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Ocampo v. Maronge

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

December 27, 2017

JAVIER OCAMPO AND DENNIS ORDONEZ
v.
NICOLE MARONGE

         ON REMAND FROM THE LOUISIANA SUPREME COURT AN APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 748-275, DIVISION "G" HONORABLE E. ADRIAN ADAMS, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, JAVIER OCAMPO AND DENNIS ORDONEZ Luz M. Molina, Andrea M. Agee, Ridge Miguez.

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, NICOLE MARONGE Erin A. Fisher.

          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Robert M. Murphy, and Stephen J. Windhorst

          SUSAN M. CHEHARDY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiffs, Javier Ocampo and Dennis Ordoñez, appeal the 24th Judicial District Court's judgments of April 28, 2016 and January 23, 2017. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of April 28, 2016, amend in part the judgment of January 23, 2017, and affirm that judgment as amended.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Nicole Maronge is the sole owner and manager of La Maison Renovations, LLC. On February 17, 2014, La Maison contracted with Truly Noble Services, Inc. to perform a renovation on a residential property in Napoleonville, Louisiana. Seeking laborers, on February 21, 2014, Ms. Maronge sent a text message to Dennis Ordoñez, asking if he and his friend, Javier Ocampo, were interested in some painting work, explaining that she needed three laborers to paint at the Napoleonville property.[1] Mr. Ordoñez and Mr. Ocampo had done work for Ms. Maronge in the past and agreed to do this job.

         Plaintiffs arrived to the jobsite on Tuesday, February 25, 2014, where Ms. Maronge informed them of their tasks and advised them that the job needed to be completed by Friday, February 28. At trial, however, both Mr. Ordoñez and Mr. Ocampo testified that they were not informed of a deadline. A discussion was held later that day via text messages regarding plaintiffs' compensation. Ms. Maronge offered $15 per hour and plaintiffs countered with $17 per hour. Ms. Maronge agreed to pay for the cost of plaintiffs' gasoline, but there was no further discussion regarding the hourly rate. At trial, Ms. Maronge testified that she believed the agreement was $15 per hour plus the cost of gas, while plaintiffs explained they thought they would be paid $17 per hour plus the cost of gas.

         Ms. Maronge supplied materials, including sheetrock, paint, primer, caulk, tape, spackling, and other similar items. Plaintiffs supplied their own tools, such as brushes, rollers, buckets, and drop cloths. Ms. Maronge provided a ladder.

         Plaintiffs explained the job was more than just painting. They ripped up a wood floor in the house on the first day and continued with demolition work in the garage on the second day. They did not start painting until Thursday. By the end of Friday, they were not finished and informed Ms. Maronge that they could finish by Sunday, March 2 if they brought in a third guy. She agreed. With this additional help, plaintiffs worked over the weekend, and when they left on Sunday, only the trim remained to be painted. They were on their way back to the job on Monday but did not make it because of car trouble. This forced Ms. Maronge to hire other laborers to finish the job.

         On Tuesday, March 4, Mr. Ordoñez sent Ms. Maronge a text message asking to be paid. In a message on Friday, March 7, she responded that she could not pay them until she was paid by Truly Noble.

         After repeated failed attempts to get paid, on May 1, 2014, plaintiffs, with the assistance of the Loyola Law Clinic, sent a demand letter to Ms. Maronge, each seeking payment for 51 hours worked at $17 per hour. Still unable to resolve the dispute, on April 1, 2015, plaintiffs filed a "Rule to Show Cause Why Wages Should be Paid" in the 24th Judicial District Court pursuant to the Louisiana Wage Payment Act, La. R.S. 23:631, et seq. In this pleading, plaintiffs alleged that each had worked a total of 62 hours and were entitled to $17 per hour. In addition to unpaid wages, they also sought penalties and attorneys' fees under the law. In Ms. Maronge's answer, she maintained that each plaintiff had worked a total of 45 hours at a rate of $15 per hour.

         After discovery, on December 20, 2015, plaintiffs filed a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking a finding as a matter of law that plaintiffs were employees of Ms. Maronge, and not independent contractors.

         Meanwhile, on March 2, 2016, Ms. Maronge filed a "Motion to Place Funds in the Registry of the Court," in which she asserted that she had finally received payment from Truly Noble in connection with the work performed at the Napoleonville property. She explained that she had attempted to pay each plaintiff $867, accounting for plaintiffs' claims of unpaid wages for 51 hours of work at $17 per hour. Plaintiffs rejected this offer and Ms. Maronge deposited $1,734 in the registry of the court to be released upon final judgment.

         After a March 28, 2016 hearing on plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, the court issued its judgment on April 28, 2016 denying plaintiffs' motion. The matter proceeded to trial on January 4, 2017. The court issued its judgment on January 23, 2017, finding plaintiffs to be independent contractors and awarding them $1,734, plus interest from date of judicial demand, all costs of the proceedings, and attorneys' fees. The court's written reasons followed on February 10, 2017. Plaintiffs' appeal timely followed.

         DISCUSSION

         On appeal, plaintiffs assign four errors: (1) the district court erred in its March 28, 2016 denial of plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment; (2) the district court erred in its January 23, 2017 judgment by finding plaintiffs independent contractors; (3) the district court erred in addressing the issue of penalty wages; and (4) the district court erred in finding plaintiffs were entitled to attorneys' fees.

         Assignment ...


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