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LINDA VELEZ v. HERNANDO SANCHEZ

November 30, 2010

LINDA VELEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BETSY SANCHEZ, YOLANDA MUNOZ, AND SHARI MUNOZ, DEFENDANTS.
BETSY SANCHEZ,
THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
HERNANDO SANCHEZ, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Block, Senior District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Linda Velez ("Velez") claims that she was trafficked from Ecuador and forced to work in the home of Betsy Sanchez ("Betsy"). That single assertion spawned two claims under the Alien Tort Statute ("ATS"), 28 U.S.C. § 1350, a third under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19, and another nine under state law.*fn1 All of those claims are asserted against Betsy; some are also asserted against Betsy's sister, Shari Munoz ("Shari"), and mother, Yolanda Munoz ("Yolanda").

In response, Betsy, Shari and Yolanda (collectively, the "Sanchez defendants") assert state-law counterclaims for unjust enrichment/restitution and assault.*fn2 In addition, Betsy filed a third-party complaint against her ex-husband, Hernando Sanchez ("Hernando"), seeking indemnity and contribution under state law in the event she is held liable to Velez.

The Sanchez defendants move for summary judgment on all of Velez's claims. In response, Velez cross-moves for summary judgment on her FLSA claim, several of her state-law claims, and all of the Sanchez defendants' counterclaims. Although Hernando has not moved for summary judgment on Betsy's third-party claims against him, they are obviously contingent upon Betsy's liability to Velez.

For the following reasons, the Court grants summary judgment to the Sanchez defendants on Velez's federal claims, and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims, counterclaims and third-party claims. The case is therefore dismissed in its entirety.

BACKGROUND*fn3

A. Velez's Relocation From Ecuador to the United States

In 2001, Velez was living in her native Ecuador with her mother and stepfather (who is Betsy and Shari's biological father). She attended a private high school; the tuition was paid by her biological father.

In the summer of that year, Betsy spoke to her father and to Velez's parents about having Velez, who was then 16, come to New York to live with Betsy and Hernando. She promised that Velez would continue high school in the United States, and that she would pay Velez $80 per week in exchange for help taking care of the Sanchez's daughter, Nicole. Betsy later reiterated these promises directly to Velez, adding that she would provide "everything \that [Velez] would need," such as "food, [a] place to live, personal stuff." Velez Dep. at 12. She also promised to help Velez "go to college and also look for my papers to get legal here in the future." Id.

Velez agreed to move to the United States, arriving in New York in September 2001 on a six-month tourist visa. She lived in the Sanchez home until November 2003.

B. Life in the Sanchez Home

During Velez's first four to six months in the Sanchez household, Betsy was not working and remained at home. The amended complaint alleges that Velez was responsible for all of the household tasks as well as caring for the Sanchez children, Nicole and Erica, who was born in October 2002. Velez conceded, however, that Betsy performed at least some household tasks. Velez testified in particular about December 2001: "I would cook breakfast, I would sometimes make lunch or I would cook dinner. Or maybe one day it could be [all three meals] or one day it could be just one, or the other day Betsy would do it when she was at home." Velez Dep.at 313. "[At] lunch, either [Betsy] would make something or I would make something. If she was busy I would do it or if I was doing something else with the baby she would do it. Or dinner time I would make something or she would make something." Id. Despite sharing responsibility over these activities, Velez perceived that her household responsibilities became comprehensive as time went on: "I felt like I was taking care of [the Sanchez children] 24 hours. Always looking for them, plus doing all of the household [work] in the house." Id. at 26.

Betsy returned to work approximately one month after Erica was born. Yolanda, the children's grandmother, then began to come to the house more often:

[A]s soon as Betsy went back to work, Yolanda would come-I don't know if it was every day but most of the days of the week, and she would stay in the house . . . with me for some time, but I was doing everything else. She would take care of Nicole or Erica when I was doing [laundry] or cleaning or cooking[.]

Id. at 344. Yolanda's visits continued, with varying regularity, until at least September 2003. Velez claims that these visits were for Yolanda "to monitor" Velez on Betsy's behalf. Am. Compl. at ¶ 93.

Shari, Betsy's sister, was also a regular visitor. Velez believed her visits, like Yolanda's, were supervisory: "[Shari] would go sometimes to the house and she would see me doing stuff and taking care of the babies." Velez Dep. at 157. Although Shari "sometimes" directed Velez to perform household chores, her principal role was to tell Velez to "listen to [Betsy] and do what she tells you to do." Id. at 159.

During her time in the Sanchez home, Velez always had free room and board. She also had access to the family's television, telephone and computer, and had her own email account for most of her time there.She communicated regularly with her parents, her stepfather and extended family, as well as friends she had made in the United States.

C. Life Outside the Sanchez Home

Betsy did not honor her promise to send Velez to high school while in the United States. However, she did pay for Velez to take an English class, a GED course, and at least one class at Queensborough Community College. Velez traveled to these classes unescorted. She also visited the public library, sometimes with Yolanda and the children, but also alone.

In 2002, Betsy took Velez to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles in an effort to get some form of in-state identification; however, Velez was unable to do so because her tourist visa had expired. She eventually obtained a New York State tax identification number. Velez also went alone to the Ecuadoran Consulate on two separate occasions.

Velez apparently had at least some time off from her duties in the Sanchez household. Before Erica was born, she earned $60 to $80 per week at a job outside the home. Although she eventually quit the job to help Betsy with the new baby, the money she had earned was hers to do with as she pleased. She had a membership at the YMCA (a gift from Betsy), where she exercised frequently for "a few months." Velez Dep. at 137. She attended a one-month preparatory course for her religious confirmation. She spent a weekend in the Poconos with her stepfather's sister.

D. Velez's Relationship with Betsy and Her Family

Velez's relationship with Betsy took an early blow because Betsy did not pay Velez her promised weekly wage. When, in October 2001, Velez asked why, Betsy said "she couldn't . . . because she wasn't working. And as soon as she started working she will give me what she promised me." Velez Dep. at 380. Betsy did not start paying, however. At some point in 2002, Hernando told Velez that he "wanted to give [Velez] some money," but that Betsy had said that it was none of his business to get involved in the relationship between Betsy and [Velez]." Id. at 382-83.

Despite Velez's concern that she was shouldering the workload of the entire Sanchez household for no pay, her relationship with Betsy and her family remained cordial, even affectionate. She gave Betsy cards or letters on several occasions to commemorate holidays, including Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Christmas. Velez testified that she regarded Betsy as her sister. The feeling appears to have been mutual: Betsy took Velez to a Broadway show and, later, on a family vacation to Florida. Although Velez was expected to take care of Nicole on the latter trip, she had free time to go swimming and shopping.

Velez also befriended Betsy's sister, Shari. The two often made popcorn and watched movies at Shari's apartment. Shari also took Velez to a show at ...


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