Counsel Sanctioned for Failing to Translate Affidavits to Plaintiffs
Affidavit translation services play an important role in litigation. We’ve blogged before about the importance of obtaining certified, accurate translations of various legal documents and sworn statements used in court cases. We’ve also blogged about the case where an English-speaking attorney was sanctioned for his failure to get attorney-client representation agreement translated into his client’s native language, Punjabi. In the case below, the plaintiff’s counsel was sanctioned for introducing affidavits into evidence which were not fully translated into Chinese, the native language of the plaintiffs. Counsel’s failure to ensure that the affidavits submitted to the Court were truthful and accurate became apparent at trial when the Plaintiffs’ trial testimony did not match the contents of their sworn affidavits.
Chinese-Speaking Plaintiffs File a Lawsuit
In Li v. New Ichiro Sushi, et al., two groups of Chinese-speaking plaintiffs filed suit against the defendants for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”). All of the plaintiffs were employees at the defendant’s sushi restaurant. At one point, the sushi restaurant was sold to another defendant and renamed. One of the issues in dispute was whether the new owner had successor liability for the previous owner’s alleged labor violations.
The court held a bench trial and heard live testimony from most of the plaintiffs and defendants. Following the bench trial, the court made the following findings of fact.
Lack of Proper Affidavit Translation to Chinese Impacts Court’s Credibility Findings.
The court found that the plaintiffs’ testimony was not credible when their testimony was contradicted during cross-examination. The court found that it became clear at trial that the plaintiffs were unfamiliar with that was allegedly their own direct testimony. This problem stemmed from a lack of certified translation of documents, specifically, plaintiffs’ affidavits. One of the plaintiffs testified that certain plaintiffs’ affidavits had not been translated from English into their native language “sentence to sentence.” Instead, only the “general meaning” was explained to them.
Another plaintiff stated at trial that he knew the “main idea” of what was contained in his affidavit, but admitted that he was not clear on the details. Accordingly, the court found that the testimony of one of the groups of plaintiffs was unreliable since they did not have any knowledge of significant portions of their affidavits. The court found that one of the plaintiff’s testimony was credible, however, in that his in-court testimony did not conflict with his affidavit.
Court Issues Findings of Law
The court found that the new restaurant and its owner were not liable for the previous restaurant owners’ labor violations under the theory of successor liability. The court held that the new restaurant did not have actual notice of any FLSA or NYLL violations and that the new owner was not the plaintiffs’ employer or manager under the prior ownership.
The court also determined that the first group of plaintiffs had not met their burden of establishing that they were not paid properly under the new ownership.
As to one particular plaintiff, the court found that he was entitled to overtime pay as well as damages as a result of the new restaurant owner’s failure to issue a wage notice statement within 10 business days of his first day of employment.
Court Orders Sanctions Against Plaintiffs’ Counsel
In addition to their claims for labor violations, the plaintiffs also sought sanctions against the plaintiffs’ counsel for pursuing claims in bad faith. The court found that sanctions were indeed warranted. The court gave several examples of why the defendants were entitled to sanctions, including the fact that one of the plaintiffs did not even know who he was suing despite allegedly having personal knowledge in his affidavit of one of the defendant’s involvement at the restaurant. Another plaintiff testified that his affidavit had never been fully translated into Chinese for him and that only the “general meaning” had been translated. The court also found that the plaintiffs’ live testimony did not comport with what they alleged in their affidavits.
At the close of trial, the defendants’ counsel made a motion pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for judgment as a matter of law, and the Court implored plaintiffs’ counsel to “make sure he felt comfortable proceeding as an officer of the Court with an obligation to be candid.” Nevertheless, plaintiffs’ counsel persisted in pursuing the claims against the defendants despite this clear warning from the court following the plaintiffs’ unsupported trial testimony.
In sum, the plaintiffs’ attorney was sanctioned for pursuing claims that his clients were not aware of and for submitting affidavits the clients did not understand because they had not been fully translated into Chinese.
The case is Li v. New Ichiro Sushi, Inc. Court No. 14-10242, decided on April 30, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Get in touch with the legal translation and interpreting service All Language Alliance, Inc. to obtain certified translations of affidavits from and into Simplified Chinese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Amharic, Burmese, Arabic, Russian, French, Greek, Turkish, and other foreign languages. We also provide in-person deposition interpreters in Mandarin, Cantonese, Somali, Russian, Oromo, Italian, Spanish, Farsi, and other foreign languages, and online deposition interpreters for Zoom depositions in exotic and common foreign languages.
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