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Chen v. The Geo Group Inc.

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

April 26, 2018

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



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant The GEO Group Inc.'s Motion for Order of Dismissal Based on Plaintiff's Failure to Join Required Government Parties. Dkt. 51. The Court has reviewed the motion, all documents filed in support and opposition, and the remainder of the file herein, and considered oral argument on April 24, 2018.

         Defendant seeks dismissal for Plaintiff Chao Chen's failure to join the Department of Homeland Security and an agency thereof, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (collectively, “ICE”). See Dkt. 51 at FN 1. As discussed below, dismissal should be denied because ICE is neither a necessary nor an indispensable party. The case can proceed in equity and good conscience.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant moves to dismiss for failure to join under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7) following the initial pleadings, but before the completion of discovery. Failure to join may be raised at any stage. McCowen v. Jamieson, 724 F.2d 1421, 1424 (9th Cir. 1984); CP Nat. Corp. v. Bonneville Power Admin., 928 F.2d 905, 911-12 (9th Cir. 1991). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(2). Facts recited are derived either from the Complaint or from a contract incorporated by the Complaint and relied upon by the parties. Dkts. 1, 19, 45-3.

         GEO is a private corporation that has owned and operated the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), a 1, 500 bed detention facility, since 2005. Dkt. 1 at ¶¶4.1, 4.2. GEO operates the NWDC based on a contract with ICE (“the GEO-ICE Contract”). Dkts. 19, 45-3. GEO takes care of immigration detainees awaiting resolution of immigration matters and relies on detainees for a wide range of services under the Voluntary Work Program (VWP) required by the contract. Id. at ¶¶4.5. GEO compensates detainees at $1 per day. Id. at ¶4.7.

         Plaintiff initiated this action under the theory that the GEO-ICE Contract at least allows for, if not requires, GEO to compensate detainees working in the VWP at least the minimum wage required by with the State Minimum Wage Act (MWA). Dkt. 1 at ¶¶4.10-4.12. In support of its theory, Plaintiff primarily relies on three terms of the GEO-Ice Contract: (1) GEO must compensate detainees participating in the VWP “at least $1 per day” under the “ICE/DHS Performance Base [sic] [National] Detention Standards” (PBNDS), expressly incorporated by the contract; (2) GEO must operate according to the “most current . . . constraints, ” including “applicable federal, state and local labor laws and codes”; and (3) where the contract conflicts with “all applicable federal state and local laws and standards . . . the most stringent shall apply.” Dkt. 19 at 46-48, 56; Dkt. 45-3 at 8.

         Defendant rejects Plaintiff's theory and maintains that the GEO-ICE Contract prohibits GEO from acting as an ‘employer' to detainees working in the VWP. In support of its theory, Defendant relies on the history, custom, and practice of the VWP and on an itemized “services/supplies” description for the “Detainee Volunteer Wages for the Volunteer Program” found in the GEO-ICE Contract. Dkt. 19 at 9. The description specifies that “[r]eimbursement for this line item will be at the actual cost of $1.00 per day per detainee” and that the “Contractor [GEO] shall not exceed the amount shown without prior approval” by ICE. Id. Defendant also relies on provisions of the contract describing background and clearance procedures and practices for hiring “employees, ” such as use of E-Verify and the prohibition of employing “illegal or undocumented aliens.” Id. at 72-75. GEO argues that paying MWA rates to detainees working in the VWP would violate the GEO-ICE Contract.

         Acknowledged by both parties are GEO-ICE Contract terms allowing GEO to request contract pricing modifications and obliging GEO to indemnify ICE against all claims arising out of GEO's operation of the NWDC. Dkt. 19 at 56, 105, 106, 367.

         The Complaint requests the following relief: class certification, damages for lost wages, costs, fees, and interest. Dkt. 1 at 5. GEO is the sole defendant named. Id. at ¶3.2.

         In the instant motion, Defendant seeks dismissal for Plaintiff's failure to join ICE.


         A. Joinder under Rule 19.

         Joinder is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 19, a rule that imposes a three-step inquiry:

1. Is the absent party “necessary” under Rule 19(a)?
2. If so, is it feasible to order joinder of the absent party?
3. If joinder is not feasible, is the party “indispensable” under Rule 19(b) such that in “equity and good conscience” the suit can proceed short of dismissal?

Salt River Project Agr. Imp. and Power Dist. v. Lee, 672 F.3d 1176, 1179 (9th Cir. 2012). Rule 19 analysis is “a practical, fact-specific one, designed to avoid the harsh results of rigid application.” Dawavendewa v. Salt River Project Agr. Imp. ...

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