and a motion for remittitur on damages. The Court denies the motions.

I. BACKGROUND

On November 1, 2018, after a three-day trial, a jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff Ryan Burnett and awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. Jury Verdict at 1 (ECF No. 179) (Verdict ); Jury Punitive Damages Verdict at 1 (ECF No. 180) (Punitive Damages Verdict ). As part of its verdict on compensatory damages, the jury made the following findings of fact: (1) that Ocean Properties was an employer or joint employer of Mr. Burnett; (2), that Ocean Properties and AmeriPort were integrated employers of Mr. Burnett; and (3) that Mr. Burnett's employer had more than 500 employees when he worked for that employer. Verdict at 1-2. The jury also made the following findings with regard to punitive damages: (1) that Mr. Burnett has proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the Defendants knew their actions violated the ADA or acted in reckless disregard to that risk; (2) that Mr. Burnett has proven, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Defendants either intentionally or with reckless indifference violated the Maine Human Rights Act. Punitive Damages Verdict at 1. The jury awarded Mr. Burnett $200,000 in punitive damages pursuant to the ADA and $300,000 pursuant to the MHRA. Id. at 1-2. Judgment entered on behalf of Mr. Burnett on November 13, 2018. J. (ECF No. 188).

On December 11, 2018, Defendant Ocean Properties Limited (Ocean Properties) filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, motion for a new trial, motion for remittitur, and motion for oral argument. Def. Ocean Properties, LTD.'s Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law (ECF No. 200) (Def.'s Rule 50(b) Mot. ); Defs., Ocean Properties, LTD.'s Mot. for New Trial by Ocean Properties Ltd. (ECF No. 201) (Def.'s Mot. for New Trial ); Defs., Ocean Properties, Ltd.'s Mot. for Remittitur (ECF No. 202) (Def.'s Mot. for Remittitur ); Mot. for Oral Arg. On Post-Trial Mots. (ECF No. 203).

Mr. Burnett responded in opposition to the instant motions on February 5, 2019. Pl.'s Opp'n to Def. OPL's Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law (ECF No. 212) (Pl.'s Opp'n to Rule 50(b) Mot. ); Pl.'s Opp'n to Def. Ocean Properties, LTD.'s Mot. for New Trial (ECF No. 209) (Pl.'s Opp'n to Mot. for New Trial ); Pl.'s Opp'n to Def. OPL's Mot. for Remittitur (ECF No. 210). Ocean Properties replied on March 1, 2019. Ocean Properties, LTD's Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n to Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law (ECF No. 222) (Def.'s Reply Rule 50(b) Mot. ); Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n to Def. Ocean Properties, LTD's Mot. for New Trial (ECF No. 223) (Def.'s Reply Mot. for New Trial ); Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Opp'n to Def. Ocean Properties, LTD's Mot. for Remittitur (ECF No. 224) (Def.'s Reply Mot. for Remittitur ).

II. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
A. Positions of the Parties
1. Ocean Properties' Motion

Ocean Properties moves for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50 and 59. Ocean Properties first contends that no proof was brought at trial to show that Ocean Properties has fifteen or more employees; therefore, Mr. Burnett failed to establish that Ocean Properties is a covered entity pursuant to the ADA, and he is precluded from recovering damages under the MHRA. Def.'s Rule 50(b) Mot. at 2. According to Ocean Properties, the First Circuit requires that a party prove the numerosity requirement of federal employment discrimination laws by offering evidence of payroll records at trial, id. at 4 (citing Aly v. Mohegan Council, Boy Scouts of America , 711 F. 3d 34, 45 (1st Cir. 2013) ), but Mr. Burnett failed to do so. Id. Ocean Properties maintains that "Plaintiff relies upon conjecture rather than credible evidence concerning the number of employees that could be attributed to OPL." Id. at 5. Mr. Burnett's alleged failure to prove Ocean Properties has fifteen or more employees also precludes his recovery under a theory of integrated/single employer, according to Ocean Properties. Id. at 7. Ocean Properties further contends that it "cannot be both an ‘integrated/single employer’ with AmeriPort and a ‘joint employer ....,’ " which it says resulted from the Court's failing to correctly instruct the jury that one theory of liability should be selected. Id.

Furthermore, according to Ocean Properties, no evidence was presented at trial that proves it acted as an integrated single employer with AmeriPort. Ocean Properties outlines First Circuit caselaw, which considers four factors in determining whether an integrated single employer relationship exists between two entities: (1) interrelation of operations; (2) common management; (3) centralized control over labor relations; and (4) common ownership. Id. (citing Romano v. U-Haul Int'l , 233 F.3d 655, 665 (1st. Cir. 2000) ). Ocean Properties contends that "the lack of common ownership, alone, is sufficient to doom the Jury's finding that OPL and AmeriPort are a single/integrated employer." Id. at 9 (citing Arroyo-Perez v. Demir Group Int'l , 762 F. Supp. 2d 374 (D.P.R. 2011)1 ). Ocean Properties notes that "a series of emails and other documents ... that reference OPL," offered into evidence by Mr. Burnett, "are insufficient to establish OPL as an integrated/single employer." Id. at 10 (citing Nesbit v. Gears Unltd., Inc. , 347 F.3d 72, 88 (3d Cir. 2003) ). According to Ocean Properties, "there was no evidence that OPL had anything to do with AmeriPort's day-to-day labor decisions," as required to show centralized control. Id. at 11.

Ocean Properties also argues the evidence presented by Mr. Burnett is legally insufficient to establish the interrelation of operations. Id. It contends that in Engelhardt v. S.P. Richards Company , 472 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2006), the First Circuit held that there was no integrated/single employer relationship despite "evidence that plaintiff's actual employer SPR adopted its parent GPC's personnel policies, corporate conduct and security policies, handbooks, benefit plans, brochures, and registration forms, and that these forms as well as paycheck stubs and letterhead used by SPA contained GPC's name and logo," because no evidence was presented that GPC was involved in SPR's labor relations decisions. Id. at 12 (citing Engelhardt , 472 F. 3d at 7 ).

Ocean Properties contends that the Court erred in denying Ocean Properties' Rule 50(a) motion because it "improperly limited its consideration of Engelhardt to the similarity of the forms in the cases ...." Id. at 13. It concedes that "perhaps this form could arguably be cited for the proposition that OPL was a ‘joint employer,’ but adds no support whatsoever to Plaintiff's claim that OPL was an integrated/single employer." Id. at 13-14. Ocean Properties also avers that the pay stubs referencing Ocean AP, Inc., the employee handbook called Ocean Properties Reservations Center Training Manual, and the shared marketing materials of "Ocean Properties Hotels Resorts and Affiliates" do not satisfy the integrated employer requirements, because they do not show shared daily labor decisions. Id. at 14-16.

Ocean Properties also argues that Mr. Burnett failed to establish AmeriPort and Ocean Properties were joint employers, which requires proof that "one employer while contracting in good faith, with an otherwise independent company, has retained for itself sufficient control of the terms and conditions of employment of the employees who are employed by the other employer." Id. at 18 (citing Rivas v. Federacion de Asociaciones Pecuarias de P.R. , 929 F.2d 814, 820 n.17 (1st Cir. 1991) ). According to Ocean Properties, there was no evidence presented of its involvement with AmeriPort's employees. Id. Moreover, Ocean Properties states that Mr. Burnett failed to show that Ocean Properties, as a joint employer, had fifteen employees separate from AmeriPort. Id. at 19 (citing Robinson v. SABIS Educ. Sys., Inc. , 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9065, at *22 (N.D. Ill. 1999); Serrano v. 900 5th Ave Corp. , 4 F. Supp. 2d 315, 318 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) ; Burdi v. Uniglobe Cihak Travel, Inc. , 932 F. Supp. 1044, 1048 (N.D. Ill. 1996) ).

Finally, Ocean Properties echoes two arguments made by AmeriPort in its parallel motion for judgment as a matter of law: (1) that Mr. Burnett's claim fails because he did not name Ocean Properties in his administrative charge,2 and (2) that Mr. Burnett failed to meet his burden to show liability for punitive damages. Id. at 19-20. Furthermore, Ocean Properties contends that if found liable under a joint employer theory, it cannot be responsible for punitive damages because a finding that two entities are joint employers does not impact the entities' liability to the employee for each other's actions, and there is no evidence to show any Ocean Properties' employees were associated with Mr. Burnett's requests for accommodation. Id. at 20.

2. Ryan Burnett's Opposition

Mr. Burnett opposes the motion, noting that the jury verdict is "entitled to significant deference." Pl.'s Opp'n to Rule 50(b) Mot. at 1. He also argues that Ocean Properties has waived several of its arguments at this juncture because it failed to bring them in its Rule 50(a) motion at...

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    ...Thus, defendants’ knowing and reckless disregard for plaintiff’s rights warranted punitive damages. Burnett v. Ocean Properties, Ltd. , 422 F.Supp.3d 400 (D. Maine 2019). Second Circuit The district court denied the employer’s motion for JNOV and remittitur on award of $2,000,000 in punitiv......

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