A federal appeals court in Chicago has slapped a construction company with sanctions, including ordering it to pay the legal bills for one of its former workers, for sending to the court a “patently frivolous” appeal of a lower court’s order in favor of three men who claimed the company had wrongly attempted to deny them pay and had wrongly classified at least one of them as an independent contractor.
Dariusz Jaworski, along with Boguslaw Moskal and Ryszard Bester filed suit in 2009 against Master Hand Contractors Inc., claiming they were never paid for construction services they performed for the company. After two partial summary judgments and a bench trial, the district court found Master Hand liable for about $340,000.
Master Hand appealed the plaintiffs’ claim under the Illinois Employee Classification Act. Jaworski claimed Master Hand misclassified him as an independent contractor instead of an employee and Master Hand claimed Jaworski could not have been an employee “because he was engaged in an independently established trade.”
The district court granted Jaworski summary judgment on that claim, finding Master Hand did not establish a genuine issue of material fact to rebut the claim, but only issued broad conclusory statements with no evidence to back them up. Master Hand appealed that decision to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but according to court documents, did not include required transcripts and written orders with its appeal.
“These are not hard rules to follow. Indeed, we have explicitly noted that there is very little ambiguity in what these rules ask of appellants,” the appellate judges wrote. “Nonetheless, violations continue.”
Seventh Circuit Judge Diane S. Sykes authored the opinion. Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judge Frank Easterbook concurred in the decision.
The judges noted Master Hand’s violation of the rules, and the company’s certification it had provided all lower-court opinions even though it had not, merited its own sanction.
“But we can’t quite stop there,” the judges wrote. “Jaworski filed his motion on Aug. 11, 2017, and Master Hand has never replied. That leaves frivolousness as our primary consideration.”
The court opined that Master Hand raised no real arguments in its appeal. It claimed there were “numerous examples” of Jaworski conducting business as an independent contractor, but did not cite any specific instance. The appeal did not even mention the other criteria of the law, that an employee be free from direction by the contractor and his services outside the scope of those provided by the contractor.
The court said Master Hand also did not offer any explanation or argument to support its assertion the district court erred in determining the amount of compensation.
“Master Hand has absolutely nothing else to say beyond stating its bald conclusion,” the judges wrote. “Calling such an argument ‘cursory’ might give it too much credit.”
The appellate court also sided with the district court in saying Master Hand cannot escape its liability by claiming insolvency. The company claimed it had not paid the men because it had simply run out of money – an argument that failed to win the hearts of judges.
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling and added that Master Hand must pay the plaintiffs’ attorney and court costs incurred by the appeal.
According to Chicago federal court records, Master Hand was represented by attorney Donald J. McNeil, of Chicago, and attorneys with the firm of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart P.C., of Chicago and Charlotte, N.C.
Attorneys Christopher J. Williams and Lydia Colunga-Merchant, of Chicago, represented Jaworski.