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Martin v. Jones

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

March 30, 2018

NICK J. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE JONES, et al., Defendants,

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan Collins United States Magistrate Judge

         These Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law follow a one-day bench trial held on March 27, 2018, on the sole claim remaining in this case: pro se Plaintiff Nick J. Martin's (“Martin”) state-law claim against Defendants George Jones (“George”), Trent Jones (“Trent”), and Emma S. Jones (“Emma”), and Jones Auto and Jones Auto Repair (together, “Jones Auto”), [1] for unpaid wages for the period of April 22, 2012, through June 4, 2012.[2] (DE 179 at 1; DE 191). At the trial, Martin appeared pro se, and the Jones Defendants were represented by counsel. (DE 191).

         After examining the trial record, considering the arguments of Martin and counsel, and determining the credibility of the witnesses, the Court makes the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) based upon a preponderance of the evidence.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT[3]

         In his case in chief, Martin called Trent, George, Emma, and Martin Henry (“Henry”), a non-party, to testify, and Martin also testified on his own behalf.[4] Martin attempted to call Richard England, who was initially a defendant in this case but has since been dismissed (DE 175); England apparently was in the courtroom at the start of the trial, but had left the building by the time Martin attempted to call him as a witness. Neither party had subpoenaed England to testify. In its case in chief, the Jones Defendants called Trent and George to testify.

         As to the credibility of the witnesses, George, who was the owner of Jones Auto during the relevant period, had some difficulty recalling facts and at times contradicted himself as well as documents of record, making his testimony less than credible.[5] Emma, who is George's wife and who worked part-time at Jones Auto in 2012, testified that she had memory problems, that 2012 was an emotional year for her because of her daughter's death, and that she could not recall who worked there during the relevant period or much about Jones Auto's operations at the time, making her testimony less than credible. Trent, who is George and Emma's son and who now runs an auto shop at Jones Auto's location, had less difficulty with recall, but he claimed lack of knowledge about the relevant time period because he did not work at Jones Auto in 2012, making his testimony not particularly helpful. Henry was a credible witness, but he had no knowledge relevant to this case, and thus, his testimony was unhelpful.[6] As to Martin, at times Martin testified with specificity about dates and details, but this was intermingled with testimony about alleged events involving the New Jersey port authority in the 1980s, claims of identity theft from 1986, conspiracy and bias theories, claims of stolen property, and other unrelated and irrelevant matters, making Martin's testimony also less than credible.

         To the extent that the Court could discern any credible facts from the testimony of these witnesses, [7] the Court makes the following factual findings:[8] In 1984, Martin came to Fort Wayne from New York City by way of Pittsburgh, where he was incarcerated three times. Martin first met George in September 1986 when Martin was involved in a traffic accident near Jones Auto. Shortly after the accident, George or Jones Auto did some work on Martin's car. In 2005, Martin got divorced, and near that time, he took his car back to Jones Auto to get its gas tanks cleaned. In 2008, Martin lost his job as a truck driver with Brothers Express, Inc.

         Jones Auto was located at 1701 South Anthony Boulevard, Fort Wayne, Indiana, during the relevant period. George solely owned Jones Auto, [9] but he and Emma owned the real estate together. George and Emma leased real estate located at 1717 South Anthony Boulevard to England, who operated his own business of auto body repair and painting at that location. George stated that he has known Martin a long time, and that over the years George would give Martin cash when Martin was “down and out, ” such as to help him pay his divorce lawyer, to get him out of jail, and to get his car out of the bull pen. As George succinctly put it: “I thought he was my friend.”

         Martin claims that he worked as a mechanic for George, Jones Auto, and England in 2009 and 2010, that he was promised a wage of $50 a day, and that he eventually quit in 2010 because he was not getting paid.[10] The Jones Defendants deny that Martin ever worked for Jones Auto as a mechanic. England, who did not testify at trial, answered in his Interrogatories that Martin helped him out occasionally with performing certain “vehicle bodywork services, ” but that Martin did so voluntarily with no expectation of payment. (DE 152 at 3). Nevertheless, England gratuitously paid Martin not more than $25 or $50 a day and less than $1000 in the aggregate for his assistance; England's payments were made in cash, and there were no records maintained of the payments or services. (DE 152 at 3).

         In November 2010, after being released from jail following a conviction for driving while intoxicated, Martin sued George, Jones Auto, and England in small claims court for unpaid wages. (DE 112 at 6). After a trial, a magistrate judge found that although Martin “went to work” for England in 2009 and again in 2010, there was never a written agreement between the parties, Martin was unable to establish any specific terms of a verbal agreement between the parties, and Martin failed to prove that these defendants owed him any specific amount in unpaid wages. (AR 98-1 at 8).

         In June 2012, the City of Fort Wayne got on George about cleaning up trash at the back fence line of the Jones Auto site. Martin came by and offered to help George, stating that George did not need to pay him other than to give him some money for cigarettes and gas. Martin then helped George for two weeks by picking up trash at the back fence and putting it in a dumpster. In that two-week period, George gave Martin about $305 in cash in total, broken down as: $20 on each of four weekdays the first week, $110 on the first weekend, and $115 on the second weekend. (See DE 68 at 3 (George admitting in his answer that Martin performed “miscellaneous maintenance work” for him for which Martin was paid in kind or in cash an amount less than $600)). After two weeks, George told Martin that he could not use him any longer. Although Martin wanted to come up front and work as a mechanic, George told him that he could not use him around customers due to Martin exuding a “bad odor” that George attributed to crack cocaine.

         George testified that Martin only asked for $20 a day, that Martin never objected to the amount paid at the time, that George paid these amounts in cash out of his own personal funds and not Jones Auto's funds, and that no written or computer records were maintained. Martin also borrowed additional money from George during this time, as Martin claimed that he was short on funds even though he was receiving disability benefit payments. George claimed that Martin never paid him back for $165 of what Martin borrowed from him.

         According to George, Martin only picked up trash for two weeks and never worked as a mechanic for Jones Auto in 2012. George said that he employed no mechanic, other than himself, for Jones Auto during the relevant period. Neither Trent nor Emma could recall who was working at Jones Auto in 2012, but both denied that Martin worked as a mechanic at Jones Auto during the relevant period. George denied that there was ever an agreement with Martin to provide Martin a specific amount of money.

         Martin tells a different version of events. Martin testified that he saw George on the street in April 2012 and learned that George's stepdaughter had just passed away. Martin went to the viewing to pay his respects, and he then voluntarily watched the auto shop for George on the day of the funeral. Martin testified that after that, George asked him to come back to work at Jones Auto as a mechanic to cover the shop when George traveled to Alabama. Martin states that he then worked at Jones Auto from April 22, 2012, to June 4, 2012, working seven days a week for a sum of $50 a day.[11] Martin testified that George or Jones Auto paid him in cash $265 the first week, $220 the second week, and $100 the third week, but that Martin still ...


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