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Kreb v. Life Flight Network, LLC

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 12, 2018

ROBERT KREB, Plaintiff,
LIFE FLIGHT NETWORK, LLC, an Oregon Corporation, JACKSONS FOOD STORES, INC., a Nevada Corporation, JACKSON JET CENTER, LLC, an Idaho Corporation, and CONYAN AVIATION, INC., d/b/a Jackson Jet Center, an Idaho Corporation, Defendants.


          Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Now pending before the Court are (1) the Jackson Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 46), and (2) Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint (Docket No. 62). Having carefully considered the record, participated in oral argument, and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:


         This case arises from Plaintiff Robert Kreb's “joint” employment by Defendants Jacksons Food Stores, Inc. (“Jacksons”), Jackson Jet Center, LLC and Conyan Aviation, Inc., d/b/a Jackson Jet Center (“JJC”), and Life Flight Network, LLC (“LFN”) (collectively referred to as “Defendants”). See Compl., ¶ 2.16 (Docket No. 1, Att. 1). According to Plaintiff, Defendants hired him on or about February 24, 2014 “to fly fixed wing emergency medical response planes for the emergency medical transport services offered by Defendants.” Id. at ¶¶ 4.24, 2.3. While Plaintiff worked for Defendants, he lived in Washington and was “placed in Lewiston, Idaho as his principal base of operations.” Id. at ¶ 2.5. During this time, Plaintiff “would commute from his home in Friday Harbor[, Washington] each week to start a seven-day schedule for LFN.” Id. at ¶ 4.20. Although Plaintiff flew LFN patients in various parts of the Pacific Northwest, he contends that he “reported to the Lewiston, Idaho base to perform” those flights. Id. at ¶ 2.9. While employed, Plaintiff raised many complaints with Defendants about their alleged failure to pay him wages and other compensation he says he was promised. See id. at ¶¶ 4.23, 4.27-4.45.

         Defendants fired Plaintiff on July 10, 2014, one day after he allegedly raised safety concerns about a flight Defendants had scheduled him to pilot. See id. at ¶¶ 4.46-4.53. Following his termination, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants “blacklisted” him from employment opportunities, and that he has since moved to New Mexico with his family because he could not obtain employment in the Pacific Northwest. See id. at ¶¶ 4.58-4.59, 4.61.

         On May 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendants in the Superior Court of the State of Washington in King County, Washington. In that complaint, he alleged that Defendants owe him unpaid wages and other compensation (first cause of action), wrongfully discharged him in violation of public policy (second cause of action), and breached their employment contract with him (third cause of action). See id. at ¶¶ 1.1, 5.1-7.3. Among other damages and costs, Plaintiff seeks unpaid wages, lost future wages, punitive damages, exemplary damages, and emotional distress damages. See id. at ¶¶ 8.1-8.11.

         On June 6, 2016, Defendants removed the Washington state court case to federal court in the Western District of Washington, based on diversity jurisdiction. See Not. of Removal (Docket No. 1). Then, on July 21, 2016, Defendants moved for a change of venue to the District of Idaho under 28 U.S.C. § 1404. See Mot. to Change Venue (Docket No. 19). On September 14, 2016, United States District Judge James L. Robart granted that Defendants' motion, transferring venue to this Court:

On balance, the Court finds Defendants have met their burden of demonstrating that transfer is appropriate. Of the nine factors, four weigh in favor of transfer, five are neutral, and none weigh against transfer. Most importantly, most of the parties, the case-related contacts, the relevant witnesses, and other evidence are located in Idaho. For these reasons, Defendants have made “a strong showing of inconvenience” to support a transfer of venue. Accordingly, the court concludes that transfer to the District of Idaho pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404 is warranted.

9/14/16 Order, p. 15 (Docket No. 37) (internal citations omitted).

         Jacksons and JJC (collectively the Jackson Defendants) now move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims against them. See generally MSJ (Docket No. 46).[1] They argue that under a conflict of laws analysis, Idaho law applies to preclude each of Plaintiff's claims against them. See id., p. 3 (“Under Idaho law, Kreb's claims for unpaid wages are barred by the statute of limitations, his claim for wrongful termination is barred by his election of an administrative remedy, and his claim for breach of contract is barred by the statute of limitations.”). Plaintiff disputes that a conflict of laws analysis favors Idaho law over Washington law, but argues that most of his claims survive under Idaho law regardless. See generally Opp. to MSJ (Docket No. 6). Relatedly, Plaintiff also moves for leave to amend his Complaint to add a cause of action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for retaliation. See Mot. to Am. (Docket No. 62).


          A. The Jackson Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 46)

         1. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “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). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if that party shows that each issue of material fact is not or cannot be disputed. To show the material facts are not in dispute, a party may cite to particular materials in the record, or show that the materials cited do not establish the presence of a genuine dispute, or that the adverse party is unable to produce admissible evidence to support the fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B); Ransier v. United States, 2014 WL 5305852, *2 (D. Idaho 2014).

         Rule 56(e)(3) authorizes summary judgment for the moving party “if the motion and supporting materials - including the facts considered undisputed - show that the movant is entitled to it.” The existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient. Rather, “there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).

         2. Washington v. Idaho: Conflict of Laws Analysis

         The United States Supreme Court has held that, when a change of venue occurs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), “[t]he transferee district court must be obligated to apply the state law that would have been applied if there had been no change of venue.” Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 639 (1964). In a diversity case, the federal court must apply the conflict of laws principles of the forum state. See Sarlot-Kantarjian v. First Pennsylvania Mort. Trust, 599 F.2d 915, 917 (9th Cir. 1979). Therefore, there is no dispute that Washington's conflict of laws rules apply to determine whether Washington or Idaho law should govern the instant action. See S.A. Empresa De Viacao Aerea Rio Grandense v. Boeing Co., 641 F.2d 746, 749 (9th Cir. 1981); compare also Mem. in Supp. of MSJ, p. 5 (Docket No. 46, Att. 2), with Opp. to MSJ, p. 2 (Docket No. 60).

         a. An Actual Conflict Exists

         However, before a conflict of laws inquiry takes place, Washington law presupposes an actual conflict between the laws of Washington and Idaho. See Burnside v. Simpson Paper Co., 864 P.2d 937, 941-42 (Wash. 1994). When the result of the issues is different under the law of the two states, there is a “real” conflict. See Weizer v. Sessions, 940 P.2d 261, 264 (Wash. 1997). Here, a comparison of Washington's and Idaho's statutory laws' application to Plaintiff's claim for unpaid wages reveals a clear conflict in need of resolution via a conflict of laws analysis.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, under Washington law, (1) “willfully violated RCW 49.52.050 and RCW 49.52.070 by failing to pay [his] promised wage for all time engaged in work, ” and (2) “willfully violated RCW 49.46.130(1) by not paying an overtime rate of at least one and one-half times his regular rate of pay for all hours in excess of forty in a seven-day workweek.” Compl., ¶¶ 5.2-5.3 (Docket No. 1, Att. 1). Relevant here, RCW 49.52.050(2) penalizes employers “who . . . willfully and with intent to deprive [an] employee of any part of his or her wages, . . . pay any employee a lower wage than the wage such employer is obligated to pay such employee by any statute, ordinance, or contract”; RCW 49.52.070 creates civil liability for any employer who violates RCW 49.52.050(2) and provides that the wronged employee may be entitled to “twice the amount of wages unlawfully rebated or withheld”; and, with few exceptions, RCW 49.46.130(1) requires all employers to pay their employees overtime for hours worked over forty in a work.

         Defendants contend that these provisions of Washington law clash with Idaho's wage laws. See Mem. in Supp. of MSJ, p. 6 (Docket No. 46, Att. 2). For example, Idaho Code § 45-608 provides that employers must pay “all wages due to their employees at least once during each calendar month, on regular paydays designated in advance by the employer” - unlike RCW 49.052.050, there is no requirement under Idaho law that an employer act “willfully and with the intent” to withhold pay. See id. Moreover, Idaho Code § 45-615(2) provides for the recovery of treble damages in a successful wage claim, whereas RCW 49.52.050(2) permits double damages. See id.[2] And, finally, unlike RCW 49.46.130(1), Idaho has no statute requiring the payment of overtime wages specifically. See id. According to Defendants, these instances reveal “clear conflicts between the Idaho statutes on the wage and overtime claims and the Washington statutes governing those issues.” Id.

         It is unclear whether the subjective component inherent within RCW 49.052.050 offers a difference without much of a distinction when compared to Idaho Code § 45-608. In other words, as Plaintiff argues, it may well be that Defendants owe him wages under either Washington or Idaho law because Defendants have not alleged that their failure to pay him his promised wages was somehow a mistake or inadvertent (and, thus, not otherwise willful or intentional). See Opp. to MSJ, p. 5 (Docket No. 60). As such, there can be no underlying conflict that then sets in motion Washington's conflict of laws analysis. See Woodward v. Taylor, 366 P.3d 432, 435 (Wash. 2016) (“If there is no actual conflict, the local law of the forum applies and the court does not reach the most significant relationship step.”). The extent to which this same logic extends to Defendants' alleged failure to pay Plaintiff overtime wages is likewise unclear, given that there is no Idaho statute requiring the payment of such wages, notwithstanding a possible contract requiring the same - rhetorically speaking, how does this reality speak to an employer's subjective intent surrounding its failure to make such payments, if at all?

         The question is abstract at present and not answered here. Still, the fact remains that the legal mechanism for recovering overtime wages in Washington and Idaho is different. In Idaho, an aggrieved employee must first prove the existence of an agreement for payment of overtime wages before recovering such wages pursuant to that agreement. In comparison, Washington allows an aggrieved employee to recover overtime wages via statute alone, independent of any agreement. Said another way, if Washington law were to apply to this case, the Defendants could be liable for payment of overtime wages without Plaintiff having to first prove the existence of any agreement (as is needed under Idaho law) for payment of such wages. Without attempting to conclude as a matter of law that the outcome is the same under ...

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