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Sampson v. Knight Transportation, Inc.

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

June 14, 2018

VALERIE SAMPSON and DAVID RAYMOND, on their own behalf and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
KNIGHT TRANSPORTATION, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 71). 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs bring this putative class action against their former employers for allegedly violating several Washington wage and hour laws. (Dkt. No. 38 at 7-11.) Plaintiffs are Washington residents who worked as commercial truck drivers for Defendants. (See Dkt. Nos. 53-12, 53-13.) Defendant Knight Transportation, Inc. (“Transportation”) is a commercial trucking company that operates terminals across the United States. (Dkt. No. 75 at 2.)

         Transportation operates a terminal in Fairview, Oregon, where some of the putative class members worked as long-haul drivers.[1] (Id.; Dkt. No. 81-11 at 6.) Defendant Knight Refrigerated, LLC (“Refrigerated”) is a subsidiary of Transportation and operates a terminal in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where some of the putative class members worked as long-haul drivers. (Dkt. No. 75 at 1-2; 81-12 at 5-6.) Defendant Knight Port Services, LLC (“Port Services”) is also a subsidiary of Transportation and operated a terminal in Kent, Washington, where some of the putative class members worked as short-haul drivers. (Dkt. No. 75 at 1-3; Dkt. No. 81-12 at 5.) Transportation, Refrigerated, and Port Services (collectively “Defendants”) are incorporated in Arizona and are overseen by the same core group of executives. (Dkt. No. 75 at 2.)

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendants systematically violated Washington's wage and hour laws by failing to pay its drivers for rest breaks, failing to pay for all time worked, failing to pay for overtime, and unlawfully deducting wages. (Dkt. No. 38 at 2.) Plaintiffs have filed a motion to certify the following class: “All current and former driver employees of Knight Transportation, Inc., Knight Refrigerated, LLC and/or Knight Port Services, LLC who at any time from July 1, 2013 through the date of final disposition, worked as drivers while residing in the state of Washington.” (Dkt. No. 52 at 9.)

         Defendants filed this motion for partial summary judgment on two issues. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' claims against Transportation and Refrigerated should be dismissed because Washington law does not apply to their drivers. (Dkt. No. 71 at 19.) According to Defendants, since drivers for Transportation and Refrigerated operate out of locations in Oregon and Idaho respectively, it is the laws of those states, not Washington, which should control Plaintiffs' claims. (Id. at 19-22.) Plaintiffs counter that Transportation and Refrigerated are subject to Washington law under controlling conflict of laws principles. (Dkt. No. 80 at 8.) Second, Defendants ask the Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' “on-duty, not-driving” claim because it is not cognizable under Washington law and has been rejected by several courts. (Dkt. No. 71 at 22-23.) Plaintiffs assert their claim is supported by Washington's Minimum Wage Act (“MWA”) and the Washington Supreme Court's recent decision in Carranza v. Dovex Fruit Co., 416 P.3d 1205 (Wash. 2018). (Dkt. No. 80 at 9-10.) Plaintiffs ask the Court to deny summary judgment and certify this question to the Washington State Supreme Court. (Id.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In making such a determination, the Court must view the facts and justifiable inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         B. Applicability of Washington Law to Transportation and Refrigerated

         When a federal court sits in diversity, it must apply the forum state's conflict of laws principles. Love v. Associated Newspapers, Ltd., 611 F.3d 601, 610 (9th Cir. 2010). Washington courts use a two-step approach to conflict of laws issues. Kelley v. Microsoft Corp., 251 F.R.D. 544, 550 (W.D. Wash. 2008). First, the court determines whether an actual conflict between applicable state laws exists. Burnside v. Simpson Paper Co., 864 P.2d 937, 942 (1994). Neither party disputes that the applicable Washington wage and hour laws conflict with the analogous laws of Oregon and Idaho.[2] (See Dkt. Nos. 71 at 19, 80 at 13.)

         When a conflict exists, Washington's choice of law rules direct courts to determine which state has the “most significant relationship” to a given issue, based on the factors outlined in Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 6 (1971) (hereinafter “Restatement”). See Seizer v. Sessions, 940 P.2d 261, 265 (Wash. 1997); Experience Hendrix LLC v. James Marshall Hendrix Found., 240 Fed.Appx. 739, 740 (9th Cir. 2007). Restatement section 6(1) provides that “[a] court, subject to constitutional restrictions, will follow a statutory directive of its own state on choice of law.” If no adequate directives exist in statutes or case law, the Court conducts a two-step analysis to determine which jurisdiction has the most significant relationship to the action. See FutureSelect Portfolio Mgmt., Inc. v. Tremont Grp. Holdings, Inc., 331 P.3d 29, 36 (Wash. 2014); Thornell v. Seattle Serv. Bureau, Inc., No. C14-1601-MJP, slip op. at 3 (W.D. Wash. June 13, 2016). First, “the court evaluates the contacts each interested jurisdiction has with the parties and the occurrence under the factors of Restatement section 145 plus any more specific section of the Restatement that is relevant to the cause of action.”[3] Woodward v. Taylor, 366 P.3d 432, 436 (Wash. 2016). Courts then evaluate “the interests and policies of the potentially concerned jurisdictions by applying the factors set forth in Restatement section 6.” Id.

         1. Statutory Directive Regarding Choice of Law

         Plaintiffs assert that the Washington Supreme Court has determined that the MWA contains a choice of law directive. (Dkt. No. 80 at 15) (citing Bostain v. Food Express, Inc., 153 P.3d 846 (Wash. 2007)). Defendants respond that the MWA neither contains a choice of law directive, nor did the Bostain Court create one. (Dkt. No. 84 at 5-6.)

         A statute contains a choice of law directive if it includes an express choice of law provision or “the intentions of the legislature on the subject can [] be ascertained by a process of interpretation and construction.” Restatement § 6(1) cmts. a, b; see also Experience Hendrix LLC, 240 Fed.Appx. at 740.

         Plaintiffs do not argue that the MWA includes an express choice of law provision. (Dkt. No. 80 at 14.) Rather, they assert the Washington Supreme Court interpreted the MWA in Bostain and determined the law contained “a statutory directive on choice of law that must be applied if it is constitutional to do so.” (Id. at 15.) The Court disagrees. The plaintiff in Bostain was an interstate truck driver who sued his employer for failing to pay overtime for the hours he worked outside of Washington. 153 P.3d at 846. The Supreme Court held that under the MWA, all hours that a Washington-based employee works, whether in the state or not, must be counted in the calculation of overtime. Id.

         Plaintiffs' reading of Bostain goes beyond the case's holding. First, the Supreme Court was not interpreting the MWA in the context of a choice of law question; it was determining the extraterritorial scope of that statute in the context of a constitutional challenge. 153 P.3d at 846. Second, the Court stated that whether a “Washington-based” employee was subject to the MWA, was a question to be decided by traditional choice of law principles. Id. at n. 5. In arguing that Bostain creates a choice of law directive, Plaintiffs attempt to skip the threshold choice of law question. See Id. Finally, Plaintiffs are not only asking this Court to infer a statutory choice of law directive regarding the MWA, but also to analogize that directive to their wage and hour claims based on related laws. (Dkt. No. 80 at 15) (“This conclusion applies equally to the state's entire scheme of wage and hour laws.”). The Court does not believe that Bostain created a choice of law directive for the MWA, much less for other provisions of the State's employment law.

         2. Contacts under Restatement Section 145

         When determining which state has the most significant relationship to the parties and occurrence at issue, courts consider the following contacts: (a) the place where the injury occurred, (b) the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred, (c) the domicile, residence, nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties, and (d) the place where the relationship, if any, between the parties is centered. Restatement § 145(2).[4]“These contacts are to be evaluated according to their relative importance with respect to the particular issue.” Id. Courts do not merely “count contacts” but must “consider which contacts are most significant and [] determine where these contacts are found.” Johnson v. Spider Staging Corp., 555 P.2d 997, 1000 (Wash. 1976).

         (a) The place where the injury occurred

         The Court immediately encounters difficulty in trying to determine where the “injuries” that underlie Plaintiffs' wage and hour claims occurred. Plaintiffs assert that Transportation and Refrigerated: (1) failed to pay drivers minimum wage for all hours worked; (2) failed to pay all required overtime; (3) failed to pay drivers minimum wage for a mandatory orientation program; (4) failed to provide their drivers with paid rest breaks; (5) withheld wages from drivers when they left the companies; (6) unlawfully deducted wages from drivers under the companies' “per diem program”; and (7) willfully withheld wages owed their drivers. (Dkt. No. 38 at 7-11.) The general “injury” associated with each of these claims is that drivers did not receive sufficient compensation for worked they performed. The difficulty is that the work, and corresponding injury, is not easily pinpointed to a single state. (See Dkt. No. 53-13 at 15) (Refrigerated driver: “I actually drove more times in Washington than I did in Idaho.”) The amorphous quality of ...


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