United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
VALERIE SAMPSON, on her own behalf and on the behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
KNIGHT TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO CERTIFY
QUESTION TO THE WASHINGTON SUPREME COURT
C. Coughenour United States District Judge.
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Valerie
Sampson's motion to certify a question to the Washington
Supreme Court (Dkt. No. 14). Having thoroughly considered the
parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court
finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby DENIES the motion
for the reasons explained herein.
alleges that Defendant Knight Transportation
“committed, and continues to commit, acts of wage abuse
against its employees, specifically drivers.” (Dkt. No.
5 at ¶ 16.) Defendant pays its drivers on a piece-rate
system by the mile using rates that account for experience
and the length of haul. (Dkt. No. 15-2 at 3.) However, with
limited exceptions, Defendant does not pay for time spent
working on activities other than driving, which the drivers
log as “on duty, not driving” time. (Dkt. No.
15-2 at 4, 7, 9, 12.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant failed to
pay her for all work performed, including work performed when
not driving, in violation of the Washington Minimum Wage Act
(MWA). (Id. at ¶¶ 18, 23.) Plaintiff now
asks this Court to certify the following question to the
Washington Supreme Court: Does the MWA require
non-agricultural employers to pay their pieceworkers for time
spent performing activities outside of piece-rate work? (Dkt.
No. 14 at 6.) This Court previously denied an almost
identical request last year. See Mendis v. Schneider
National Carriers, Inc., C15-0144-JCC, Dkt. No. 92 at
of questions of state law to the highest court of the state
‘provides a means to obtain authoritative answers to
unclear questions of state law.'” Micomonaco v.
State of Wash., 45 F.3d 316, 322 (9th Cir. 1995)
(quoting Toner v. Lederle Lab., 779 F.2d 1429, 1432
(9th Cir. 1986)). The certification standard is as follows:
When in the opinion of any federal court before whom a
proceeding is pending, it is necessary to ascertain the local
law of this state in order to dispose of such proceeding and
the local law has not been clearly determined, such federal
court may certify to the supreme court for answer the
question of local law involved and the supreme court shall
render its opinion in answer thereto.
Wash. Rev. Code § 2.60.020.
the “Washington Supreme Court does not operate as a
court of appeals for decisions of [district courts].”
Hann v. Metro. Cas. Ins. Co., 2012 WL 3098711, at *3
(W.D. Wash. July 30, 2012). “There is a presumption
against certifying a question to a state supreme court after
the federal district court has issued a decision.”
Thompson v. Paul, 547 F.3d 1055, 1065 (9th Cir.
2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). Where the state
court is in no better position than the federal court to
interpret the state statute, certification is inappropriate.
Micomonaco, 45 F.3d at 322. The decision to certify
a question rests in the discretion of the district court.
argues that although this Court previously denied a nearly
identical motion brought by the same attorneys as this
motion, the Court erred because this piece-rate work question
is an unanswered question of law. (Dkt. No. 14 at 7.) As
outlined in this Court's previous order in
Mendis, the MWA “provides flexibility in
negotiating the method and amount of compensation in an
employment relationship.” Helde v. Knight Transp.,
Inc. (Helde II), 2016 WL 1687961, at *1 (W.D. Wash.
April 26, 2016). In Helde II, the plaintiffs were
truck drivers who argued that the MWA required the defendant
to pay them for non-driving time. The court examined the MWA
and Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 296-126-021 and
296-128-550 and held that “as long as the employer pays
its employees the equivalent of the minimum wage rate for
each hour of work, the parties are free to establish a . . .
piece rate . . . or other system of compensation.”
Id. (citing Inniss v. Tandy Corp., 7 P.3d
807, 815 (Wash. 2000) (upholding employer's choice
“not to calculate the regular rate as ‘hourly
rate' but as a ration of weekly base salary to total
hours worked in a workweek. The [MWA] permits this
the facts weigh against certifying the question. First, the
Western District of Washington has already issued a decision
on point, see Helde II, 2016 WL 1687961 (W.D. Wash.
April 26, 2016), and there has been no change in law since
this Court's decision in Mendis. Second,
Helde II interpreted state statutes, and nothing in
Helde II suggests the Washington Supreme Court would
have been in a better position to answer the question.
Finally, it appears that Plaintiff is attempting to seek
appellate review of this Court's decision in Helde
II for the second time. Therefore, the motion to certify
the question is DENIED.
also points out the Washington Supreme Court is currently
reviewing the piece-rate work issue as it relates to
agricultural employers. See Carranza v. Dovex Fruit
Company, Case No. 94229. Plaintiff argues this Court
should stay resolution of the issue pending the forthcoming
decision. (Dkt. No. 14 at 13.) However,
Carranza's examination deals with agricultural
workers and the WAC sections at issue in that case will have
no application here. Therefore, Plaintiff's request for a
stay is also DENIED.
foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's motion to certify a
question to the Washington Supreme ...