N.D.W.Va.: An FLSA Employer Held Liable For FLSA Violations Has No Right To Contribution Or Indemnification; Allowing Same Would Contravene The Purposes Of The FLSA

McDougal v. G & S Tobacco Dealers, L.L.C.

This case was before the Court on the Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff’s (and current owner of the employer) and the Third-Party Defendant’s (former employer) cross motions for summary judgment.  In a nutshell, what started as a simple FLSA claim, “expanded into contract claims for indemnification and contribution by the [current] employer [Woodward] against the former owner [Oliverios] of the company that employed Plaintiff.”

Among other issues, the Court discussed whether there was any pleaded theory that could impose a duty of indemnity or contribution on the previous owner [Oliveros] for the current owner’s [Woodward's] non-payment of Plaintiff for the time Plaintiff worked for Defendant, subsequent to the time Woodward took ownership of the company that employed Plaintiff.  Holding that no such duty of indemnity or contribution existed, the Court explained:

“1. With respect to Woodward’s claim for indemnification, contribution and breach of statutory or agency duties, the doctrine of conflict or obstacle preemption is dispositive.

Woodward’s state common law claims of contractual and implied indemnification and contribution against Oliverios for wages and benefits damages not paid to McDougal after July 17, 2007 in violation of FLSA and WPCA are preempted by the doctrine of conflict or obstacle preemption.

On the same date the parties argued the instant cross-motions for summary judgment before this Court, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals published its decision in Equal Rights Center, et al v. Archstone Multifamily Series I Trust, et al, 09-1453.

The following facts and claims of Archstone are analogous to the facts and claims of the instant case: Archstone hired architect Bolton to design multi-family apartment buildings which Archstone then had various contractors build. Of the units constructed, Equal Rights Center, et al alleged 71 failed to be constructed so that they were accessible to persons with disabilities in violation of FHA and ADA. Archstone and the Equal Rights Plaintiffs entered into a Consent Decree which required Archstone to retro-fit the 71 units to make them ADA and FHA compliant and to pay 1.4 million in damages and attorneys fees and expenses. Bolton did not join in the settlement but later entered into a separate consent decree with the Equal Rights Plaintiffs which did not include any admission of liability. Archstone cross-claimed against Bolton seeking damages based on state law causes of action: express indemnity; implied indemnity; breach of contract; and professional negligence.  After lengthy discovery and immediately prior to the dispositive motions deadline, Archstone sought leave to amend its cross-claim against Bolton to include a claim for contribution. Bolton objected. The District Court denied leave to amend. Thereafter the District Court granted Bolton summary judgment reasoning that Archstone’s causes of action were indemnity and de facto indemnity claims for violations of the FHA and ADA and, because no right to indemnification exists under the ADA or FHA, the state law claims asserted by Archstone would be antithetical to the purposes of the FHA and ADA and therefore preempted under the doctrine of conflict or obstacle preemption. Archstone appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed holding:

Obstacle preemption applies “where state law; stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.’ “ …. where a state-law claim “interferes with the methods by which the federal statute was designed to reach [its] goal.” (internal citations omitted).

Obstacle preemption has been extended to state tort claims as well as positive enactments of state law. Id. citing Geier v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 529 U.S. 861, 120 S.Ct. 1913, 146 L.Ed.2d 914 (2000).

Finding Archstone’s indemnification claims were preempted, the Court held:

Here, Archstone sought to allocate the full risk of loss to Niles Bolton for the apartment buildings at issue. Allowing an owner to completely insulate itself from liability for an ADA or FHA violation through contract diminishes its incentive to ensure compliance with discrimination laws. If a developer of apartment housing, who concededly has a non-delegable duty to comply with the ADA and FHA, can be indemnified under state law for its ADA and FHA violations, then the developer will not be accountable for discriminatory practices in building apartment housing. Such a result is antithetical to the purposes of the FHA and ADA.

The Court further held Archstone’s last minute attempt to amend its cross-claim was properly denied as prejudicial to Bolton. Moreover, the Court held: “As presented on appeal, the claim which Archstone presents in its amended complaint is a de facto indemnification claim, and such a claim is preempted under federal law. Therefore, allowing Archstone to amend under these circumstances to include a so-called contribution claim is, in any event, futile.”

A number of cases have addressed the issue of whether there is a right to contribution or indemnification for employers held liable under the FLSA and have held there is none. Herman v. R.S.R. Security Servs. Ltd., 172 F.3d 132, 143 (2nd Cir.1999). Relying on the rationale expressed in Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, 451 U.S. 77, 101 S.Ct. 1571, 67 L.Ed.2d 750 (1981),  the Herman Court held:

There is no right of contribution or indemnification for employers found liable under the FLSA. The reasons are readily apparent. First, the text of the FLSA makes no provision for contribution or indemnification. Second, the statute was designed to regulate the conduct of employers for the benefit of employees, and it cannot therefore be said that employers are members of the class for whose benefit the FLSA was enacted. Third, the FLSA has a comprehensive remedial scheme as shown by the express provision for private enforcement in certain carefully defined circumstances. Such a comprehensive statute strongly counsels against judicially engrafting additional remedies. Fourth, the Act’s legislative history is silent on the right to contribution or indemnification. Accordingly, we hold that there is no right to contribution or indemnification for employers held liable under the FLSA.

In Herman, Portnoy contended that even if the FLSA did not permit contribution or indemnification, those claims could be prosecuted under New York law in much the same way Woodward contends she should be permitted to prosecute claims for indemnification against Oliverios under West Virginia law. The Herman Court held: “This view of the law is flawed because the FLSA’s remedial scheme is sufficiently comprehensive as to preempt state law in this respect.” Herman v. R.S.R. Security Servs. Ltd., supra at 144.

The Fourth Circuit held in the 1992 case of Lyle v. Food Lion, Inc. 954 F.2d 984, 987: “In effect, Food Lion sought to indemnify itself against Tew for its own violation of the FLSA, which the district court found, and we agree, is something the FLSA simply will not allow. As the fifth Circuit has noted, ‘[t]o engraft an indemnity action upon this otherwise comprehensive federal statute would run afoul of the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution’ and ‘would undermine employers’ incentives to abide by the Act. LeCompt v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 780 S.2d 1260, 1264 (5th Cir.1986).’ “

In the instant suit, Oliverios were the employers of McDougal prior to July 17, 2007 and therefore responsible for any FLSA and WPCA claims arising for work performed by McDougal up to July 17th. However, Woodward uses the warranty and indemnification clauses of the 2007 contract in an attempt to hold Oliverios liable for Woodward’s failure to pay McDougal FLSA wages after July 17, 2007. In the alternative to the contract indemnification claim, Woodward attempts to shift ultimate responsibility for payment of post July 17, 2007 FLSA wages to Oliverios using equitable principles. In every event, Woodward seeks to delegate her duty to comply with the FLSA to Oliverio for all wages and damages owed including those starting with the contract closing on July 17, 2007. This she cannot do. The FLSA does not contain language that provides for such indemnification or contribution. Woodward is not a member of the class protected by the FLSA. The FLSA is a comprehensive remedial statute designed to give employees the right to sue their employers for violations of the act. This is precisely what McDougal did in bringing his action against Woodward. Herman, supra at 144. This court cannot and will not engraft an indemnity clause on the FLSA where there is none. LeCompt, supra at 1264.

Accordingly, the Court concludes that Woodward’s Third Party Plaintiff claims against Oliverios for indemnification or contribution to McDougal’s FLSA claims arising post July 17, 2007 whether the same are based on contractual or equitable contribution, indemnification, breach of contract, breach of warranty, agency, or another state contract or equity claim, are preempted by the provisions of the FLSA; are antithetical to the purpose of the FLSA; undermine the public policy established by the FLSA; and are barred by the doctrines of Conflict and Obstacle Preemption.

Even if Woodward, in light of the absence of the availability of contribution and/or indemnification for the FLSA claims of McDougal, contends that she is entitled to contribution from Oliverios solely for WVPA damages claimed by McDougal, that contention also fails. The federal court only recognizes a right to contribution under state law “in cases in which state law supplie[s] the appropriate rule of decision.” Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, supra at 97. The West Virginia’s Wage Payment and Collection Act (W.Va.Code, § 21-5-1 et seq.) provides a comprehensive method for employees forcing their immediate or ultimate employer to timely pay them in accord with law. It does not provide authorization or a method or a rule of decision for allocating claims of contribution toward the liability of the employer to timely pay his employee’s wages. Nor does it provide or recognize any method, contractual or equitable, for shifting the burden of paying wages in accord with law from the employer to a third person.”

Not discussed here, the Court held that language from the contract of sale of the employer from Oliverios to Woodward was binding, to the extent that Oliverios was required to pay the cost of Woodward’s legal defense arising from the lawsuit.

To read the entire decision, click here.

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Filed under Employer, Successor Liability

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