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Chen v. The GEO Group, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

December 6, 2017

CHAO CHEN, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GEO GROUP, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT THE GEO GROUP, INC.'S MOTION TO DISMISS CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT FOR DAMAGES

          ROBERT J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant The GEO Group, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Class Action Complaint for Damages. Dkt. 8. The Court has considered Defendant's motion, Plaintiff Chao Chen's Response, Defendant's Reply, the Complaint, and the remainder of the file herein. Dkts. 1, 15, 16. The Court also considered oral argument held in open court on November 20, 2017.

         Mr. Chen was a detainee at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, a facility that GEO operates under a contract with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security. GEO uses detainees, including Mr. Chen, to assist in operating the facility under a Voluntary Work Program. In exchange for their work, GEO compensates detainees $1 per day.

         The Complaint alleges that Mr. Chen is entitled to compensation of $11 per hour because he is an “employee” as defined by the Washington State Minimum Wage Act. Defendant's motion seeks dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) under two theories: (1) State law is preempted, and (2) the Complaint fails to state a claim that detainees, including Mr. Chen, are “employees” deserving State minimum wage protections.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts.

         1. The Complaint.

         The following facts alleged in the Complaint are taken as true for purposes of Defendant's Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion.

         GEO, a private corporation, has owned and operated the Northwest Detention Center, a 1, 500 bed ICE facility, since 2005. Dkt. 1 at ¶4.2. Northwest Detention Center detainees include Mr. Chen, who was detained pending immigration proceedings from October 2014 until February 2016. Id. at ¶3.1. Mr. Chen is a citizen of the People's Republic of China, but has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States since the 1980s. Id. at ¶3.1. GEO relies upon detainees for its grounds maintenance, cooking, laundry, cleaning, and other services. Id. at ¶¶4.4, 4.5. GEO has compensated detainees, including Mr. Chen, at $1 per day. Id. at ¶¶4.7, 4.8. GEO has in some cases alternatively compensated detainees with more and better food. Id.

         Washington's minimum wage is $11 an hour. Dkt. 1 at ¶4.11. The Complaint alleges that Mr. Chen is entitled to compensation at that rate. Id. at ¶4.11.

         The Complaint seeks damages for lost wages, fees, and costs[1] on behalf of a proposed class, including Mr. Chen and others similarly situated. Dkt. 1 at ¶6.4.

         2. Extra-pleadings.

         The Contract and Voluntary Work Program.

         According to Defendant, GEO operates the Northwest Detention Center by “a complex statutory, regulatory, and contractual relationship” with ICE. Dkt. 8 at 8. See Dkt. 1-1 at ¶4.3. The contract central to the GEO-ICE relationship (“the Contract”[2]) sets out terms for a ten-year operation of the facility. Dkt. 19 at 47. The Contract requires of GEO, inter alia, that “[d]etainee labor shall be used in accordance with the detainee work plan developed by the Contractor, and will adhere to the ICE PBNDS [Performance-Based National Detention Standards] on Voluntary Work Program.” Id. at 86. See also, id. at 49. Further, “the detainee work program shall not conflict with any other requirements of the contract and must comply with all applicable laws and regulations.” Id.

         The Voluntary Work Program articulates standards, inter alia, prohibiting discrimination, accommodating disabilities, limiting work to “8 hours daily, 40 hours weekly, ” and compensating detainees. 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards, Section 5.8, Voluntary Work Program, available online at http://www.ice.gov/detention-standards/2011/ (last accessed Nov. 30, 2017). The detainee compensation provision of the Voluntary Work Program states:

Detainees shall receive monetary compensation for work completed in accordance with the facility's standard policy. The compensation is at least $1.00 (USD) per day. The facility shall have an established system that ensures detainees receive the pay owed them before being transferred or released.

Id.

         Irrelevant information.

         Defendant highlights facts surrounding the criminal conviction forming the basis for removal proceedings against Mr. Chen. Dkt. 8 at 9. These details are not relevant to resolving Defendant's motion.

         B. Defendant's ...


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