Williams v. Mann, 34,180

Citation388 P.3d 295
Case DateOctober 17, 2016
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

388 P.3d 295

Melissa Williams, Plaintiff–Appellant,
Tyler Mann and Four Corners Family Dental, LLC, Defendants–Appellees.

NO. 34,180

Court of Appeals of New Mexico.

Filing Date: October 17, 2016

Law Office of Monnica L. Garcia, LLC, Monnica L. Garcia, Albuquerque, NM for Appellant.

388 P.3d 298

Law Offices of Michael E. Mozes, Michael E. Mozes, Albuquerque, NM for Appellees.



{1} Plaintiff appeals the district court's dismissal on statute of limitations grounds of her claim for quid pro quo discrimination on the basis of sex under the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA), NMSA 1978, §§ 28–1–1 to –14 (1969, as amended through 2007), and its subsequent judgment in Defendants' favor after a bench trial on her claim for unpaid overtime wages under the Minimum Wage Act (MWA), NMSA 1978, §§ 50–4–19 to –30 (1955, as amended through 2013). We reverse the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's NMHRA claim against Defendant Four Corners Family Dental, LLC, and affirm the district court's judgment in all other respects.


{2} Plaintiff's statute of limitations argument turns on the convoluted procedural history of this case that includes a related complaint Plaintiff filed in federal district court. We have simplified our recitation of relevant procedural facts where possible and separate our recitation of background facts into two sections: (1) facts relevant to the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's NMHRA claim on statute of limitations grounds; and (2) facts relevant to the district court's ruling in Defendants' favor after a bench trial on Plaintiff's MWA claims. We provide additional facts and procedural history where pertinent within our discussion of Plaintiff's issues on appeal.

Facts Relevant to the District Court's Dismissal of Plaintiff's NMHRA Claim on Statute of Limitations Grounds

{3} On May 27, 2011, Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against Defendant Tyler Mann in state district court. Plaintiff's complaint sought damages for "destruction of personal property, ... unlawful eviction, ... reimbursement for start-up capital funds for business ventures[,] and punitive damages for severe emotional distress." On June 28, 2011, Plaintiff (this time represented by counsel) filed a complaint in federal district court against Defendant Four Corners Family Dental, LLC. The federal complaint alleged that Plaintiff was hired by Tyler Mann (Defendant here, but not in the federal case) to "open, manage[,] and operate his dental practices in Pagosa Springs, Colorado and Farmington, New Mexico." The federal complaint further alleged that Plaintiff was not paid wages she was due under the terms of her employment, was "consistently required to work in excess of forty (40) hours a week," and that her employment was terminated after she had refused Tyler Mann's sexual advances. The federal complaint sought damages for unlawful discriminatory and retaliatory practices in violation of the NMHRA, quid pro quo sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e–1 to –17 (2012), and unpaid regular and overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 –219 (2012) and the MWA.

{4} On November 8, 2011, Plaintiff filed an opposed motion to dismiss her federal complaint without prejudice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a). Plaintiff additionally filed an unopposed motion to stay discovery pending the federal district court's resolution of her motion to dismiss on December 19, 2011. No longer proceeding pro se in state district court, on December 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed an opposed motion to amend her pro se state complaint in order to incorporate the factual averments in her federal complaint, and to bring claims against both Defendants for unlawful discriminatory practices under the NMHRA and for unpaid regular and overtime wages under the MWA. Before Defendants responded to Plaintiff's motion to amend, on January 27, 2012, the state district court granted Plaintiff leave to amend her complaint. As amended, Plaintiff's state law action included the claims she previously asserted federally and added Four Corners Family Dental, LLC, as a Defendant.

{5} The federal district court denied Plaintiff's motion to stay, and discovery and discovery-related motions practice in federal court ensued without a ruling on Plaintiff's request that her federal complaint be dismissed. Defendants filed a motion for summary

388 P.3d 299

judgment on Plaintiff's federal and supplemental state law claims. But on April 20, 2012, before Plaintiff filed a response to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, the federal district court entered an order granting Plaintiff's opposed motion to dismiss and dismissed all of the claims in Plaintiff's federal action without prejudice.

{6} Back in state district court, Defendants filed a pretrial motion in limine to exclude all evidence relevant to Plaintiff's NMHRA claims at trial, arguing that those claims were untimely because her motion to amend her state complaint was filed after the applicable statute of limitations had expired. The district court treated Defendants' motion in limine as a motion to dismiss and granted it, dismissing Plaintiff's unlawful discriminatory practice claims with prejudice.

Facts Relevant to Plaintiff's MWA Claims

{7} The district court held a bench trial on the two remaining claims in Plaintiff's amended complaint: (1) unpaid wages under Section 50–4–22(A), and (2) unpaid overtime under Section 50–4–22(D). See § 50–4–26(C), (D) (providing that "an employer who violates any provision of Section 50–4–22 ... shall be liable to the employees affected in the amount of their unpaid or underpaid minimum wages plus interest, and in an additional amount equal to twice the unpaid or underpaid wages[,]" and providing that "[a]n action to recover such liability may be maintained in any court of competent jurisdiction"). During trial, Plaintiff testified that Defendant Mann agreed to pay Plaintiff $ 25 per hour when her employment began but never discussed what Plaintiff's job responsibilities would entail. Instead, Plaintiff testified that she performed whatever duties Defendant Mann assigned to her. Those included purchasing dental equipment at Defendant Mann's direction, arranging for the placement of paid advertisements in the telephone book, setting up LLC and phone service at Defendant Mann's Pagosa Springs office, and even calling Defendant Mann's alma mater to obtain a copy of Defendant Mann's diploma.

{8} As the dental practice grew, Plaintiff's job responsibilities shifted. Plaintiff worked as a receptionist when other employees went out to lunch, processed insurance claims at Defendants' Pagosa Springs office, and also addressed problems with insurance claims made through Defendants' Farmington office. Plaintiff executed contracts with various insurance companies at Defendant Mann's direction and researched dental office management software and assisted Defendant Mann during negotiations over software license agreements.

{9} On cross examination, Plaintiff admitted that she understood herself to be an "independent contractor" when she first began her employment relationship with Defendants; that she performed "administrative" duties around the office; that she held herself out on résumés and business cards as an "office manager" who had "open[ed], operate[d], and manage[d]" Defendants' dental practices; that she was paid a flat salary of $ 600 per week; and that her daily responsibilities involved managing patient accounts, developing business plans, handling payroll for office employees, acting as a signatory on Defendants' financial accounts, arranging for the payment of bills and invoices to suppliers, and maintaining employee personnel files.

{10} After taking evidence and hearing arguments from the parties, the district court found that Defendants were liable to Plaintiff for $ 625 in unpaid wages. The district court doubled Defendants' liability to Plaintiff for these wages, added interest under Section 50–4–26(C), and ordered that Defendants pay Plaintiff's attorney fees under Section 50–4–26(E). The district court granted Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 1–050 NMRA on Plaintiff's claim for unpaid overtime under Section 50–4–22(D), reasoning that Plaintiff was an administrative employee and therefore exempt from overtime pay requirements. See § 50–4–21(C)(2) ("As used in the [MWA,] ... ‘employee’ includes an individual employed by an employer, but shall not include ... an individual employed in a bona fide executive, administrative or professional capacity.").


{11} Plaintiff appeals the district court's dismissal of her unlawful discriminatory practice claims on statute of limitations

388 P.3d 300

grounds as well as the district court's decision (sitting as finder of fact at a bench trial) resolving Plaintiff's MWA claim against Defendants for unpaid overtime wages against her. We address each issue in turn.

The Statute of Limitations on Plaintiff's NMHRA Claim Against Defendant Four...

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