Court Refuses To Give Advisory Opinion On Fire Department’s FLSA Question

Court Refuses To Give Advisory Opinion On Fire Department’s FLSA Question

Written on 09/21/2019
Will Aitchison

The Spokane Valley Fire Department in Washington filed a federal court lawsuit against Local 3701 of the IAFF, seeking a declaratory judgment that some of its employees – battalion chiefs and fire marshals who are members of Local 3701 – were exempt from certain wage and hour provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The lawsuit arose out of a discussion in bargaining, where the Department took the position that the FLSA’s exemption for bona fide executive or administrative employees applied to battalion chiefs and fire marshals, and Local 3701 remained steadfast in its position to the contrary.

A federal trial court dismissed the lawsuit. The Court’s decision turned on what is known as the Declaratory Judgment Act of 1934. The Act only allows a declaratory judgment “in a case of actual controversy.” The Court noted that the Act “is operative only in respect to controversies which are such in the constitutional sense. To determine whether a declaratory judgment action presents a justiciable case or controversy, the Court considers whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment.”

The Court concluded that “the Department fails to show a genuine dispute of material fact on whether a justiciable case or controversy exists between it and Local 3701 or its members. The parties’ current collective bargaining agreement utilizes the § 207(k) exemption. Specifically, the agreement provides: (1) the normal working schedule for Fire Operations consists of a maximum of 204 hours in a 27-day work period; (2) day officers work at least 40 hours per week or a flexible schedule equivalent to at least 80 hours in a two-week period; (3) shift officers work one 24-hour shift, starting and ending at 7:00 a.m., followed by 48 hours off duty; (4) shift officers receive 13 Kelly days off in a calendar year, so as to reduce their annual work average to 50.02 hours per week; and (5) officers will receive overtime at a rate of 1.50 times their hourly rate for working in Local 3701 response positions outside their regular shift.

“Considering how this agreement implements the § 207(k) exemption, each of Local 3701’s members who are employed by the Department disavow having any FLSA overtime claim against it. Local 3701’s members state they have not given their written consent to become plaintiffs in any FLSA lawsuit against the Department, they are not aware of any unpaid overtime owed to them by the Department that would entitle them to recovery under the FLSA, they have no intention of filing an FLSA lawsuit against the Department, they do not anticipate having an intention of filing an FLSA lawsuit against the Department in the future, they have never expressed an intention of filing an FLSA lawsuit against the Department, and none of Local 3701’s other members have expressed to them an intention to bring an FLSA lawsuit against the Department.

“The Department expresses concern that it may be subject to investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor or the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. But no such investigation would arise unless the employer began violating FLSA overtime requirements by failing to pay the employees what they are due. As discussed above, the parties’ current collective bargaining agreement properly implements the § 207(k) exemption to the extent that it has not, to date, produced any known violations of FLSA overtime requirements. Thus, the Department fails to demonstrate how the status quo threatens a potential coercive action in federal court that would arise under federal law.”

Spokane Valley Fire Department v. IAFF, Local 3701, 2019 WL 1748515 (E.D. Wash. 2019).