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Williams v. The Bethel Springvale Nursing Home, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 5, 2018

NICOLA WILLIAMS, on behalf of herself and all others similarly-situated, Plaintiffs,

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Nicola Williams and one remaining opt-in collective action Plaintiff, John T. Vecchio, bring this action against their former employer, The Bethel Springvale Nursing Home ("Bethel"), alleging violations of the Fair Labor and Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), in the form of unpaid overtime wages. Presently before the court is Defendant Bethel's motion in limine to preclude Plaintiffs from presenting certain evidence at trial. (ECF No. 85.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, BACKGROUND

         The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the factual background of present action, as outlined in Williams v. Bethel Springvale Nursing Home, No. 14-CV-9383 (NSR), 2017 WL 4046338, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 12, 2017). To briefly summarize, this case centers around former employees of Defendant Bethel-a 200 bed not-for-profit skilled nursing facility dedicated to the care of the elderly-who claim that they regularly worked in excess of 40 hours per week without overtime pay, in violation of the FLSA. Id. Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that, in accordance with Bethel's employment policies, nurses were required to obtain signed overtime approval forms prior to the end of a given pay period if they sought payment for any accumulated overtime wages. However, the Bethel supervisors would generally refuse to sign such forms, even if the nurses worked beyond their shifts. Id. Additionally, Plaintiffs contend that they were often asked to “clock out” of Defendant's automated timekeeping system but continue their work, leaving many of their hours unrecorded. Id. Plaintiffs further allege that even when they were not asked to “clock out, ” they often did not receive overtime compensation for all of their hours of work recorded on Defendant's system. Id.

         Plaintiff Williams, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, commenced the present action against Defendant Bethel alleging violations of the FLSA on November 25, 2014. (ECF No. 1.) After the close of discovery on November 4, 2015, Defendant moved for summary judgment in its favor and to decertify the FLSA opt-in class. (ECF No. 51.) This Court denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment in part and granted it in part, and denied Defendant's motion to decertify the opt-in class on September 12, 2017. (ECF No. 74). With the consent of all parties, the Court scheduled a bench trial to begin on April 10, 2018. Presently before the Court is Defendant's pre-trial motion, seeking preclusion of a certain anticipated evidence at trial. (ECF No. 85.) The Court now considers each of Defendant's arguments in turn.


         “A district court's inherent authority to manage the course of its trials encompasses the right to rule on motions in limine.” Highland Capital Mgmt., L.P. v. Schneider, 551 F.Supp.2d 173, 176 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citing Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n. 4 (1984)). An in limine motion is intended “to aid the trial process by enabling the Court to rule in advance of trial on the relevance of certain forecasted evidence, as to issues that are definitely set for trial, without lengthy argument at, or interruption of, the trial.” Palmieri v. Defaria, 88 F.3d 136, 141 (2d Cir.1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Because a ruling on a motion in limine is ‘subject to change as the case unfolds, ' this ruling constitutes a preliminary determination in preparation for trial.” United States v. Perez, No. 09-CR-1153 (MEA), 2011 WL 1431985, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 12, 2011) (quoting Palmieri, 88 F.3d at 139).


         Testimony of Supervisor Rupa (LNU)

         Defendant first moves to preclude Plaintiff from testifying or submitting evidence regarding alleged conversations with a former supervisor in Defendant's Rehab Unit on the grounds that such statements constitute inadmissible hearsay. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is denied.

         A. Applicable law

         Statements made by an out-of-court declarant and introduced to prove the truth of the matter asserted are generally inadmissible as hearsay, absent an exception. Fed.R.Evid. 801, 802; United States v. Cardascia, 951 F.2d 474, 486 (2d Cir. 1991). Under Rule 801(d)(2)(D), however, a statement is not hearsay if it “is offered against an opposing party and . . . was made by the party's agent or employee on a matter within the scope of that relationship while it existed.” Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(D). As the Second Circuit has noted, “admissibility under this rule should be granted freely.” Pappas v. Middle Earth Condo. Ass'n, 963 F.2d 534, 537 (2d Cir. 1992).

         “A sufficient foundation to support the introduction of such vicarious admissions therefore requires only that a party establish (1) the existence of [an] agency relationship [between the declarant and employer], (2) that the statement was made during the course of the relationship, and (3) that it relates to a matter within the scope of the agency.” Id.; accord Farganis v. Town of Montgomery, 397 F. App'x 666, 668 (2d Cir. 2010) (summ. order). Notably, “this foundational predicate may be established by circumstantial evidence.” Farganis, 397 F. App'x at 686 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Pappas, 963 F.2d at 537).

         B. Analysis

         Defendant contends that Plaintiffs do not satisfy the required foundational predicate for admissibility under Rule 801(d)(2)(D) because they fail to fully identify the “Rupa” supervisor. However, the Second Circuit has allowed vicarious admissions from unidentified individuals where other evidence establishes the scope as well as the existence of the agency relationship. See Pappas, 963 F.2d at 538 (allowing admissions from unidentified employee where “the agency relationship was sufficiently established without identifying the employee”).

         Here, Plaintiff Williams has provided testimony, as a former employee of Bethel, that this unidentified individual was the supervisor of the Rehab Unit and the supervisor for all units at night, who had the authority to sign Plaintiff's overtime form, but refused to do so. (Decl. of David D. Barnhorn in Opp. to Def.'s Mot In Limine (“Barnhorn Decl.”), Ex. A, Excerpt of Deposition of Nicola Williams (“Williams Dep.”) at 35:17-36:25.) Such testimony provides a sufficient basis for this Court to find that the unidentified individual, “Rupa, ” was employed as a supervisor of Bethel when she made statements regarding Plaintiff's hours and entitlement to overtime, and that such statements were within the scope of her supervisory role. That Plaintiff herself is the sole source of this information goes to the weight of the testimony rather than its admissibility. Accordingly, Plaintiff's testimony regarding “Rupa” is admissible as non-hearsay under Rule 801(d)(2)(D).

         Further, Defendant's argument that Plaintiff Williams should be precluded from testifying about alleged conversations with her former supervisor because “Plaintiff failed to identify this purported individual as a witness in pre-trial disclosures” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 is equally unavailing. Plaintiff does not intend to call “Rupa” as a witness. (Pls.' Mem. of Law in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. In Limine (“Pls.' Opp.”) at 4.) Rather, Williams will testify regarding her conversations with that individual. (Id.) As Plaintiffs are not offering “Rupa” as a witness herself, disclosure of her information ...

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