Romero v. Prindle Hill Construction, LLC et al
RULING granting 54 MOTION in Limine as to immigration status. Signed by Judge Sarah A. L. Merriam on 8/7/2017. (Katz, S.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
PRINDLE HILL CONSTRUCTION,
LLC, et al.
Civ. No. 3:14CV01835(SALM)
August 7, 2017
RULING ON MOTION IN LIMINE [Doc. #54]
Plaintiff Luis Romero (“plaintiff”) has filed a motion in
limine seeking to preclude evidence of plaintiff’s immigration
status from being introduced at trial. [Doc. #54]. Defendants
Prindle Hill Construction, LLC and Franklin C. Bradley, III
(“defendants”) object to plaintiff’s motion. [Doc. #60]. For the
reasons articulated below, plaintiff’s motion to preclude
evidence as to immigration status [Doc. #54] is GRANTED.
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Fair Labor
Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §201, et seq., the Connecticut
Minimum Wage Act (“CMWA”), Conn. Gen. Stat. §31-58 et seq., and
Connecticut’s prevailing wage law, Conn. Gen. Stat. §31-53, et
seq. See generally Doc. #1, Complaint. Plaintiff alleges that
(1) defendants did not pay him appropriate overtime wages, in
violation of the FLSA and CMWA; (2) defendants did not pay him
the proper minimum wage, in violation of the FLSA and CMWA; (3)
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defendants failed to pay him all of the wages owed to him, in
violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. §31-72; and (4) defendants failed
to pay him the prevailing wage for work performed on Connecticut
public works projects, in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. §31-53.
See id. at 5-7. Defendants deny plaintiff’s allegations. See
Doc. #16, Answer.
A bench trial in this matter is scheduled to commence on
September 12, 2017. See Doc. #66.
The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the court to
rule in advance of trial on the admissibility of anticipated
evidence. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n.2 (1984);
Palmieri v. Defaria, 88 F.3d 136, 141 (2d Cir. 1996). “Evidence
should be excluded on a motion in limine only when the evidence
is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds.” Jean-Laurent
v. Hennessy, 840 F. Supp. 2d 529, 536 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (citation
omitted). “Indeed, courts considering a motion in limine may
reserve judgment until trial, so that the motion is placed in
the appropriate factual context.” Id. (citing Nat’l. Union Fire
Ins. Co. v. L.E. Myers Co. Grp., 937 F. Supp. 276, 287 (S.D.N.Y.
1996)). “[T]he court’s ruling regarding a motion in limine is
‘subject to change when the case unfolds, particularly if the
actual testimony differs from what was [expected].’” Id.
(quoting Luce, 469 U.S. at 41).
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The Federal Rules of Evidence govern the admissibility of
evidence at trial. Rule 402 permits only relevant evidence to be
admitted at trial. “Relevant” evidence is defined by Rule 401 as
evidence having “any tendency to make a fact more or less
probable than it would be without the evidence and the fact is
of consequence in determining the action.” Fed. R. Evid. 401(a)(b). “[T]he court’s determination of what constitutes ‘relevant
evidence’ is guided by the nature of the claims and defenses in
the cause of action.” Jean-Laurent, 840 F. Supp. 2d at 536.
Plaintiff seeks to preclude the introduction of any
evidence at trial relating to his immigration status. See Doc.
#54. Plaintiff contends that any evidence of his immigration
status is both “irrelevant and impermissible” because admitting
such evidence could discourage individuals from “pursuing their
rights.” Doc. #54-1 at 1.
Defendants object to plaintiff’s motion, asserting that
evidence of plaintiff’s immigration status is relevant to the
following claims and defenses: (1) that plaintiff did not work
any prevailing wage jobs or work at all for Prindle Hill
Construction, LLC (“Prindle Hill”); (2) that defendant Franklin
C. Bradley (“Bradley”) believed that plaintiff was an
independent contractor; and (3) defendants’ lack of record
keeping, potential failure to pay correct overtime or minimum
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wage rates, and defendants’ reasonable belief that they were not
violating the FLSA. See Doc. #60 at 1-2. Defendants argue that
they knew of plaintiff’s immigration status from the time of his
hiring, and therefore raising that issue at trial will not deter
plaintiff from pursuing this action. Defendants also contend
that the case law cited by plaintiff is distinguishable.1 See id.
The Court finds that evidence of plaintiff’s immigration
status is both irrelevant and unduly prejudicial, and as a
result should be excluded from trial.
Relevance – Rule 402
Evidence is relevant if “(a) it has any tendency to make a
fact more or less probable than it would be without the
evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the
action.” Fed. R. Evid. 401(a)-(b). Simply put, plaintiff’s
immigration status is not relevant because it does not have any
tendency to make any material fact more or less probable. Cf.
Corona v. Adriatic Italian Rest. & Pizzeria, No. 08CV5399(KNF),
2010 WL 675702, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 23, 2010); see also
Francois v. Mazer, No. 09CV3275(KBF), 2012 WL 1506054, at *1
(S.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2012) (“There are a number of cases that have
found that evidence of immigration status has no bearing on
Notably, defendants do not cite any case law in support of
their objection. See Doc. #60.
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matters of consequence to be determined under the FLSA, and to
be both undiscoverable and inappropriate topics for trial.”).
The Court begins its analysis with an essential premise:
Wage and hour laws protect undocumented workers, just as they
protect United States citizens. Undocumented workers are not
excluded from the scope of protection of the FLSA and similar
laws. See, e.g., Campos v. Zopounidis, No. 3:09CV1138(VLB), 2011
WL 4852491, at *2 (D. Conn. Oct. 13, 2011) (“A plethora of
federal court decisions across the country have clearly
articulated that the provisions of the FLSA apply to protect
undocumented workers and citizens alike.”). “Indeed, the FLSA’s
coverage of undocumented” workers “offsets what is perhaps the
most attractive feature of such workers -- their willingness to
work for less than the minimum wage. If the FLSA did not cover
undocumented aliens, employers would have an incentive to hire
them.” Patel v. Quality Inn S., 846 F.2d 700, 704 (11th Cir.
The Court turns now to the defendants’ claims of relevance.
First, defendants argue that plaintiff’s immigration status
is relevant to defendant Prindle Hill’s claim that plaintiff
never worked for that company because he was unable to
demonstrate his immigration status. See Doc. #60 at 1, 2-3. No
support for this assertion of relevance is offered by
defendants. Defendants do not, for example, claim that Prindle
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Hill had a company policy against hiring non-citizens.
Defendants make the conclusory assertion that plaintiff “could
not have worked on any job, particularly jobs with prevailing
wages” because of his immigration status. Id. at 1. However,
defendants do not explain why this is true, and indeed, fail to
acknowledge that under the Connecticut prevailing wage act, the
prevailing wage applies to “any person performing the work”
required, with no exclusion noted based on immigration status.
Conn. Gen. Stat. §31-53(a); see also Matysiak v. Shamas, No.
3:10CV01841(GWC), 2015 WL 4939793, at *4 (D. Conn. Aug. 17,
2015) (“The legal rate of pay for a worker does not depend upon
his or her immigration status.”). Defendants also do not
indicate why it would have been permissible for plaintiff to
work for defendant Bradley, which they appear to concede he did,
but not for defendant Prindle Hill, in light of his immigration
status. Thus, the Court finds defendants have not established
the relevance of plaintiff’s immigration status to this issue.
Second, defendants argue that plaintiff’s immigration
status is relevant to the claim that defendant Bradley believed
that plaintiff was an independent contractor. See Doc. #60 at 1,
2-3. Again, no support is offered for this assertion. Plaintiff’s
immigration status does not affect the finding as to whether
plaintiff was an independent contractor. See, e.g., Trejos v.
Edita’s Bar & Rest., Inc., No. CV081477(ARR), 2009 WL 749891, at
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*1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 17, 2009) (“[W]hether or not plaintiffs had
green cards or working papers is simply not relevant” to
determination of whether plaintiffs are employees or contractors
under the FLSA.). Plaintiff’s immigration status, were it
admitted in evidence, would not somehow dictate a finding that
he is an independent contractor, as defendants suggest. Thus,
the Court finds defendants have not established the relevance of
plaintiff’s immigration status to this issue.
Third, defendants argue that plaintiff’s immigration status
is relevant to defendants’ methods or lack of record keeping,
the willfulness of any failure to pay the correct overtime or
minimum wage rates, and defendants’ reasonable belief that they
were not violating the FLSA. See Doc. #60 at 1, 2-3. The
argument is not fleshed out in defendants’ brief memorandum, but
it appears that defendants will assert that they had a good
faith reason to believe that they were not required to comply
with the FLSA because of plaintiff’s immigration status. To
establish a good faith defense to the award of liquidated
damages under FLSA, an employer must meet a “difficult” burden,
and liquidated damages are the norm. See Herman v. RSR Sec.
Servs. Ltd., 172 F.3d 132, 142 (2d Cir, 1999). The employer
“must show that it took active steps to ascertain the dictates
of the FLSA and then act to comply with them.” Barfield v. New
York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 537 F.3d 132, 150 (2d Cir.
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2008) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Here, had
defendants endeavored to ascertain the dictates of the FLSA,
they would have learned that it in fact does apply to
undocumented workers. Defendants have not articulated any reason
why evidence of plaintiff’s immigration status will be relevant
to whether or not defendant actively pursued compliance with the
FLSA. Thus, the Court finds defendants have not established the
relevance of plaintiff’s immigration status to this issue.
Prejudice – Rule 403
Plaintiff argues that even if the contested evidence were
relevant, it should be excluded under Rule 403 of the Federal
Rules of Evidence. Rule 403 provides that even relevant evidence
can be excluded if the danger of unfair prejudice outweighs its
probative value. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. Plaintiff argues that
permitting employers to bring plaintiff’s immigration status
into evidence at trial would have a chilling effect on
employees. See Doc. #54-1 at 1. Defendants contend that allowing
the introduction of evidence regarding plaintiff’s immigration
status will not chill the pursuit of legal action because in
this case, the action has already been brought. See Doc. #60 at
Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence allows the court
to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is
substantially outweighed by a danger of ... unfair prejudice[.]”
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The Court agrees with plaintiff that evidence of plaintiffs’
immigration status would be unduly prejudicial. Although this
case will be tried to the Court, rather than to a jury, and thus
the risk of prejudice to this plaintiff is minimal,2 permitting
inquiry into the immigration status of an FLSA plaintiff could
have a “chilling effect” on the pursuit of such actions by
others. See, e.g., Avila-Blum v. Casa de Cambio Delgado, Inc.,
236 F.R.D. 190, 191 (S.D.N.Y. 2006); Rodriguez v. Pie of Port
Jefferson Corp., 48 F. Supp. 3d 424, 426 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (“Such
a chilling effect would effectively eliminate the FLSA as a
means for protecting undocumented workers from exploitation and
retaliation.” (internal citation and quotation marks omitted)).
If undocumented workers are discouraged from filing FLSA
actions, employers who commit FLSA violations against
undocumented workers would be shielded from litigation. See
Solis v. Cindy’s Total Care, Inc., No. 10CV7242(PAE), 2011 WL
6013844, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 2, 2011) (“Such an employer would
effectively be immunized from its duty under the statute to pay
earned wages, and would thereby be able to undercut law-abiding
employers who hired lawful workers, as those workers would not
“[T]he concerns of probative value and prejudicial effect ...
[are] mitigated because the proceeding in this case is in the
nature of a bench trial, in which the Court will be able to
distinguish between relevant and prejudicial testimony.” S.E.C.
v. Drescher, No. 99CV1418(VM), 2001 WL 1602978, at *2 (S.D.N.Y.
Dec. 13, 2001).
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be disabled from vindicating their FLSA rights. The FLSA was
clearly designed to prevent such unfair competition and the
unjust enrichment of employers who hire illegal workers so as to
pay substandard wages.”). The Court finds that precluding
evidence of plaintiff’s immigration status furthers the purpose
and intent of the FLSA.
Defendants also argue that plaintiff’s immigration status
is already known to them, so cases regarding discovery into that
status are distinguishable.3 See Doc. #60 at 2. Defendants’
argument is without merit, and confuses the issue. This evidence
should be precluded because its introduction at trial will be
unduly prejudicial. See Corona, 2010 WL 675702, at *1 (“[T]he
Court concludes it is reasonable and appropriate to bar the
defendants, at the trial, from inquiring into the immigration
status of the plaintiffs.”); Avila-Blum, 236 F.R.D. at 191.
Whether defendants became aware of plaintiff’s immigration
status before or after litigation commenced, the prejudicial
nature of the evidence when introduced at trial does not change.
See, e.g., Campos, 2011 WL 4852491, at *2 (“Defendants argue
that here, where Plaintiff affirmatively disclosed his
Although cases involving discovery requests may be procedurally
different, courts have ruled in limine to preclude evidence of
immigration status at trial. See, e.g, Francois, 2012 WL
1506054, at *1; Corona, 2010 WL 675702, at *1; Solis, 2011 WL
6013844, at *4.
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immigration status, there is no danger that he will suffer
unfair prejudice by the Defendant’s presentation of such
evidence. The Court is wholly unpersuaded by these arguments.”).
Indeed, defendants’ prior knowledge of plaintiff’s status may
weigh against admissibility of this evidence. See Angamarca v.
Da Ciro, Inc., 303 F.R.D. 445, 447 (S.D.N.Y. 2012)
(“[Defendants] should not be allowed to assert [plaintiff]’s
immigration status as a defense to a FLSA claim, particularly
when the status was known at the time of employment.” (emphasis
The Court thus finds that, even if the evidence proffered
were relevant, it would be unduly prejudicial and thus should be
excluded under Rule 403.
For the reasons articulated above, plaintiff’s motion to
preclude evidence of plaintiff’s immigration status [Doc. #54]
SO ORDERED at New Haven, Connecticut this 7th day of August
HON. SARAH A. L. MERRIAM
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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