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Evans v. Tiger Claw, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 23, 2017


          Argued March 15, 2017

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Licari, J. [motion to strike]; Corradino, J. [motion to strike special defenses]; Hon. Robert I. Berdon, judge trial referee [judgment; articulation]; Pittman, J. [judgment])

          Mariusz Kurzyna, with whom, on the brief, was Peter Goselin, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Taryn D. Martin with whom was Robert A. Ziegler, for the appellee (named defendant).

          Alvord, Prescott and Bear, Js.


          PER CURIAM.

         The plaintiff, Christopher Evans, appeals from the judgment, rendered after a trial to the court, denying his claim for hourly wages allegedly due from the defendant, Tiger Claw, Inc. (defendant).[1] On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred (1) ‘‘in failing to apply or misapplying fundamental tenets of wage and hour law''; (2) ‘‘in applying an incorrect burden of proof''; and (3) ‘‘in finding that [the] plaintiff has not proved that [the] defendant failed to pay any wages to which [the] plaintiff was otherwise entitled.'' We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts were found by the court or are not disputed. The defendant was a start-up company when the plaintiff began working there in January, 2003. The defendant manufactured hidden deck fasteners for the construction industry. David Hartmann, David Mar-tel, and Donald Martel were corporate officers and held various managerial positions within the defendant. The plaintiff was hired as a sales representative for a new line of deck fasteners and was compensated on a commission basis, with an agreement that his first $10, 000 in commission earnings would be with held and invested in shares of the company's stock. Because the defendant was just starting up and had little support staff, it was further agreed that if the plaintiff was called upon from time to time to perform administrative functions that were not sales related, the defendant would compensate the plaintiff on an hourly basis, based on time records submitted periodically by the plaintiff.

         The plaintiff worked primarily as a sales representative from January, 2003 until April, 2005, calling customers, visiting wholesalers and retailers, attending trade shows, creating and editing promotional materials, and keeping track internally and externally of the market.[2]After the plaintiff had accumulated $10, 027.26 in sales commissions, which was set aside in a stock fund, he was paid commissions for subsequent sales that he made and received Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Forms 1099 for that income.

         The plaintiff submitted a record of time spent on administrative work to the defendant in February, 2003 for work performed in January, 2003. The plaintiff was not paid for the administrative work he performed in January, 2003, and he never demanded payment for that administrative work during his employment. The plaintiff did not submit any other records of time allegedly spent on administrative work until he stopped working for the defendant.[3] When it became clear that the plaintiff would be leaving in March, 2005, the plaintiff presented the defendant with more than two years of administrative time records for which he demanded compensation. The defendant disputed the plaintiff's entitlement to compensation for such administrative time.

         The plaintiff essentially stopped working for the defendant on March 16, 2005, and he resigned effective that date. On April 7, 2005, the defendant's counsel sent a letter to the plaintiff, officially terminating his employment. The defendant paid out all of his remaining earned commissions and reported on an IRS Form 1099 for the year 2005 that the plaintiff received $8861.49 for that year.

         On October 13, 2006, the plaintiff filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor (department) for unpaid wages totaling $191, 966.91. After an investigation, Blair F. Bertaccini, a department wage enforcement agent, determined that certain costs had been deducted improperly from one of the plaintiff's commission checks and that the plaintiff was owed $3603.67 in unpaid wages. The plaintiff was unwilling to resolve his claim for that amount, and he withdrew his complaint at the department. On August 13, 2007, the plaintiff commenced the present action against the defendant and against Hartmann and the Martels in their individual capacities.

         The plaintiff's operative complaint alleged that the defendant, Hartmann, and the Martels (1) failed to pay him hourly and commission wages and/or the shares of stock to which he was entitled and (2) obtained the plaintiff's property, i.e., wages and/or stock, by false pretenses. The defendant, Hartmann, and the Martels filed special defenses alleging that the plaintiff's claims were barred by the statute of limitations articulated in General Statutes § 52-596 and by the doctrine of res judicata. Following a six day trial, the court, Hon. Robert I. Berdon, judge trial referee, issued its memorandum of decision on April 27, 2011. Although the court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff, it limited his recovery for unpaid hourly wages to $3603.67, which was the amount Bertaccini recommended to resolve the wage claim filed by the plaintiff with the department. The court held that the doctrine of res judicata precluded any further recovery by the plaintiff for unpaid hourly wages. The court added $10, 027.26 to that award, however, representing the sales commissions set aside for the purchase of corporate stock, for a total recovery of $13, 630.93, plus taxable costs.

         The plaintiff appealed the judgment of the trial court claiming that ‘‘the court improperly concluded that the doctrine of res judicata precluded the recovery of those wages because of a prior determination by a wage enforcement agent for the department of labor.'' Evans v.Tiger Claw, Inc., 141 Conn.App. 110, 112, 61 A.3d 533, cert. denied, 310 Conn. 926, 78 A.3d 146, 856 (2013). The defendant, Hartmann, and the Martels filed a cross appeal from the judgment, ‘‘claiming that the court improperly (1) awarded the plaintiff $10, 027.26 for unpaid commissions and (2) found [Hartmann and the Martels] liable for the amounts awarded to the plaintiff.'' Id. This court reversed the judgment ‘‘as to the according of res judicata effect to [Bertaccini's] determination of the plaintiff's wage claim'' and remanded the case for a new trial on that issue. Id., 124. This court further reversed the ...

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