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East Boise County Ambulance District v. Gehrls

United States District Court, D. Idaho

July 31, 2018



          B. Lynn Winmill Chief U.S. District Court Judge


         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for declaratory judgment regarding wages owed to an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (Dkt. 6.) The Court finds these matters appropriate for decision without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds it does not have jurisdiction over the case. Therefore, the Court will deny the motion and dismiss the case.


         In October 2011, Defendant Gaitlin Gehrls began volunteering as an emergency responder for the East Boise County Ambulance District (District). Compl. ¶ 6, Dkt, 1. In January 2016, Mr. Gehrls took a paid, full-time position as a logistics officer for the District doing much of the same work he was doing as volunteer. Id. However, he continued to volunteer for the District outside of normal business hours. Id. At some point, the District discovered that Mr. Gehrls was not being compensated for services performed as a volunteer, even though many of those services were very similar to those he performed as a paid employee. Id. ¶ 7.

         After the discovery, the District conducted a self-audit to determine the amount of unpaid wages owed to Mr. Gehrls. Id. ¶ 8. In addition, the District calculated liquidated damages owed to Mr. Gehrls consistent with the provisions of 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Id. ¶ 9. According to the District's audit and calculations, the total due is $9, 103.14. Id. Ex. A at 1. In a letter dated February 28, 2018, the District notified Mr. Gehrls in writing of its process, determinations, and calculations. Id. ¶ 11. The notice asked him to review the hours and calculations and advise the District of any errors by March 16, 2018.[1] Id. Mr. Gehrls did not advise the District of any errors in the calculations. Id. ¶ 12.

         On April 4, 2018, the District filed a petition for declaratory relief. Compl., Dkt. 1. The District filed the present motion for declaratory judgment on May 24, 2018. Mot., Dkt. 6. The District asks the Court to declare the proposed payment of $9, 103.14 in unpaid wages and liquidated damages is a fair and reasonable settlement pursuant to the requirements of the FLSA. Pl's Br. at 3, Dkt. 7. In support of its request, the District filed also a signed affidavit from Mr. Gehrls. Gehrls Aff., Dkt. 8. The affidavit states he reviewed the settlement calculations, found no error, and has no objection to the District's proposed settlement. Id. at ¶ 3.


         Subject matter jurisdiction is a “threshold matter, ” which a court must determine before proceeding to the merits (Image Omitted) of the case. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94 (1998). A court may determine subject matter jurisdiction from the facts alleged in the complaint or, if necessary, from the actual facts in the case. Thornhill Pub. Co. v. General Tel. & Elecs. Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 733 (9th Cir. 1979) (citations omitted). “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). It is appropriate for the Court to “raise the question of subject matter jurisdiction, sua sponte, at any time during the pendency of the action.” Snell v. Cleveland, Inc., 316 F.3d 822, 826 (9th Cir. 2002).


         1. FLSA Settlement Routes

         The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) protects workers from imposition of substandard wages and oppressive working hours. Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 739 (1981). Among its provisions, the Act addresses overtime pay-generally requiring compensation of at least one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for hours worked by an employee in excess of 40 hours a week. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). If an employer violates the overtime pay requirement, the employer is liable to the affected employee in the amount of the unpaid wages, or unpaid overtime compensation, and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         The FLSA provides two distinct routes to address violations of overtime requirements. See Lynn's Food Stores, Inc. v. U.S., 679 F.2d 1350, 1352-53 (11th Cir. 1982) (“There are only two ways in which back wage claims arising under the FLSA can be settled or compromised by employees.”). The first is an employee-driven process that uses the judicial system. Dent v. Cox Commc'ns Las Vegas, Inc., 502 F.3d 1141, 1144 (9th Cir. 2007). The second is an employer-driven process with oversight provided by the Department of Labor (DOL). Id. Each route is detailed below.

         The employee-driven route, set forth in Section 216(b), gives the employee the ability to initiate a suit against the employer to recover wages and damages. 29 U.S.C § 216(b). Alternatively, under Section 216(c), the DOL Secretary may do so on behalf of the employee. 29 U.S.C § 216(c). In either case, the court must approve any settlement that is reached. Lynn's, 679 F.2d 1350, 1352-53 (11th Cir. 1982); Fenn v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 2012 WL 6680358, at *1 (Dec. 21, 2012). This approach promotes fair ...

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