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Case Name Chen v. GEO CJ-WA-0006
Docket / Court 3:17-cv-05769-RJB ( W.D. Wash. )
State/Territory Washington
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Immigration and/or the Border
Special Collection Immigrant Detention Labor Issues
Case Summary
On September 26, 2017, a former immigrant detainee of the Northwest Detention Center filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The case was assigned to Judge Robert J. Bryan. The plaintiff sued The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), the for-profit corporation that ... read more >
On September 26, 2017, a former immigrant detainee of the Northwest Detention Center filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The case was assigned to Judge Robert J. Bryan. The plaintiff sued The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), the for-profit corporation that operated the detention center, under state law, claiming that GEO’s policy of paying immigrant detainees involved in the federal Voluntary Work Program only $1 per day for their labor violated the Washington Minimum Wage Act (MWA). The MWA set the minimum wage at $11 per hour. Represented by private counsel, the plaintiff sought damages for lost wages.

On October 9, 2017, GEO filed a motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim. GEO alleged that federal law, which allowed for immigrant detainees to be paid $1 per day, preempted the MWA, a state law. The defendant also alleged that immigrant detainees did not count as employees under the MWA. On December 6, 2017, the court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The court reasoned that federal law did not conflict with the MWA, so it did not preempt it. The MWA also stated only that state detainees were not employees; it said nothing about federal detainees, so the court reasoned that immigrant detainees may be employees. 287 F.Supp.3d 1158.

On December 20, 2017, the defendant served an answer to the complaint that contained several counterclaims and affirmative defenses. GEO claimed that the plaintiff would be unjustly enriched if paid minimum wage, as his costs of living during his detainment were paid for by the detention center, so it sought the costs and expenses it incurred in providing for the plaintiff during his detainment. It also sought declaratory relief. The plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss or strike most of the counterclaims and affirmative defenses on January 10, 2018. On February 28, 2018, the court denied most of the plaintiff's motion to dismiss, although it did strike five of the defendant’s fifteen affirmative defenses. 297 F.Supp.3d 1130.

On March 29, 2018, GEO filed another motion to dismiss the case, this one for failure to join required parties. GEO had a contract with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that controlled how it managed the detention center. It alleged that paying minimum wage when the standard for ICE’s Voluntary Work Program was $1 per day would violate that contract. Because they had a stake in the case’s outcome, GEO alleged that DHS and ICE needed to be joined as parties. However, the defendant also alleged that DHS and ICE could not be joined because they had immunity. So, GEO concluded that the case should be dismissed. On April 26, 2018, the court denied this motion to dismiss and held that DHS and ICE were not necessary parties because the contract did not directly conflict with the MWA. 2018 WL 1963669.

The plaintiff sought class certification on March 23, 2018. The proposed class would consist of all civil immigration detainees who participated in the Voluntary Work Program at the Northwest Detention Center at any time between September 26, 2014, and the date of final judgment in the case. However, after being deposed by the defendant, the plaintiff decided that it was not in his best interests to serve as a class representative; in his deposition, the plaintiff admitted to having a history of violent crime, which could prejudice the rest of the class. On April 30, 2018, GEO filed a motion to deny class certification with prejudice, and the plaintiff withdrew his motion for class certification the next day.

On June 13, 2018, two new plaintiffs who could more adequately represent the class were added, and the original plaintiff was terminated as a plaintiff (but remained a counter defendant to GEO's counterclaims). The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint to reflect this change. Eight days later, they filed a new motion for class certification.

On June 27, 2018, GEO moved to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and failure to join parties.

On August 6, 2018, the court denied the defendant's motion to dismiss, reasoning that issues remained to be solved regarding the defendant's possible immunity as a contractor providing services to the federal government. The court further held that the defendant's other grounds for dismissal (preemption, failure to state a claim based on the inapplicability of the MWA, and failure to join required government parties) were unpersuasive. 2018 BL 278967

On the same day, the court granted the plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The court declined to make the finding that the class representatives cannot represent the proposed class of detainees seeking for lost wages under the (MWA) because they lack work authorization and are thus "unemployable." The court further found that the proposed class satisfied the requirements for certification and thus certification was appropriate.

On August 23, 2018, the defendant filed a petition to appeal the order to certify class to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The defendant also appealed to the Ninth Circuit the August 6, 2018 order denying the defendant's motion to dismiss.

On November 8, 2018, the Ninth Circuit denied the defendant's petition to appeal the order granting class certification.

On December 7, 2018, the defendant-appellant filed a motion with the Ninth Circuit to voluntarily dismiss its appeal of the district court's order denying the defendant's motion to dismiss. The Ninth Circuit granted this motion on December 10, 2018, and the appeal was dismissed.

For the first few months of 2019, activity in this suit consisted of litigation relating to various deadlines for trial dates and giving notice to class members.

On May 2, 2019, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, stay, or consolidate related litigation. The defendant argued that the suit should be dismissed or stayed because "the harm plaintiffs seek to remedy is entirely duplicative of the State of Washington’s companion case, State of Washington v. The GEO Group, Inc., resulting in wasted time, effort, and costs. The defendant contended that without dismissal or staying of the suit or at least consolidating the two suits, it would be prejudiced by having to litigate the issues and incur costs twice.

In a May 28, 2019, oral hearing, the court denied the portion of the defendant's motion to dismiss or stay, and granted in part the motion for consolidation. The court ordered that the suits be consolidated on the issues of liability only. The issue of damages would remain separate.

On August 22, 2019, the United States filed a Statement of Interest in the State of Washington case, where it argued that the suit, seeking to impose the state minimum wage for individuals in federal immigration detention, violated intergovernmental immunity principles. The United States urged "the Court to find that the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity bars the State of Washington from enforcing the MWA against GEO," even though the court had earlier rejected the intergovernmental immunity argument.

On January 2, 2020, both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The court held an oral hearing on January 21, 2020, where a jury trial was set for April 13, 2020, and the motions were renoted.

The case is ongoing.

Rebecca Strauss - 07/20/2018
Aaron Gurley - 01/22/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
General
Conditions of confinement
Placement in detention facilities
Work release or work assignments
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
State law
Defendant(s) The GEO Group, Inc.
Plaintiff Description A former immigrant detainee of the Northwest Detention Center who participated in the Voluntary Work Program and was paid $1 per day. A class consisting of all civil immigration detainees who participated in the Voluntary Work Program at the Northwest Detention Center was certified.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing CJ-WA-0005 : Washington v. GEO (W.D. Wash.)
Additional Resources
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Docket(s)
3:17-cv-05769-RJB (W.D. Wash.)
CJ-WA-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/03/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint for Damages [ECF# 1]
CJ-WA-0006-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/26/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order on Defendant The GEO Group, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Class Action Complaint for Damages [ECF# 28] (287 F.Supp.3d 1158) (W.D. Wash.)
CJ-WA-0006-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/06/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order on Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss or Strike Defendant's Counterclaims and Affirmative Defenses [ECF# 40] (2018 WL 1083852) (W.D. Wash.)
CJ-WA-0006-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 02/28/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order on Defendant The GEO Group Inc.'s Motion for Order of Dismissal Based on Plaintiff's Failure to Join Required Government Parties [ECF# 67] (2018 WL 1963669) (W.D. Wash.)
CJ-WA-0006-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 04/26/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order on Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification and Defendant's Motion to Deny Class Certification [ECF# 114] (W.D. Wash.)
CJ-WA-0006-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/06/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Supplement to Oral Ruling [ECF# 175] (W.D. Wash.)
CJ-WA-0006-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/28/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Statement of Interest of the United States [ECF# 185]
CJ-WA-0006-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/22/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
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Judges Bryan, Robert Jensen (W.D. Wash.) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0006-0002 | CJ-WA-0006-0003 | CJ-WA-0006-0004 | CJ-WA-0006-0005 | CJ-WA-0006-0006 | CJ-WA-0006-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Berger, Adam J. (Washington) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0006-0001 | CJ-WA-0006-9000
Free, R. Andrew (Tennessee) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0006-0001 | CJ-WA-0006-9000
Halm, Lindsay (Washington) show/hide docs
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Roe, Rebecca Jane (Washington) show/hide docs
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Theriot-Orr, Devin T. (Washington) show/hide docs
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Whitehead, Jamal N. (Washington) show/hide docs
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Defendant's Lawyers Angel, Allison N (Colorado) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0006-9000
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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Pusateri, Michael (District of Columbia) 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 Bates, Christopher A (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Davis, Ethan P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Haas, Alexander K (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Hunt, Joseph H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Lynch, Christopher M (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0006-0007 | CJ-WA-0006-9000
Snead, Jacqueline E. Coleman (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
CJ-WA-0006-0007

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