United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
ORDER ON GEO'S MOTION TO DISMISS
J. BRYAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant The GEO Group,
Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Complaint. Dkt. 10. The Court
has considered Defendant's motion, Plaintiff State of
Washington's Response, Defendant's Reply, the
Complaint, and the remainder of the file herein. Dkts. 1-1,
17, 18. The Court also considered oral argument held in open
court on November 20, 2017.
case centers on the compensation of detainees at the
Northwest Detention Center, a facility Defendant operates in
Tacoma, Washington, under a contract with United States
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the
Department of Homeland Security. Defendant uses detainees to
assist in operating the facility under a Voluntary Work
Program, and in exchange for their work, Defendant
compensates detainees $1 per day.
filed this action “to enforce Washington's
minimum wage laws and to remedy the unjust enrichment”
from Defendant's “long standing failure to
adequately pay immigration detainees[.]” Dkt. 1-1 at
¶1.1. Defendant's Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion seeks
dismissal on four primary grounds: (1) the State's claims
are preempted by federal law, (2) the State lacks authority
to bring this lawsuit, (3) the State fails to state a claim
for unjust enrichment and violations of the Washington
Minimum Wage Act, and (4) the State's unclean hands and
laches bar relief. Dkt. 10.
following facts alleged in the Complaint are taken as true
for purposes of Defendant's motion.
is a private corporation that has owned and operated the
Northwest Detention Center, a 1, 575 bed facility, since
2005. Dkt. 1-1 at ¶¶3.8, 3.9. ICE contracts with
Defendant for the detention of adult detainees awaiting
resolution of immigration matters. Id. at ¶3.10
Defendant relies upon detainees for a wide range of services,
including laundry service, cleaning general living spaces,
buffing floors, and painting. Id. at ¶4.2.
Defendant compensates detainees at $1 per day, but Defendant
has in some cases alternatively compensated detainees with
more or better food. Id. at ¶¶4.4, 4.5.
Since 2005 Defendant has received the benefit of this $1 per
day labor without the financial burden of paying the State
minimum wage, currently set at $11 per hour. Id. at
Complaint alleges that Plaintiff has a “quasi-sovereign
interest in protecting the health, safety, and well-being of
[Washington] residents [ ] includ[ing] . . . harms to their
own and Washington's economic health.” Dkt. 1-1 at
¶¶3.3, 3.4. Further, it is alleged, “[t]he
enforcement of minimum wage laws is of preeminent concern to
the people of Washington, ” and “[t]he
Legislature enacted minimum wage laws to protect Washington
workers” as well as to “safeguard ‘the
immediate and future health, safety and welfare of the people
of the state.' Id. at ¶3.5, citing RCW
Complaint alleges two causes of action, unjust enrichment and
violations of Washington's Minimum Wage Act. Dkt. 1-1 at
¶¶5.1-6.6. Plaintiff seeks an order requiring
Defendant to disgorge its unjust enrichment from the failure
to adequately pay detainees. Id. at ¶¶7.5,
7.6. Plaintiff also seeks declaratory relief that Defendant
is an “employer” that must comply with the
State's minimum wage laws when managing detainee-workers,
who are “employees, ” and injunctive relief that
Defendant be enjoined from paying detainee-workers less than
the State minimum wage. Id. at ¶¶7.1-7.4.
operates the Northwest Detention Center by “a complex
statutory, regulatory, and contractual relationship”
with ICE. Dkt. 10 at 9. The contract central to the
Defendant-ICE relationship (“the
Contract”) sets out terms for a ten-year operation
of the facility. Dkt. 19 at 47. The Contract requires of
Defendant, 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.
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
accessed Dec. 3, 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
STANDARD UNDER FED. R. CIV. P. 12(B)(6)
Civ. P. 12(b) motions to dismiss may be based on either the
lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of
sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.
Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Department, 901 F.2d
696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). Material allegations are
taken as admitted and the complaint is construed in the
plaintiff's favor. Keniston v. Roberts, 717 F.2d
1295 (9th Cir. 1983). “While a complaint
attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need
detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to
provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires
more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation
of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-55
(2007) (internal citations omitted). “Factual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level, on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in
fact).” Id. at 555. The complaint must allege
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Id. at 547.
state law claim is preempted by federal law, dismissal may be
granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). E.g., Cleghorn v.
Blue Shield of Cal., 408 F.3d 1222, 1225 (9th
Cir. 2005) (affirming dismissal of state law claims preempted
Supremacy Clause provides that the laws of the United States
“shall be the supreme Law of the Land[, ] . . .
anything in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the
Contrary notwithstanding.” U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2.
Federal law can preempt state law in three ways: (1) express
preemption, (2) field preemption, or (3) obstacle/conflict
preemption. Nat'l Fed'n of the Blind v. United
Airlines Inc., 813 F.3d 718, 724 (9th Cir. 2016).
“Regardless of the type of preemption involved-express,
field or conflict-the purpose of Congress is the ultimate
touchstone of pre-emption analysis.” Id.
“starts with the basic assumption that Congress did not
intend to displace state law.” Maryland v.
Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746 (1981). This presumption
applies in “all preemption cases, and particularly in
those in which Congress has legislated . . . in a field which
the States have traditionally occupied.” Medtronic,
Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 485 (1996) (internal
quotations and citations omitted). “[L]abor standards
fall within the traditional police power of the
State.” Fort Halifax Packing Co. v. Coyne, 482
U.S. 1, 21 (1987). See also, RCW 49.46.005(a). The
party seeking to set aside state law bears the burden to show
preemption. PLIVA, Inc. v. Mensing, 564 U.S. 604,
preemption applies where Congress explicitly states its
intent to preempt state law in the language of a statute.
Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516
(1992). Where Congress has expressed an intent to preempt
state law, the scope of the preemption is determined by
examining congressional intent, beginning with the
legislative text, “which necessarily contains the best
evidence of Congress' preemptive intent.” CSX
Transp., Inc. v. Easterwood,507 U.S. 658, 664 (1993).
Courts also consider the “statutory framework, ”
as well as the “structure and purpose of the statute as
a whole.” Lohr, 518 U.S. at 486 (1996).
“[W]hen the text of a pre-emption clause is susceptible