United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma
CHAO CHEN, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
THE GEO GROUP, INC., a Florida corporation, Defendant.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO DISMISS OR STRIKE
DEFENDANT'S COUNTERCLAIMS AND AFFIRMATIVE
J. BRYAN United States District Judge
MATTER comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Chao Chen's
Motion to Dismiss or Strike Defendant's Counterclaims and
Affirmative Defenses. Dkt. 37. The Court has considered the
motion, Defendant The Geo Group, Inc.'s Response,
Plaintiff's Reply, Defendant's Answer, and the
remainder of the file herein. Dkts. 33, 37, 38, 39.
case arises out of the allegation that Defendant failed to
compensate Plaintiff and a proposed class of immigration
detainees commensurate with the Washington Minimum Wage Act.
See Dkt. 1. Defendant's Answer alleges two
counterclaims, both of which Plaintiff seeks to strike under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) or dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
See Dkt. 33 at ¶¶8.1-8.14, 11.1-12.12.
Defendant's Answer raises fourteen affirmative defenses,
all but four of which Plaintiff seeks to strike. See
Id. at 33 at ¶¶8.1-8.14.
alleged in the Answer and procedural history are introduced
below only where relevant to discussion of each counterclaim
and affirmative defense.
COUNTERCLAIMS (Dkt. 33 at ¶¶11.1-12.12)
Standard for relief.
seeks dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to
state a claim. Fed.R.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 claim 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
(or counterclaim) must allege “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Id. at 547.
also moves to strike under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Rule 12(f) is
designed to help “avoid the expenditure of time and
money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by
dispensing with those issues prior to trial.”
Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970,
973 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Under Rule
12(f), courts may “strike from a pleading an
insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial,
impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f).
Motions to strike are disfavored, because they “may be
used as delaying tactics and because of the strong policy
favoring resolution on the merits.” Barnes v.
AT&T Pension Ben. Plan-Nonbargained Program, 718
F.Supp.2d 1167 (N.D.Cal.2010), citing to Stanbury Law
Firm v. I.R.S., 221 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th
Unjust enrichment (Dkt. 33 at
counterclaim for Unjust Enrichment alleges that, as required
by ICE, GEO operates the Voluntary Work Program, which is not
intended to, and does not, create an employer/employee
relationship between GEO and detainees, whose participation
is voluntary. Dkt. 33 at ¶11.1. The program is intended
to promote institutional maintenance and reduce detainee
idleness, it is alleged, with no traditional, standard,
performance metrics used to measure job performance.
Id. at ¶11.3. The counterclaim further alleges
that if Plaintiff prevails in a Washington Minimum Age Act
claim for lost wages, Defendant is entitled to recover
“its costs and expenses associated with operating the
Voluntary Work Program and caring for plaintiff and any
putative class member.” Id. at ¶11.14.
Answer separately alleges an affirmative defense for offset
of any costs incurred in caring for Plaintiff and costs
associated with operating the Voluntary Work Program. Dkt. 33
at ¶8.14. Plaintiff does not seek to strike or dismiss
the offset affirmative defense. Dkt. 39 at 5.
argues that Defendant is not entitled to any restitution from
Plaintiff for housing and other expenses, because Defendant
has already been fully paid by ICE for those services. Dkt.
39 at 3. Although Defendant may have conferred a benefit on
Plaintiff, e.g., by providing food and lodging, Plaintiff was
involuntarily detained and had no input over his conditions.
Dkt. 37 at 6. Under circumstances where ICE paid Defendant
for Plaintiff's and other detainees' living expenses,
Plaintiff opines, it is not inequitable for Plaintiff to
retain the value of his basic necessities. Id.
Finally, Plaintiff contends, Defendant cannot recover losses
incurred because of its illegal failure to observe State wage
laws. Id. at 7, 8.
responds by again addressing the merits of whether Plaintiff
is an “employee” under the Washington Minimum
Wage Act. Dkt. 38 at 26, 27. Defendant argues further that
“[c]ourts” have allowed “contingent unjust
enrichment counterclaims in minimum wage actions.”
Id. Defendant cites to two nonbinding opinions,
Reyes v. LaFarga, 2013 WL 12097452 (D.Ariz. 2013)
and Mann v. Fredricktown Assoc. Limited Partnership,
2015 WL 4878661 (D.Md. 2015).
enrichment of a person occurs when he has and retains money
or benefits which in justice and equity belong to
another.” Bailie Commc'ns, Ltd. v. Trend Bus.
Sys., Inc., 61 Wn.App. 151, 159 (1991). A claim for
unjust enrichment has three elements: (1) the defendant [or
counter-defendant] receives a benefit, (2) the received
benefit is at the plaintiff's [or
counter-plaintiff's] expense, and (3) the circumstances
make it unjust for the defendant [or counter-defendant] to
retain the benefit without payment. Young v. Young,
164 Wn. 2d 477, 484-85 (2008).
first element is satisfied by the allegation that Defendant
conferred on Plaintiff the benefit of food, lodging, and
other necessities and amenities. The second element is
satisfied under the theory that if Plaintiff receives an
award for lost wages from Defendant, Plaintiff has received
both the benefit conferred and the award for lost
wages, both at Defendant's expense. The third element is
satisfied under the theory that such compensation would
unfairly increase Defendant's burden to comply with ICE
argument, that Defendant cannot recover restitution from
Plaintiff because it has already been fully paid by ICE, is
relevant to the second and third elements, but not on a
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Court
does not here reach the merits of whether Defendant should be
precluded from recovery because of its own illegal conduct.
That is an equitable argument better reached at trial.
practical matter, the counterclaim overlaps substantially
with Affirmative Defense 8.14 (offset). The counterclaim for
Unjust Enrichment may be flawed, but the issue raised by
Plaintiff is whether Defendant has stated a claim upon which
relief can be granted. Defendant has done so.
motion to dismiss the counterclaim for Unjust Enrichment for
failure to state a claim should be denied.
Declaratory Relief under 28 U.S.C. §2201 (Dkt. 33 at
final paragraph of the counterclaim for Declaratory Relief
The Court should declare that there is no employment
relationship between GEO and detainees who participate in the
Voluntary Work Program. Further, plaintiff is not an
“employee, ” and GEO is not an
“employer” with respect to Voluntary Work Program
participation, and therefore the FLSA's and MWA's
minimum wage protections do not apply to plaintiff or any
putative class member.
Dkt. 33 at ¶12.12. Immediately following that paragraph,
with no separate heading, the Answer reads:
prays for the following affirmative relief:
1. For an order enjoining plaintiffs from claiming the MWA
applies to them;
2. For an order declaring the MWA inapplicable to ICE
detainees at the NWDC;
3. For an order declaring the FLSA inapplicable to ICE
detainees at the NWDC;
4. For a declaration that GEO has no employment relationship
with any detainees who participate in the Voluntary Work
Program, including no relationship that requires ...