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Mejia v. Brothers Petroleum, LLC

United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana

December 11, 2014

DANIA GISSELL CRUZ MEJIA, et. al., Plaintiffs,
BROTHERS PETROLEUM, LLC, et al., Defendants.




Before the Court is plaintiffs' motion to lift the limited stay the Court[1] imposed on September 3, 2014, which stayed discovery owed by Imad Hamdan regarding undocumented employees.[2]The Court DENIES plaintiffs' motion, because defendant Hamdan's Fifth Amendment rights will be jeopardized if the Court lifts the limited stay.

I. Background

This is a "collective action" seeking damages for alleged violations of the overtime and minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standard Act ("FLSA"). 29 U.S.C. §§ 206 and 207. Defendants employed plaintiffs at various Brothers Food Mart convenience stores throughout Louisiana and allegedly failed to compensate plaintiffs adequately during the period from November 28, 2009 to the present.[3]

On July 16, 2014, Judge Berrigan conditionally certified the collective action and defined the class as "[a]ll current and former non-exempt, hourly employees who have been employed by Brothers Petroleum, LLC d/b/a Brothers Food Mart or Brothers Food Mart in the State of Louisiana during the time period of November 28, 2009 through the present."[4] Judge Berrigan ordered defendants to produce a list of "all potential opt-in plaintiffs' names, last known mailing addresses, and email addresses."[5] Defendants produced a partial list of employees but omitted the names and contact information of undocumented workers employed by defendants.[6] Defendants then moved the Court to stay the civil proceeding due to the United States Attorney's Office's criminal investigation of defendant Imad Hamdan's alleged hiring of undocumented workers.[7] Defendants argued that allowing discovery to proceed concerning undocumented employees would force Mr. Hamdan to chose between his right against self-incrimination and defending against the allegations raised in this civil proceeding. On September 3, 2014, Judge Berrigan denied defendants' motion to stay the proceeding in its entirety but issued a limited stay. Specifically, the Court found that a temporary and limited stay of the outstanding discovery was appropriate until "the parameters of any criminal investigation [are] determined."[8] Accordingly, the Court ordered that "[n]o discovery as to undocumented workers may proceed for a period of two (2) months from the date of this order, at which time the Court will consider appropriate motions including a motion to reopen and/or another motion to stay, if appropriate."[9]

After Judge Berrigan imposed the limited stay, plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint and added forty-four defendants to the action.[10] These additional defendants are not covered by the Court's September 3, 2014 order imposing the limited stay. Plaintiffs now move the Court to lift the limited stay that applies to Hamdan and Brother Petroleum, LLC. Plaintiffs contend that a continued stay is unwarranted because two months have passed and defendants have not demonstrated any meaningful developments in the criminal investigation.[11] Apparently all defendants, including newly added defendants, oppose the motion arguing that Hamdan and two other defendants were recently served with Grand Jury subpoenas.[12] This ruling applies only to the parties covered by the original stay.

II. Discussion

When a defendant in a civil case is facing criminal charges, a district court may, in its discretion, stay the civil action. United States v. Kordel, 397 U.S. 1, 12 (1970); see also In re Ramu Corp., 903 F.2d 312, 318 (5th Cir. 1990) ("The stay of a pending matter is ordinarily within the trial court's wide discretion to control the course of litigation, which includes authority to control the scope and pace of discovery."). The Fifth Circuit has instructed that, in ruling on requests for stays of the civil side of parallel civil/criminal proceedings, "judicial discretion and procedural flexibility should be utilized to harmonize the conflicting rules and to prevent the rules and policies applicable to one suit from doing violence to those pertaining to the other." United States v. Gieger Transfer Serv., Inc., 174 F.R.D. 382, 385 (S.D.Miss. 1997) (citing Campbell v. Eastland, 307 F.2d 478, 487 (5th Cir. 1962)).

When determining whether a stay is warranted, courts consider: (1) the extent of overlap between the criminal case and the civil case; (2) the status of the criminal case, including whether the defendant has been indicted; (3) the interests of the plaintiff in proceeding expeditiously, weighed against the prejudice to the plaintiff caused by the delay; (4) the interests of and the burden on the defendant; (5) the interests of the courts; and (6) the public interest. Alcala v. Texas Webb Cty., 625 F.Supp.2d 391, 399 (S.D. Tex. 2009) (collecting district court cases in the Fifth Circuit applying this test). Although district courts have wide discretion to determine whether a stay is warranted, "[e]ven discretionary stays . . . will be reversed when they are immoderate or of an indefinite duration." In re Ramu Corp., 903 F.2d at 318 (internal citations omitted).

A. Extent to Which Issues in the Civil and Criminal Cases Overlap

The most important factor in determining whether to grant a stay is the similarity in the issues in the civil and criminal actions. Dominguez v. Hartford Fin. Servs. Grp., Inc., 530 F.Supp.2d 902, 906-07 (S.D. Tex. 2008). Overlapping issues in parallel civil and criminal proceedings militate in favor of a stay. See United States v. ATP Oil & Gas Corp., CIV. A. No. 13-0262, 2013 WL 6184991, at *3 (E.D. La. Nov. 26, 2013). In determining whether issues in civil and criminal cases are related, courts impose a "common-sense, fact-bound analysis." In re Ramu, 903 F.2d at 319.

Here, the Court is unable to determine with certainty the extent to which the civil case overlaps with the criminal investigation because none of the defendants has been indicted. See SEC v. AmeriFirst Funding, Inc., CIV. A. No. 3:07-1188, 2008 WL 866065, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 17, 2008) ("Because no indictment has as yet been handed up against [defendant], the court cannot determine with certainty the degree of overlap between this [civil] action and the criminal investigation."). The few indications that the Court does have, however, suggest that the criminal charges, if they are forthcoming, will be directed at defendant Hamdan's alleged practice of hiring undocumented workers.[13] The scope of the criminal proceeding thus will likely be limited to undocumented employees. The civil proceeding, on the other hand, relates to all of the defendants' current and former non-exempt, hourly employees, including undocumented employees, as the FLSA applies to citizens and undocumented workers alike.[14] Although the undocumented workers status as such is not an issue in the civil case, the information sought by plaintiffs in this ...

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