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Summers v. Howard University

July 16, 2004

FRANK SUMMERS, ET AL., APPELLEES
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, APPELLANT



Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 98cv02692)

Before: Sentelle, Rogers, and Garland, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland, Circuit Judge

Argued March 15, 2004

This case arises out of a wage dispute between Howard University and its campus security personnel. Current and former Howard security officers filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that the University had failed to compensate them for work performed during their meal breaks and before and after their scheduled shifts. Howard and the plaintiffs ultimately entered into a settlement agreement, and a magistrate judge issued a consent decree enforcing that agreement.

After entering into the settlement, Howard learned that the plaintiffs had previously filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia arising out of the same facts, and that they had failed to advise Howard of that second suit. Following this discovery, Howard moved to vacate the consent decree and underlying settlement agreement. The magistrate denied Howard's motion and subsequently issued orders adopting the damages and fees calculations made by a special master who had been appointed pursuant to the agreement. The Superior Court complaint was later dismissed.

Howard now appeals from, inter alia, the denial of its motion to vacate and the adoption of the special master's calculations. We conclude that the magistrate judge did not abuse his discretion with respect to the former and that there was no clear error with respect to the latter.

I.

The plaintiffs' original district court complaint, filed November 3, 1998, alleged that Howard had failed to pay them for work performed during their meal breaks, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and in breach of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Howard and the plaintiffs' union. The complaint was amended in May 1999 to add additional claims under the FLSA and the CBA for work performed by the plaintiffs without compensation both before and after their scheduled shifts, and was amended again in May 2001 to add a claim under the D.C. Minimum Wage Act, D.C. Code § 32– 1001 et seq., for Howard's failure to compensate the plaintiffs for the same work alleged in the original and amended complaints. Hereinafter, we refer to this amended action as Summers I.*fn1

In March 1999, Howard submitted the following interrogatory -- denominated Interrogatory 14 -- to the plaintiffs:

State whether plaintiffs have ever filed a civil, administrative or other complaint or charge. For each such complaint or charge describe the facts, the date of the complaint or charge, where it was filed, the persons or entities against whom you filed or asserted a claim, and the outcome of the matter.

Def. Howard Univ.'s First Set of Interrogs. to Pls. at 8 (App. 25). Of the 69 plaintiffs who responded, the majority answered that they had not filed any complaints or charges at all; several responded by reporting grievances or court actions unrelated to the instant litigation; a small group referred Howard back to its own records; and a few objected on grounds of relevance and provided no answer. Appellant's Br. at 6; see also App. 27–39 (sample responses).

Howard moved to dismiss the complaint or, alternatively, for partial summary judgment. On December 22, 2000, the district judge granted judgment for Howard on the CBA claims, finding that the employees had failed to exhaust grievance and arbitration procedures required by the CBA. Summers v. Howard Univ., No. 98–2692, Mem. Op. & Order at 7 (D.D.C. Dec. 22, 2000) [hereinafter Dec. 2000 Mem. Op.]. At the same time, the court denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the FLSA claims. Id. at 8. In May 2001, the parties consented to refer the case to a magistrate judge for all purposes, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1).

On June 14, 2001, the plaintiffs filed a second complaint against Howard for failing to compensate them for work performed during meal breaks and before and after their shifts. Plaintiffs filed this complaint, which we hereinafter refer to as Summers II, in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The complaint alleged a breach of the CBA, a claim facially identical to one the U.S. District Court had dismissed in December 2000, and also alleged that Howard's failure to compensate the plaintiffs violated the University's employee handbook and thus constituted a breach of contract. The plaintiffs did not serve Howard with this complaint and took steps to ensure that the University would not receive notice of the lawsuit through the usual Superior Court procedures. In addition, the plaintiffs did not supplement their 1999 responses to Interrogatory 14 to account for the filing of Summers II.

On December 11, 2001, Howard and the plaintiffs reached a settlement in Summers I. Howard agreed to pay the FLSA claims in full, the amount of the payment (including back pay and liquidated damages) to be resolved by a court-appointed special master ''pursuant to Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.'' Settlement Agreement at 1 (App. 72). Howard also agreed to pay reasonable attorneys' fees as determined by the special master. The settlement agreement provided that its terms would be embodied in a consent decree and entered by the court. On February 8, 2002, the magistrate judge issued an order (''consent decree'') that referenced the terms of the Summers I settlement agreement, appointed a special master to make the findings ...


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