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Acosta v. State, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities

United States District Court, D. Alaska

November 6, 2018

R. ALEXANDER ACOSTA, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Defendant.

          ORDER

          H. Russel Holland, United States District Judge.

         Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment

         Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment and the issuance of a permanent injunction.[1] This motion is opposed, and defendant cross-moves for summary judgment.[2]

         Defendant's cross-motion is opposed.[3] Oral argument was not requested and is not deemed necessary.

         Facts

         Plaintiff is R. Alexander Acosta, the Secretary of Labor. Defendant is the State of Alaska, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

         This case involves the calculation of leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for defendant's employees who work on vessels on the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS). “AMHS employees' work schedules are established in collective bargaining agreements.”[4] Some of the AMHS employees work on a rotational basis. For example, some employees work one week on and one week off, and some work two weeks on and two weeks off. Some employees even have the option of working four weeks on and four weeks off. “Schedules are selected and set two weeks in advance for unlicensed employees and typically on a quarterly basis for licensed employees[.]”[5]

         Plaintiff alleges that since June 2014, defendant has “miscalculated the amount of leave to which rotational employees are entitled” under the FMLA.[6] Section 2612(a)(1) of the FMLA provides eligible employees with the general entitlement of “a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period. . . .” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1). These twelve workweeks of FMLA leave may be taken in one continuous block or an employee may take FMLA leave “intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule when medically necessary.” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(b)(1). This case involves FMLA leave taken in one continuous block pursuant to Section 2612(a).

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant is miscalculating FMLA leave for rotational employees “by improperly considering the weeks the rotational employees are not scheduled to work as workweeks” and “subtracting that time from the eligible employees' 12 workweek entitlement. . . .”[7] Defendant contends that counting weeks that rotational employees are not scheduled to work for purposes of calculating FMLA leave “would lead to extraordinary complexity and unpredictability for the AMHS and unequal treatment for employees.”[8]

         Plaintiff commenced this action on August 16, 2017. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief enjoining defendant from violating the FMLA in the future and monetary damages and other relief on behalf of any rotational employees who have been harmed by defendant's miscalculations.

         On October 18, 2017, defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a plausible claim. Defendant argued that “plaintiff ha[d] failed to state a plausible claim for relief because plaintiff's interpretation of the FMLA 12-week leave entitlement as it applies to rotational employees [was] not reasonable.”[9] The court rejected defendant's argument because it found that plaintiff's interpretation of the 12-week leave entitlement as it applied to rotational employees was reasonable.[10] Thus, the court found that plaintiff had stated a plausible claim.[11]

         Plaintiff now moves for partial summary judgment on three issues: 1) that this court has subject matter jurisdiction of this action, 2) that defendant is an employer which employs eligible employees under the FMLA, and 3) that defendant's practice of calculating FMLA leave to include weeks when a rotational employee is not scheduled to work violates the FMLA. In addition, plaintiff requests that the court enter a permanent injunction enjoining defendant from continuing to violate the FMLA by calculating FMLA leave to include weeks when a rotational employee is not scheduled to work. Defendant cross-moves for summary judgment that calculating FMLA leave to include weeks when a rotational employee is not scheduled to work does not violate the FMLA.

         Discussion

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The initial burden is on the moving party to show that there is an absence of genuine issues of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the moving party meets its initial burden, then the non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence of the non-movant in the light most favorable to that party, and all justifiable inferences are also to be drawn in its favor. Id. at 255. “[T]he court's ultimate inquiry is to determine whether the ‘specific facts' set forth by the nonmoving party, coupled with undisputed background or contextual facts, are such that a rational or reasonable jury might return a verdict in its favor based on that evidence.” T.W. Elec. Service, Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 631 (9th Cir. 1987). “[W]hen parties submit cross-motions for summary judgment, each motion must be considered on its own merits.” Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         Plaintiff first moves for summary judgment that this court has subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff moves for summary judgment on this issue because in its answer, defendant denied that the court had subject matter jurisdiction.[12]

         “[T]he court has an ‘independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party.'” Corral v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 878 F.3d 770, 773 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006)). The court has always had federal question jurisdiction of this matter. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on this issue was unnecessary.

         Secondly, plaintiff moves for summary judgment that defendant is an employer which employs eligible employees under the FMLA. Plaintiff has so moved because in its answer, defendant appeared to deny that it was an employer which employed eligible employees under the FMLA.[13] Defendant has since advised plaintiff that this issue is not contested, [14]and defendant makes no argument in response to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on this issue. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment that defendant is an employer which employs eligible employees under the FMLA is granted.

         Thirdly, plaintiff argues that it is entitled to summary judgment that defendant's calculation of FMLA leave for rotational employees to include weeks that rotational employees are not scheduled to work violates the FMLA. Plaintiff basically asks that the court reaffirm the ruling it made on defendant's motion to dismiss.

         In its order denying defendant's motion to dismiss, the court reviewed plaintiff's interpretation of Section 2612(a) “under the familiar two-step framework set forth in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).” Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Salazar, 695 F.3d 893, 902 (9th Cir. 2012). First, the court considered whether Congress had spoken to the precise question of how to calculate leave for rotational employees and concluded that it had not.[15] Second, the court considered whether plaintiff's interpretation of Section 2612(a) ...


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