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Posts Tagged ‘Inc.’

Another Day, Another Dollar: Private Detention Center Sued By Detainees for Violations of the Washington Minimum Wage Act

Posted on: August 9th, 2018

By: Layli Eskandari Deal

A lawsuit filed by thousands of detained immigrants held at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington alleges systematic wage theft by GEO Group, Inc.  The Plaintiffs seek to recover wages under the Washington Minimum Wage Act, as well as other damages allowable under State law.

GEO Group, Inc. has owned and operated the NWDC, which has 1,500 beds for immigrants, since 2005.  The lawsuit alleges that “rather than hire from local workforce, GEO relies upon “captive detainee workers to clean, maintain, and operate NWDC.”  It further states that “GEO’s NWDC Detainee Handbook describes detainee work assignments as including kitchen and laundry work, as well as recreation/library/barber and janitorial services.  The Handbook refers to these various tasks as ‘work’ and a ‘job,’ and references ‘wages earned’ by detainee ‘workers.’”

The Plaintiffs asked the Federal District Court for class certification.  Judge Robert Bryan of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington determined that the detained immigrants have an “employment relationship with GEO.”  The Judge determined that the group of detained immigrants all participate in a volunteer program at NWDC and allege the same “injury,” which is that they are only paid a $1 per day for work, “an amount not commensurate” with the law.  The Judge granted certification for the Plaintiffs to proceed as a class.

In addition to the Federal lawsuit, the State of Washington has also brought a lawsuit against GEO Group, Inc. in the State Superior Court that alleges GEO is violating the State’s minimum wage laws.  The Attorney General for the State of Washington, Bob Ferguson, stated, “A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying its workers $1 per day. That shouldn’t happen in America, and I will not tolerate it happening in Washington. For-profit companies cannot exploit Washington workers.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and others, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes.  The outcome of these cases will have significant effect on the way prison systems treat and compensate detained workers.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Layli Eskandari Deal of the law firm of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

Despite Causing Wildfires, PG&E Avoids Punitive Damages

Posted on: August 2nd, 2018

By: Carlos Martinez-Garcia

On July 2, 2018, the Third Appellate District of California awarded Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) its first critical victory in defending itself against fire claims caused by its power lines: Butte Fire Cases, (2018) 24 Cal. App. 5th 1150. In 2015, the “Butte Fire” started after a gray pine came into contact with one of PG&E’s power lines, burning more than 70,868 acres, damaging hundreds of structures, and claiming two lives. The subsequent lawsuits, which were consolidated in a judicial council coordinated proceeding in Sacramento Superior Court, are comprised of 2,050 plaintiffs who sought punitive damages under Civil Code § 3294.

The master complaint alleged that the utility company and two contractors failed to properly maintain the power line and adjacent vegetation, warranting punitive damages. The Third Appellate District disagreed, striking Plaintiffs’ prayer for a punitive damages award.

In California, punitive damages may be recovered under section 3294 “where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice.” (Civ. Code § 3294) Malice is defined by section 3294, subdivision (c)(1) as “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

In seeking summary adjudication, PG&E submitted evidence that it devotes significant resources to vegetation management programs intended to minimize the risk of wildfire, spending more than $190 million per year on vegetation management operations. The operations include routine annual patrols, quality assurance and control programs, and a public safety and reliability program. PG&E also contracted with ACRT, Inc. to conduct inspections and vegetation management, Quantum Spatial, to collect data using LiDAR to identify dead or dying trees, and Trees, Inc. to trim noncompliant trees. No inspections identified the subject tree as a danger.

The Third District was unpersuaded by Plaintiffs’ contention that PG&E’s vegetation management program was “window dressing”, PG&E’s vegetation management methodologies were defective, or that PG&E evinced a cavalier attitude towards public safety evidenced by the infamous San Bruno pipeline explosion and a 1994 “Rough and Ready” fire caused by PG&E.

Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of material fact that showed PG&E acted despicably, or with willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others. PG&E’s nondelegable duty to safely maintain the power lines does not alter the analysis of punitive damages under § 3294. There was nothing despicable in the utility company’s assumption that contractors were training their employees as required, and any criticisms of PG&E’s methodologies do not amount to clear and convincing proof that PG&E acted with malice. At most, plaintiffs’ evidence showed mere carelessness or ignorance.

If you have any questions, or would like more information, please contact Carlos Martinez-Garcia at [email protected].

Where Are They Now: The “Selfie Monkey” Naruto?

Posted on: June 1st, 2018

By: Shaun Daugherty 

Acknowledgment to the monkey that took the photo, public domain.

Remember Naruto?  No?  Well he received his 15-minute flash-in-the-pan fame over a picture very similar to the one that you see above.  (The photo is in the public domain for reasons explained below.)  The issue started when the question of whether a selfie taken by a monkey had any copyright protection attached.

See, what happened was, nature photographer David Slater had been traveling to Indonesia trying to get some good pictures of the indigenous Celebes crested macaques.  During an excursion, one, maybe more, of the furry pranksters snapped several close-up selfies.  Unconfirmed rumors claim that the frisky macaque was going to use the best photo on his MDate.com dating profile.  In any event, Slater thought that the photos were fantastic and considered himself the owner.  He licensed the photos to be published in July 2011 to several publications.  Shortly thereafter, Wikimedia Commons caught wind of the unusual artist and published the photographs without asking permission.  Slater demanded that they be taken down.  Initially Wikimedia complied, but then decided that the images were in the public domain because the copyright could not be vested in a non-human.

A blog, Techdirt, picked up the story and published the photos too.  Slater continued to demand that the pictures be removed insisting that he owned the photographs because he had made “significant contributions” to their creations.  After all, it was his equipment.  In the midst of this row, the United States Copyright Office published its 2014 “Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices.”  The publication confirmed the Copyright Office’s long-standing policy that “materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable.”  In the 2014 edition, they specifically listed examples of what could not be registered, including a photograph taken by a monkey and a painting made by an elephant.  As an aside, the Copyright Office will also not register any work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings or generated purely by a machine.  Sorry Thor, sorry Ultron.

In 2015, Slater published the “monkey selfies,” in a book titled “Wildlife Personalities” through publisher Blurb, Inc.  Here is where it gets interesting.  PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) sued Slater on behalf of Naruto seeking to have the Northern District of California Court do what the US Copyright Office would not, essentially grant copyright protection to a non-human.  If they won, PETA graciously volunteered to administer any proceeds received, on behalf of Naruto and other similarly situated macaques, of course.

The District Judge declined to extend copyright law protections to animals citing the clear lack of intent in the plain language of the law to allow monkeys to sue humans.  PETA appealed to the Ninth Circuit and oral arguments were held.  Shortly thereafter Slater and PETA came to a settlement of the claims wherein Slater agreed to “donate” 25% of all future proceeds from the use of the photos to wildlife charities.  The parties informed the Ninth Circuit of their settlement and asked that the court not issue a ruling and sought vacatur.  It is an interesting legal concept that would nullify the record of the lower court.

The Ninth Circuit declined to dismiss or vacate and issued their ruling on April 23, 2018 in favor of Slater finding that animals have no right to sue under copyright law.  The court also openly questioned the motives of PETA in the case and the purported settlement as Natuto was not a party to the same.

Much of the majority and dissenting analysis involved standing to sue in general.  Based on the 2004 precedent of Cetacean Community v. Bush, surely you remember that one, the court was bound to find Article III standing for the animal.  However, even though there was Constitutional standing, there was no statutory standing as there has been a lack of specific intent in the Copyright Law to allow non-humans to sue for infringement.  It turns out that on May 25, 2018, a Ninth Circuit judge has called for an en banc review of Cetacean Community to revisit the issue of standing for animals under Article III.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Shaun Daugherty at [email protected].

PA Fed. Ct. Finds UberBLACK Limousine Drivers Maintain Independent Contractor Status

Posted on: April 30th, 2018

By: John P. McAvoy

On April 12, 2018, Uber Technologies, Inc. won its legal battle on the recurring issue of independent contractor misclassification when the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted the company’s motion for summary judgment in Razak v. Uber Technologies, Inc., No. 16-cv-573 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 11, 2018) (Baylson, J.). In so holding, the court concluded that UberBLACK limousine drivers are not employees of Uber covered by state and federal wage laws.

Uber has been defending independent contractor misclassification cases in state and federal courts throughout the country since the company first opened its doors in 2009. Like several other ride-sharing companies, Uber has persistently maintained that its drivers are independent contractors and that, as such, the company is exempt from the state and federal wages laws of all jurisdictions in which it conducts business. Despite these salient arguments, the vast majority of courts have concluded that the workers were Uber employees subject to wage laws, indicating that a slightly different set of facts may have swayed the decision in the other direction. However, based on the Honorable Michael M. Baylson’s opinion in the Razak case, it appears this pattern has reached its natural end.

Unlike other federal and state courts that have addressed this issue, the Eastern District concluded that almost all of the factors the court considered weighed heavily in favor of classifying UberBLACK limousine drivers as independent contractors that do not enjoy the rights, benefits and securities provided by state and federal wage laws.

The Eastern District reached its decision by applying the six factor test set forth in Donovan v. Dialamerica Marketing, Inc., 757 F.2d 1376 (3d Cir. 1985); namely, (1) the degree of Uber’s right to control the manner in which the work is performed (“Right to Control”); (2) the UberBLACK limousine drivers’ opportunity for profit or loss depending on their managerial skill (“Opportunity for Profit or Loss”); (3) the UberBLACK limousine drivers’ investment in equipment or materials required for their task, or their employment of helpers (“Employee Investment”); (4) whether the service rendered requires a special skill (“Special Skills”); (5) the degree of permanence of the working relationship (“Relationship Permanence”); and (6) whether the service rendered is an integral part of Uber’s business (“Integration”). The court found that all but two of the factors (i.e., Special Skills and Integration) strongly favored independent contractor status. Accordingly, the court concluded that the UberBLACK limousine drivers had not met their burden of showing that they are employees and that Uber is their employer.

If upheld on appeal to the Third Circuit, the Razak decision could finally put to rest the issue of whether Uber drivers and workers at companies that employ similar business models are being misclassified as independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act and any state wage laws that test for independent contractor status in the same or similar fashion.

If you have any questions or would like more information about this case, please contact John P. McAvoy at [email protected].

Circuits Now Split Three Ways Over False Claims Act Limitations Period

Posted on: April 26th, 2018

By: Robyn Flegal

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (governing Georgia, Alabama, and Florida), recently held that the three-year statute of limitations for the False Claims Act (FCA) begins when the government learns of alleged violations of the FCA, rather than when a whistleblower/relator learns of alleged violations.  As we previously explained in the FMGBlogLine, the FCA allows whistleblowers to bring claims for violations on behalf of the government in return for a share any recovery.  In United States of America ex rel. Billy Joe Hunt v. Cochise Consultancy, Inc. d/b/a The Parsons Corporation, a former employee alleged that certain contractors defrauded the Department of Defense out of millions of dollars for work performed pursuant to a wartime contract in Iraq.  According to the Complaint, an Army Corps of Engineer officer forged contract documents after accepting bribes and gifts.  The United States declined to intervene in the lawsuit.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama dismissed the suit on the basis that Billy Joe Hunt (the employee) was outside of the three-year limitations period for FCA claims.  FCA claims must be filed (1) within six years after the violation occurred, or (2) within three years of the time the appropriate government body is made aware of the violation and within ten years of when the fraud occurred.  The Eleventh Circuit determined that this second, three-year limitations period applies even where the United States declines to intervene in a qui tam action.  Indeed, although the employee knew of the fraud more than three years before he filed suit—his claim was timely because he filed the suit within three years of disclosing the underlying facts to the United States officials.  Simply put, in the Eleventh Circuit, the limitations period begins to run when the relevant federal government official learns of the facts; when the whistleblower learns of the fraud is simply immaterial to the statute of limitations.

There is now a three-way circuit split in the Federal Courts of Appeals regarding the tolling deadlines for FCA claims.  In contrast to the Eleventh Circuit’s holding above, the Fourth, Fifth, and Tenth Circuits have ruled that the three-year limitations period does not apply to whistleblowers at all.  The Third and Ninth Circuits have held that the three-year period begins when the whistleblower learns of the fraud.  As there is a split in the circuits, this particular action could be ripe for a decision by the Supreme Court if the defendants petition for a writ of certiorari.

As such, we will continue to monitor developments in this area.  For questions please contact Michael Bruyere at [email protected], Robyn Flegal at [email protected], or Ali Sabzevari at [email protected]