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Spokane Valley Fire Department v. International Association of Fire Fighters Afl-Cio Local 3701

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 18, 2019

SPOKANE VALLEY FIRE DEPARTMENT, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIRE FIGHTERS AFL-CIO LOCAL 3701, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S CONVERTED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Spokane Valley Fire Department seeks a declaration that some of its employees-battalion chiefs and fire marshals who are members of Defendant International Association of Fire Fighters AFL-CIO Local 3701-are exempt from certain wage and hour provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1). ECF No. 1. The Department seeks this relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act of 1934, 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a), alleging, "[a]n actual, ongoing controversy exists between the parties as to whether the FLSA's 'bona fide' executive or administrator exemption applies to battalion chiefs and fire marshals." Id. at 4.

         Before the Court is Local 370l's converted motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 33. Local 3701 argues the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because no constitutionally required case or controversy exists. Id. First, Local 3701 contends the Department lacks standing and its claim is not ripe because the Department faces no imminent injury from an FLSA action brought by Local 3701 or its members. Id. Second, Local 3701 contends its legal interests are not adverse to the Department's because, without its members' written consent, Local 3701 is statutorily barred from bringing the type of FLSA action the Department fears. Id.

         Because oral argument is unnecessary, the Court decides Local 3701's motion without it. See LCivR 7(i)(3)(B)(iii). Having reviewed the file in this matter, the Court grants Local 3701's motion and dismisses this case without prejudice.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         The parties have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement since October 2016. ECF No. 57-1 at 3. They have not reached a final agreement. Id. The Department alleges the FLSA's exemption for bona fide executive or administrative employees applies to battalion chiefs and fire marshals. ECF No. 1 at 4-5; ECF No. 57 at 2. In negotiations, Local 3701 has remained steadfast in its position to the contrary. ECF No. 36 at 2. Local 3701 first asserted this position on April 20, 2017 and has not changed it since. ECF No. 12-4 at 2; ECF No. 57-1 at 9. The Department offered a new collective bargaining agreement that the exemption would not affect, regardless of whether it applies. ECF No. 36 at 2. But Local 3701 rejected the proposal because, it argues, doing so “would reduce its members' contractual entitlement to overtime below the amount required by the FLSA.” ECF No. 55 at 4. Local 3701 soon declared an impasse in negotiations and demanded mediation. ECF No. 36 at 2; ECF No. 57-1 at 4. The parties are currently in mediation and the next step may be interest arbitration. ECF No. 57-1 at 2-4.

         The parties' current collective bargaining agreement provides (1) the “normal working schedule for Fire Operations” consists of a maximum of 204 hours in a twenty-seven-day work period; (2) day officers work at least forty hours per week or a flexible schedule equivalent to at least eighty hours in a two-week period; (3) shift officers work one twenty-four-hour shift, starting and ending at 7:00 AM, followed by forty-eight hours off duty; (4) shift officers receive thirteen “Kelly days”[2] off in a calendar year, so as to reduce their annual work average to 50.02 hours per week; and (5) “Officers will receive overtime at a rate of 1.50 times their hourly rate for working in 3701 response positions outside their regular shift.” ECF No. 33-1 at 30.

         The Department declares that, until this dispute is resolved, it “will continue to operate under the current [collective bargaining agreement]” and “will not remit payment for overtime unless expressly provided for by the operative [agreement].” ECF No. 57-1 at 5. The Department posits that this could be problematic because “[t]here are provisions in the current [agreement] for which employees do not currently receive overtime payments (at 1.5x their regular rate of pay) for work beyond regular hours.” ECF No. 57 at 5 (citing ECF No. 33-1 at 17, 34).

         Each of Local 3701's members who are employed by the Department disavow having any FLSA overtime claim against it. See Id. at 3-4; ECF No. 55-1 at 3; ECF No. 55-2 at 3; ECF No. 55-3 at 3; ECF No. 55-4 at 3; ECF No. 55-5 at 3; ECF No. 55-6 at 3; ECF No. 55-7 at 3; ECF No. 55-8 at 3; ECF No. 55-9 at 3; ECF No. 55-10 at 3. Specifically, Local 3701's members state they have not given their written consent to become plaintiffs in any FLSA lawsuit against the Department, they are not aware of any unpaid overtime owed to them by the Department that would entitle them to recovery under the FLSA, they have no intention of filing an FLSA lawsuit against the Department, they do not anticipate having an intention of filing an FLSA lawsuit against the Department in the future, they have never expressed an intention of filing an FLSA lawsuit against the Department, and none of Local 3701's other members have expressed to them an intention to bring an FLSA lawsuit against the Department. ECF No. 33-1 at 3-4; ECF No. 55-1 at 3; ECF No. 55-2 at 3; ECF No. 55-3 at 3; ECF No. 55-4 at 3; ECF No. 55-5 at 3; ECF No. 55-6 at 3; ECF No. 55-7 at 3; ECF No. 55-8 at 3; ECF No. 55-9 at 3; ECF No. 55-10 at 3. Similarly, in negotiations with the Department, Local 3701 did not say its members intended to bring an FLSA lawsuit against the Department. ECF No. 33-1 at 3.

         This “do[es] not provide the Department with any meaningful relief.” ECF No. 57-1 at 9. If the Department negotiates for anything less than time-and-a-half as overtime compensation, “Local 3701 would assert the Department is arguing during negotiations for an illegal provision” and “[t]his assertion could subject the Department to unfair labor practices claims.” Id. at 4. Additionally, the Department may be subject to investigation by federal and state administrative agencies. Id. at 2, 5-6. Meanwhile, the Department's uncertainty affects its ability to conduct its business, namely in setting budgets and assessing levies. Id. at 7-8.

         The Department filed this lawsuit on July 11, 2017. ECF No. 1. Local 3701 moved for judgment on the pleadings on December 3, 2018. ECF No. 33. The Court's February 19, 2019 order, ECF No. 50, converted Local 3701's motion to one for summary judgment and directed the parties to present all pertinent materials.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The applicable summary judgment standard appears in the Court's February 19, 2019 order, ECF No. 50 at 10-11, and is incorporated herein. To defeat a summary judgment motion challenging standing or ripeness, the Department need not conclusively establish every element of those doctrines and need only show a genuine dispute of material fact as to those elements. Martin v. City of Boise, No. 15-35845, 2019 WL 1434046, at *20 (9th Cir. Apr. 1, 2019) (publication forthcoming).

         DISCUSSION

         The Department fails to show a genuine dispute of material fact on whether a justiciable case or controversy exists between it and Local 3701 or its members.

         The Court must dismiss a civil action if at any time it determines it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (h)(3). Federal courts have limited subject matter jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). A federal court presumes a civil action lies outside its limited jurisdiction and the burden to prove otherwise rests on the party asserting jurisdiction exists. Id. The opposing party can never forfeit or waive a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006).

         Article III, section 2, clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution limits federal courts' jurisdiction to “Cases” and “Controversies.” The case-or-controversy requirement ensures federal courts do not “‘decide questions that cannot affect the rights of litigants in the case before them' or give ‘opinion[s] advising what the law would be upon a hypothetical state of facts.'” Chafin v. Chafin, 568 U.S. 165, 172 (2013) (alteration in original) (quoting Lewis v. Cont'l Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477 (1990)). The party invoking a federal ...


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