Wang v. Gold Mantis Constr. Decoration (CNMI), LLC

Decision Date24 May 2021
Docket NumberCase No.: 1:18-cv-00030
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern Mariana Islands

On June 12, 2020, the Court entered default against Defendant Imperial Pacific International (CNMI), LLC ("IPI") after an order to show cause hearing for IPI's repeated failure to comply with discovery orders and sanctions. (Min., ECF No. 157.) Before the Court is Plaintiffs' petition for damages (ECF No. 172) in support of the entry of default judgment against IPI pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2). Plaintiffs also filed a supplemental memorandum in support of a default judgment against IPI. (ECF No. 230.) The Court previously denied without prejudice Plaintiffs' petition for damages and motion for attorneys' fees (ECF No. 226) against IPI given that entry of default judgment at that time for less than all defendants would be inconsistent with Frow v. De La Vega, 82 U.S. 552 (1872) and its progeny and posed a risk of inconsistent judgments. (ECF No. 274.) Plaintiffs have since settled with and dismissed their actions against Defendants Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI), LLC ("Gold Mantis") and MCC International Saipan Ltd., Co. ("MCC") such that IPI is the only remaining defendant. (ECF Nos. 288, 292.) The Court thus granted Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration to renew their request for entry of default judgment against IPI in the amount of $3,863,534 in compensatory damages and double that amount ($7,727,068) in punitive damages for a total of $11,590,602. (Mot. for Reconsideration at 3, ECF No. 295; Min., ECF No. 299.) Having reviewed the briefs, supporting declarations, and applicable law, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' petition for damages but for the lower amount of $5,430,595.58 for the the following reasons.1


Plaintiffs are seven Chinese construction workers who bring claims against their former employers Gold Mantis and MCC and the project owner IPI under four causes of action: 1) forced labor under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act ("TVPRA"), 18 U.S.C §§ 1589, 1590, 1592, 1595; (2) forced labor under the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, 6 CMC §§ 1502, 1503, 1507; (3) negligence; and (4) liability for employees of subcontractor (for injuries), 4 CMC § 9304(c). (First Amended Compl. "FAC" ¶¶ 308-340, ECF No. 6.) They were recruited by Defendants and/or their agents from China under false promises of good conditions, high wages, and legal work status. (Id. ¶ 52.) However, after paying high recruitment fees, Plaintiffs were instead subjected to over 12-hour work days without any rest and sometimes 24-hour work shifts, paid below legal minimum wage, crammed into dormitories, yelled at by their supervisors, forced to pay fines for arriving late or not working hard enough, and subjected to extreme, dangerous and inhumane work conditions on the Imperial Pacific Casino construction site in Garapan, Saipan. (Id. ¶¶ 33-296.) Furthermore, Defendants arranged for Plaintiffs to enter as "tourists" instead of under a lawful temporary work visa, took away their passports, instructed them to hide when government officials came to inspect the worksite or dormitories, threatened them from seeking medical care for their injuries, and failed to compensate them for their injuries suffered from working on the construction site—which varied from severe burns to damaged fingers or feet. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 45, 56, 160, 230, 244, 254, 267, 284, 287, 298, 318.)

MCC was the general contractor on the casino project. (Id. ¶ 129.) Three of the Plaintiffs were employed under MCC. (Id. ¶ 57.) During their employment with MCC, they had to pay an additional $2,000 recruitment fee upon arrival and work 12-hour or more work shifts with no rest. (Id. ¶¶ 63-64.) Plaintiffs under MCC were also never paid on time, paid less than minimum wage, forced to buy their own protective gear, threatened to be sent back to China given their unlawful status, and told that their complaints were useless given their immigration status. (Id. ¶¶ 65-75.) MCC's managers also held on to Plaintiffs' passports. (Id. ¶ 76.)

Eventually, all of the Plaintiffs worked under Gold Mantis. (Id. ¶¶ 218, 235, 242, 252, 265, 277, 286.) A Gold Mantis manager charged Plaintiffs an additional $1,000 fee for their jobs. (Id. ¶ 80.) Under Gold Mantis, Plaintiffs similarly regularly worked 12-hour or longer days, including up to 24-hour shifts on occasion. (Id. ¶¶ 84, 85.) They were not paid in a timely manner and, if paid at all, were paid less than minimum wage and less overtime than they performed. (Id. ¶¶ 94-97.) The GoldMantis manager fined employees when they did not work hard enough, rested on the job, or refused a shift. (Id. ¶¶ 105-108.) He also threatened to physically harm and kill employees. (Id. ¶¶ 109, 111.) Gold Mantis also threatened employees without immigration status that they would be deported or arrested if they went to government or medical authorities, instructed them that they could not go to public places or interact with others or else they would be deported, and actively hid them during inspections. (Id. ¶¶ 115-119.) All seven Plaintiffs sustained injuries during the course of their employment with Gold Mantis. (Id. ¶¶ 219-220, 236-37, 243-44, 253-53, 265-66, 277-79, 286-87.)

As to IPI's role, IPI was the developer that was granted an exclusive license to build the casino project in Saipan and that hired multiple Chinese construction firms including MCC and Gold Mantis to build the casino. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 36, 37, 168.) IPI exercised significant control over the construction site, including its safety conditions; exercised control over which companies to hire or fire for the casino project; and directed the companies' tasks. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 168-182.) Furthermore, IPI knew or should have known about the use of unauthorized workers, the lack of compensation insurance, the lack of adequate safety at its construction site, and their contractors' policies regarding hours and harsh punishments. (Id. ¶¶ 164-166, 197.) IPI's general counsel served as the authorized representative for both MCC and Gold Mantis in their applications for an exemption from a CNMI law capping the number of foreign workers that an employer may hire. (Id. ¶171.) IPI also arranged or provided the unsanitary housing for many of the unauthorized workers, including Plaintiffs, and owned or arranged the buses that transported the workers to the casino project each day. (Id. ¶¶ 193-195, 201.) Furthermore, IPI assisted in hiding unauthorized construction workers from government investigators and denied an OSHA inspector who went to investigate multiple claims of injuries access to the casinosite. (Id. ¶¶ 138, 202.) Accordingly, Plaintiffs sought general, special, and punitive damages, along with attorney fees and costs. (Id. ¶ 341.)


After months of discovery and pre-trial motions, the Court on June 12, 2020 entered default against IPI pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 for IPI's repeated violations of discovery orders. (Min., ECF No. 157; Amended Mem. Decision, ECF No. 193.) Plaintiffs subsequently filed their petition for damages for entry of default judgment against IPI, specifically focusing on damages under the TVPRA because any damages for Plaintiffs' other three causes of action would be duplicative. ("Pet. for Damages" at 6, ECF No. 172.) Plaintiffs seek approximately $3.86 million in compensatory damages for emotional distress suffered each day they were subjected to forced labor, lost income from their physical injuries incurred working for the casino project, future lost income, and pain and suffering related to those injuries. (Id. at 9-27, 29.) Plaintiffs also seek twice that amount in punitive damages, for an approximate total of $11.6 million in damages. (Id. at 27-30.) Their petition was supported by a declaration from each Plaintiff,2 photographs of their respective injuries, and documents that supported their claim for damages. (ECF Nos. 173-179.) Their petition also included declarations from Plaintiffs' counsel Aaron Halegua ("Halegua Decl.," ECF No. 180), Florence Burke, an expert in human trafficking trauma ("Burke Decl.," ECF No. 181), and Neil Steinkamp, a finance consultant ("Steinkamp Decl.," ECF No. 182).

In response to IPI's opposition ("Opp'n," ECF No. 196) to Plaintiffs' petition for damages supported by exhibits (ECF No. 196-1), Plaintiffs produced additional declarations from a former CNMI Secretary of the Department of Labor and a former IPI employee who worked for IPI's construction department and then operations department, both supported by photos taken during the time Plaintiffs worked on the project (see Plaintiffs' Reply, ECF No. 205; Edith Deleon Guerrero Declaration "Guerrero Decl." ECF No. 206; Roger Pich Declaration "Pich Decl.," ECF No. 207). Plaintiffs also provided a declaration from a medical doctor who previously worked at the Saipan public hospital and gave a medical opinion about Plaintiffs' injuries. (Neda Farzan, M.D. Declaration "Farzan Decl.," ECF No. 208.) IPI also filed a supplemental position statement in opposition to Plaintiffs' petition for damages.3 ("Second Opp'n," ECF No. 214.)

IPI in the interim also filed a motion to set aside the entry of default under shortened time. (ECF Nos. 183, 184.) The matters came on for a hearing on August 7, 2020, at which time the Court denied IPI's motion to set aside the entry of default, and further ordered that the parties file supplemental briefing on the issue of entry of default judgment against one of multiple jointly liable defendants. (Min., ECF No. 219.) Particularly, the Court had concerns about the entry of default judgment against one defendant ...

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