The area of prevailing wage law, construction wage-hour law, is a niche within a niche and a very complicated area of wage hour law. I am proud to say I have defended more than one hundred employers in these cases, both the federal Davis Bacon Act and a number of state prevailing wage, but there are many vagaries in this law and unique pleading issues that lay in wait for unwary plaintiffs. An example of this is a recent New Jersey decision where the Court granted a motion to dismiss on the pleadings because the plaintiffs did not allege that they were performing “public work.” The case is entitled Chambers v Precision Pipeline Solutions and was filed in federal court in the District of New Jersey.
The plaintiffs claimed they were owed prevailing wages for work they allegedly performed for the Company on the Rockford Eclipse Valve Replacement project. However, to make out a case under the New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act, they had to allege facts that supporting a possible conclusion that they performed “public work” which were “on property or premises owned by a public body.” The Court noted that neither of these conditions were alleged in the Complaint.
The Complaint vaguely alleged that the Plaintiffs’ job duties “included but were not limited to, regulator changes installs, high pressure gas valves [sic] changes, and pipeline mechanic work.” However, and significantly, the Complaint did not set forth the specific work that the Plaintiffs did while working at the Rockford Eclipse Valve Replacement project. Thus, the Court was unable to conclude that the project was of a type that the Prevailing Wage Act would encompass.
Moreover, the contention that the Rockford Eclipse Valve Replacement work was “state-funded and/or state-incentivized” could not establish the source of the funds that paid for the work, i.e. whether it was paid for through public financing, making it “public work” as the statute defines such work. Therefore, the Court ruled that the Plaintiffs had failed to allege sufficient facts to allow their NJPWA claims to survive and dismissed the Complaint.
Defense lawyers must look for any option to make a case go away early. Now, the plaintiff here may file an Amended Complaint but given the posture of the case, might not. Even if he did, this tactic shows the plaintiffs (and their lawyers) that the employer is going to fight aggressively against the case, which may engender an early (and reasonable) settlement.
I applaud my colleague and friend, Eric Stuart, on this victory.