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Roy Ruel v. Braff Harris & Sukoneck

November 1, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Michael Seabright United States District Judge



Plaintiff Roy Ruel ("Plaintiff"), a Hawaii resident proceeding pro se, filed an "Employment Discrimination Complaint" against the New Jersey and New York law firm Braff Harris & Sukoneck ("Defendant"), alleging that Defendant wrongfully terminated Plaintiff and retaliated against him for failure to perform his duties as an expert witness due to his disabilities, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.

Currently before the court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, contending that (1) this court does not have personal jurisdiction over Defendant,*fn1 and (2) Defendant did not have sufficient control over Plaintiff to establish the employer-employee relationship necessary to fall under Title VII. Doc. No. 36, Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 4-13. Because the court agrees that Plaintiff was not Defendant's employee, the court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.


A. Factual Background

On or about February 16, 2007, Defendant and Plaintiff traded emails and phone calls regarding the possibility of Plaintiff serving as an expert witness regarding a New York lawsuit involving a paintball gun injury. Doc. No. 37-2, Def.'s Ex. A. These discussions continued on February 27, 2007, when Defendant notified Plaintiff that it was sending Plaintiff a packet of information for his review, and on March 2, 2007, Defendant mailed a retainer check for $1,500 to Plaintiff's address in Hawaii. Doc. No. 37-3, Def.'s Ex. B; Doc. No. 37-4, Def.'s Ex. C. On October 18, 2007, Plaintiff completed a W-9 Form for tax purposes under his own name, but identified himself as an Limited Liability Company ("LLC") with an employer identification number ("EIN") and address used in conjunction with his company, All-Engineers, LLC. Doc. No. 37-5, Def.'s Ex. D.

Discussions continued between Plaintiff and Defendant, specifically regarding Plaintiff's travel to Rochester, New York, for the paintball gun inspection. Doc. No. 37-6, Def.'s Ex. E at 1. Plaintiff stated that he would prefer to have the gun shipped to Hawaii for inspection because Plaintiff was recovering from a medical issue that hampered his ability to travel long distances. Id. at 2. On February 15, 2008, Defendant notified Plaintiff of the court-ordered testing of the paintball gun in Rochester, New York on April 2, 2008, Doc. No. 37-7, Def.'s Ex. F, and on February 17, 2008, Plaintiff sent Defendant an invoice for his travel expenses and time charges and required advance payment of $4,990. Doc. No. 37-1, Decl. of Murray-Nolan ¶ 15; Doc. No. 37-10, Def.'s Ex. I. Because Plaintiff sent the February 17, 2008 invoice to Defendant, Defendant asserted it was led to believe that Plaintiff was committed to attending the April 2, 2008 inspection. Doc. No. 37-1, Decl. of Murray-Nolan ¶¶ 15-16.

On March 28, 2008, Plaintiff notified Defendant that he would have to delay his trip to New York because he was ill, and on March 29, 2008, Defendant notified Plaintiff that it could not reschedule the April 2, 2008 court-ordered inspection without a physician's certificate. Doc. Nos. 37-8 and 9, Def.'s Exs. G and H. Plaintiff provided emails from his doctor, but did not provide a certificate, and subsequently, Defendant was required to obtain a replacement expert witness at a cost of approximately $20,000. Doc. No. 37-1, Decl. of Murray-Nolan ¶¶ 12-14, 19.

In a letter dated April 1, 2008, Defendant requested that Plaintiff return all payments made to him, and after Plaintiff failed to do so, Defendant filed suit against Plaintiff in New Jersey to recover all payment and costs of retaining a replacement expert witness. Doc. No. 37-11, Def.'s Ex. J; Doc. No. 37-1, Decl. of Murray-Nolan ¶ 20. On January 16, 2009, the Superior Court of New Jersey granted partial summary judgment in favor of Defendant and ordered that Plaintiff pay Defendant $4,390. Doc. No. 37-13, Def.'s Ex. L. After Plaintiff failed to pay, Defendant sought an Order Granting Final Judgment by Default on January 8, 2010, which the court granted. Doc. No. 37-15, Def.'s Ex. N.

B. Procedural Background

On November 18, 2010, Plaintiff filed his Complaint*fn2 in this court, Doc. No. 1, and on January 11, 2011, Defendant filed its Answer. Doc. No. 10. On August 24, 2011, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Doc. No. 36. On October 3, 2011, Plaintiff filed an Opposition, Doc. No. 41, and on October 7, 2011, Defendant filed a Reply. Doc. No. 42.

Pursuant to Local Rule 7.2(d) of the Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, the court ...

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