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Pimentel v. R.I. Dept. of Labor & Training

Superior Court of Rhode Island

January 12, 2016

MICHAEL PIMENTEL
v.
R.I. DEPT. OF LABOR & TRAINING

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Veronika M. Kot, Esq.

For Defendant: Bernard P. Healy, Esq.

DECISION

VOGEL, J.

Plaintiff, Michael Pimentel (Pimentel), seeks judicial review of a decision of the Board of Review of the Department of Labor and Training (Board of Review or DLT). In the decision, the Board of Review rejected Pimentel's claim for wages and found that he did not meet the definition of an "employee" as set forth in G.L. 1956 §§ 28-14-1, et seq. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 §§ 42-35-15, et seq. For the reasons set forth herein, this Court affirms the DLT's decision.

I

Facts and Travel

Pimentel claims that Cliff Dolan (Dolan) hired him on April 26, 2010 to perform residential rehabilitation work on three residential projects[1] for Dolan's company, Small Job Pro. See Compl.; see also Tr. 3, Dec. 2, 2010 (Tr.). Pimentel asserts that he began working for Dolan immediately and remained Dolan's employee for nine weeks, averaging thirty-eight hours a week, at the rate of $15 per hour. See Compl. ¶ 4. On July 22, 2010, Pimentel filed a complaint with the DLT's Division of Labor Standards, alleging that Dolan failed to pay him wages from April 26, 2010 to June 21, 2010-totaling approximately $2, 582.50. See Compl. ¶¶ 4-6. On December 2, 2010, a DLT duly authorized representative and hearing officer conducted a hearing on Pimentel's claim against Dolan and his company, Small Job Pro. See Department of Labor and Training, Division of Labor Standards Claim No. LS 2010-265, January 10, 2011 decision (Decision).

During the hearing, Pimentel represented himself, testified, and presented documentary evidence. See Decision at 1; see also Tr. at 2. Pimentel testified as to the aforementioned start date, pay rate, and hours per week worked. Tr. at 4, 25-26. Pimentel also stated that Dolan provided him with the tools, supervision, and knowledge necessary to complete the projects. Tr. at 26-27, 30, 31, 32, 33. He testified that Dolan assisted him to set up in the morning and checked his progress at the end of each business day. Tr. at 27, 29, 32. Although Pimentel acknowledged that he was able to set his own schedule, he claimed that he did not work for other contractors during the nine weeks he worked for Dolan and was not registered as a contractor with the State of Rhode Island Contractors' Registration and Licensing Board. Tr. at 34-35, 46. During the hearing, Pimentel presented a personal log, prepared contemporaneously with his claimed employment, documenting the dates and times he worked, the locations where he worked, and the amount of money he claims Dolan owes to him. Tr. at 5-6. Pimentel contends that his relationship with Dolan's company was one of employer/employee. Tr. at 44, 46, 49. He seeks back wages in the amount of $2, 582.50. Tr. at 4.

Dolan also testified at the hearing. See Decision at 1; see also Tr. at 2. In opposition to Pimentel's testimony, Dolan testified that Pimentel did, in fact, work for other contractors, as well as for Small Job Pro, during the subject time period. See Tr. at 18, 36. Dolan further stated that Pimentel operated his own contracting business and had business cards. See Tr. at 49. He denied knowing that Pimentel was not a registered contractor. See Tr. at 49-50. Dolan acknowledged that Pimentel performed construction work for Small Job Pro on various projects during the subject time frame, but contended that he did so as a subcontractor. See Tr. at 18, 49. Dolan testified that Pimentel made most of the decisions regarding the projects, and brought his own tools to the jobs. See Tr. at 36, 38, 39. Dolan stated that he only assisted Pimentel when he fell behind in his work and required Dolan's help to meet deadlines. See Tr. at 17, 37-40. Dolan described their relationship further by explaining that Dolan would get the jobs, receive bids for the work involved, and subcontract out the work. See Tr. at 42, 43. Dolan testified that, during the time frame in question, customers often paid Pimentel directly, as they would any independent subcontractor. See Tr. at 19-20, 23. Although Dolan acknowledged that he owes Pimentel money under their agreement for work he performed, he insists that Pimentel worked for the company as an "independent contractor, " not as an "employee." See Tr. at 20. As such, Dolan argues that Small Job Pro had no obligation to provide Workers' Compensation coverage for him, nor was Pimentel entitled to any other benefits available to employees. See Tr. at 18, 52.

On January 10, 2011, the Board of Review issued its decision, finding that Pimentel did not meet the strict definition of an "employee" under the applicable statute and was not entitled to wages from Dolan or Small Job Pro under § 28-14-1. See Decision. On January 31, 2011, Pimentel timely appealed that Decision to the Superior Court. See Compl.

In his Complaint, Pimentel asserts that the Decision violates §§ 28-14-1, et seq., which governs employees' payment of wages. See Compl. ¶¶ 9-11; see also §§ 28-14-1, et seq. On February 14, 2012, the DLT responded to the Complaint, asking the Court to uphold the administrative decision that Pimentel worked as an "independent contractor, " not as an "employee." See Answer. The DLT asserted an affirmative defense that Pimentel failed to join an indispensible party, Cliff Dolan, doing business as Small Job Pro. See Answer ¶ 2. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a so-called Amended Complaint, adding Small Job Pro to the caption of the case.[2]

II

Standard of Review

The Superior Court exercises jurisdiction over appeals from the DLT pursuant to § 42-35-15(g) of the Rhode Island Administrative Procedures Act, which provides as follows:

"The court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings, or it may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced ...

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