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Case Name Washington v. GEO CJ-WA-0005
Docket / Court 3:17-cv-05806-RJB ( W.D. Wash. )
Additional Docket(s) 17-2-11422-2  [ 17-11422 ]  Trial Court (WA)
State/Territory Washington
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Immigration and/or the Border
Special Collection Immigrant Detention Labor Issues
Case Summary
This case addressed whether a Washington State minimum wage law applied to immigration detainees.

The state of Washington filed suit in the Pierce County Superior Court on September 20, 2017. The defendant was the GEO Group, Inc., a for-profit corporation that operated the Northwest ... read more >
This case addressed whether a Washington State minimum wage law applied to immigration detainees.

The state of Washington filed suit in the Pierce County Superior Court on September 20, 2017. The defendant was the GEO Group, Inc., a for-profit corporation that operated the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC). Washington had two causes of action. First, they claimed defendant’s policy of paying immigrant detainees only $1 per day violated the Washington Minimum Wage Act (MWA), which set the minimum wage at $11 per hour. RCW 49.46.020. Second, they alleged that defendant was unjustly enriched by this alleged violation. Washington sought injunctive and declaratory relief. This included declaring that the NWDC detainees were "employees" under the MWA, enjoining defendants from paying below minimum wage, and declaring that defendant was unjustly enriched.

Defendant filed a notice of removal on October 9, 2017. This case was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington (Tacoma). They argued the complaint involved issues of federal law as it references "adult civil detainees," a population defined exclusively under federal law. Further, the "allowance" for paid work is determined by federal statute and agencies as delegated by Congress. District Judge Robert J. Bryan was assigned.

Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim on October 16, 2017. They alleged that federal law, which allowed for immigrant detainees to be paid $1 per day, superseded the MWA, a state law. Additionally, immigrant detainees allegedly did not count as employees under the MWA. The court denied the motion on December 6, 2017. It held that federal law did not a conflict with the MWA. Under the MWA, only state detainees were not considered employees; the MWA said nothing about federal detainees. Federal law thus did not preempt the MWA. 283 F. Supp. 3d 967.

Defendant filed a counterclaim and affirmative defenses on December 20, 2017. Notably, defendant claimed a preemption defense in which federal laws override conflicting state laws. Defendant’s counterclaims alleged Washington would be unjustly enriched if detainees were paid minimum wage as detainees’ costs of living were paid for by the detention center. Defendants sought to offset any potential award to Washington by the value of services it provided to detainees. Defendant also sought declaratory and injunctive relief. This sought to enjoin Washington from claiming the MWA applied to NWDC detainees. and a declaration that defendant did not have an employment relationship with detainees.

Washington filed a motion to dismiss or strike most of defendant’s counterclaim and affirmative defenses on January 10, 2018. The court granted Washington's motion to dismiss in part on February 28, 2018. The court dismissed the defendant’s unjust enrichment claim and struck several of its affirmative defenses. The court did not dismiss the defendant’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. 2018 WL 1083826.

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case for failure to join government parties on March 20, 2018. Defendant had a contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and the U.S. Customs Enforcement (ICE), a subagency within DHS. This contract controlled how defendant managed the detention center. Defendant alleged that paying minimum wage would violate the contract as the standard for ICE’s Voluntary Work Program was $1 per day. It argued that DHS and ICE thus allegedly had a stake in the case’s outcome and needed to be joined. The court denied this motion on April 26, 2018. It reasoned that defendant's contract did not directly conflict with the MWA. DHS and ICE were also not interested in getting involved in the case. Defendant was contractually obligated to inform both agencies of this litigation and they did nothing. 2018 WL 1963792.

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on Washington's first cause of action (defendant's alleged violation of MWA) on November 8, 2018. They argued that the application of the MWA to the federal detention facility was forbidden by the Supremacy Clause's intergovernmental immunity doctrine (prevents federal and state governments from violating each other’s sovereignty). The court denied summary judgment on December 10, 2018. They reasoned intergovernmental immunity did not shield defendant from the MWA. 2018 WL 6448778.

Washington moved for partial summary judgment on April 11, 2019. The court granted the motion on May 13, 2019, dismissing defendant's affirmative defenses of laches (unreasonable delay in seeking relief), unclean hands (plaintiff acted in bad faith), and failure to join necessary parties. 2019 WL 2084463.

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on July 2, 2019. They argued for derivative sovereign immunity (shields government contractors from liability) as it was allegedly the federal government that directed defendant to only pay detainees $1/day. That same day, Washington filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the MWA claim and defendant's preemption defense. On August 6, 2019, the court denied defendant's motion and granted Washington's motion only as to the preemption defense. 2019 WL 3565105.

Over the following months, parties conducted discovery. On June 1, 2021, a jury trial held via Zoom began.

Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law on June 10, 2021, raising three primary arguments. First, detainees were not legally defined as employees. Defendant cited two exceptions under the MWA which excluded both people who resided at their workplace and people held in rehabilitative or correctional facilities. Second, defendant argued that it qualified for intergovernmental immunity and derivative sovereign immunity. Finally, the MWA, as a state law, was pre-empted by federal law. This motion was denied during the ongoing trial on June 11, 2021.

Defendant renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law on June 14, 2021. On the same day, Washington also moved for judgment as a matter of law. Washington made the following two arguments. First, the detainees did not fall under the residential or correctional exceptions of the MWA cited by defendants. Second, defendant had failed to qualify for intergovernmental or derivative sovereign unity. On the same day, both the above motions were denied during the ongoing trial.

Defendant moved for a mistrial on June 17, 2021. They cited Ninth Circuit precedent holding that "a jury verdict must be unanimous" and that unanimity cannot be reached until all jurors reject all affirmative defenses and satisfy all elements for liability. In the present case, the court polled the jurors, and it was "clear that at least two jurors remained steadfast that they could not agree on Question 1" of the jury instructions on whether detainees were employees. Additionally, the jury's written communication to the court stated: "we are certain we cannot agree on [Q]uestion number 2" on whether the MWA discriminated against defendant. That same day, the court ordered a mistrial when the jury declared they could not agree on a verdict. The following month, the court scheduled a pre-trial conference for October 1, 2021. Washington once again moved for judgment as a matter of law on July 15, 2021.

This case is ongoing.

Rebecca Strauss - 05/24/2018
Caitlin Kierum - 03/29/2020
Eric Gripp - 07/31/2021


compress summary

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Supremacy Clause
Defendant-type
Corrections
General
Conditions of confinement
Work release or work assignments
Immigration/Border
Detention - procedures
Employment
Plaintiff Type
State Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Non-government for profit
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
State law
Defendant(s) The GEO Group, Inc.
Plaintiff Description The State of Washington
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 09/20/2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing CJ-WA-0006 : Chen v. GEO (W.D. Wash.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Resolving Tensions between Constitutional Rights: Use Immunity in Concurrent or Related Proceedings
Columbia Law Review
Date: Jan. 1, 1976
By: William R. Stein (Columbia Law School Law Student)
Citation: William R. Stein, Resolving Tensions between Constitutional Rights: Use Immunity in Concurrent or Related Proceedings, 76 COLUM. L. REV. 674 (1976)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
W.D. Wash.
07/19/2021
3:17-cv-05806-RJB
CJ-WA-0005-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
W.D. Wash.
10/17/2017
Complaint [ECF# 12]
CJ-WA-0005-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
12/06/2017
Order on GEO's Motion to Dismiss Complaint [ECF# 29] (283 F.Supp.3d 967)
CJ-WA-0005-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
12/13/2017
Order Denying Without Prejudice Plaintiff State of Washington's Motion to Remand [ECF# 32] (2017 WL 6351831)
CJ-WA-0005-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
02/28/2018
Order on State's Motion to Dismiss or Strike Defendant's Counterclaims and Affirmative Defenses [ECF# 44] (2018 WL 1083826)
CJ-WA-0005-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
04/26/2018
Order on Defendant the GEO Group Inc.'s Motion for Order of Dismissal Based on Plaintiff's Failure to Join Required Government Parties, or, Alternatively, to Add Required Government Parties [ECF# 58] (2018 WL 1963792)
CJ-WA-0005-0005.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
12/10/2018
Order Denying Defendant the GEO Group, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's First Cause of Action [ECF# 162] (2018 WL 6448778)
CJ-WA-0005-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
W.D. Wash.
05/13/2019
Order on Washington's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the GEO Group, INC's Affirmative Defenses [ECF# 202] (2019 WL 2084463)
CJ-WA-0005-0009.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Wash.
05/23/2019
Order on Motion for Reconsideration [ECF# 211] (2019 WL 2224932)
CJ-WA-0005-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
W.D. Wash.
08/06/2019
Order on Cross Motions for Summary Judgment [ECF# 288] (2019 WL 3565105)
CJ-WA-0005-0008.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Bryan, Robert Jensen (W.D. Wash.) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0005-0002 | CJ-WA-0005-0003 | CJ-WA-0005-0004 | CJ-WA-0005-0005 | CJ-WA-0005-0006 | CJ-WA-0005-0007 | CJ-WA-0005-0008 | CJ-WA-0005-0009 | CJ-WA-0005-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Baker, La Rond (Washington) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0005-0001 | CJ-WA-0005-9000
Brenneke, Andrea (Washington) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0005-9000
Chien, Marsha (Washington) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0005-0001 | CJ-WA-0005-9000
Ferguson, Robert W. (Washington) show/hide docs
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Marquez, Patricio (Washington) show/hide docs
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Mentzer, Eric (Washington) show/hide docs
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Polozola, Lane (Washington) show/hide docs
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Defendant's Lawyers Angel, Allison N (Colorado) show/hide docs
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Armstrong, Shannon L (Oregon) show/hide docs
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Asai, Kristin Mariko (Oregon) show/hide docs
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Barnacle, Colin L (Colorado) show/hide docs
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Calhoun, Ashley E (Colorado) show/hide docs
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D'Ambra, Andrea (New York) show/hide docs
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Deacon, Charles A (Texas) show/hide docs
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Donohue, John M (Oregon) show/hide docs
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Eby, Christopher J (Colorado) show/hide docs
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Ellison, Dawn A (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Emery, Mark Thomas (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Kim, William J (Washington) show/hide docs
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Mell, Joan K. (Washington) show/hide docs
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Scheffey, Adrienne (Colorado) show/hide docs
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Schipma, Scott A (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Short, Carolyn P. (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
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Smith, Douglas Edward (Washington) show/hide docs
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Stouck, Jerry (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Other Lawyers Antkowiak, Thomas (Washington) show/hide docs
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Benson, Ann E. (Washington) show/hide docs
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Davis, Antoinette Marie (Washington) show/hide docs
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Ford, Elizabeth G. (Washington) show/hide docs
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Kratz, Amy (Washington) show/hide docs
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Lee, Melissa R (Washington) show/hide docs
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Lynch, Christopher M (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Vasquez, J. Dino (Washington) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0005-9000

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