Roberts v. State – 7/8/2022

August 29, 2022

Arizona Supreme Court holds that Arizona has not incorporated the federal Portal-to-Portal Act into state law.

Before each shift, Arizona corrections officers must undergo extensive security screenings before beginning an eight-hour shift. They are not compensated for these screenings, which take roughly 30 minutes. A group of officers, believing they should be compensated for the time it takes to complete the screening process, brought a class action lawsuit against the Arizona Department of Corrections, arguing that Arizona law required the Department to pay overtime compensation for the pre-shift screenings. The Department moved to dismiss, arguing that the relevant Arizona statute was preempted by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Alternatively, the Department argued Arizona law incorporated the Portal-to-Portal Act (“Portal Act”), an amendment to the FLSA, and the Portal Act rendered the time spent on security screenings non-compensable.

The trial court rejected the Department’s preemption argument but concluded Arizona law did incorporate the Portal Act by implication. Under the Portal Act, the court held, the security screenings were not compensable. On appeal, the court of appeals agreed that FLSA did not preempt state law and that Arizona law had incorporated the Portal Act but interpreted the Portal Act such that the security screenings were compensable.

On review, the Arizona Supreme Court concluded that Arizona law did not incorporate the Portal Act. The statue at issue, A.R.S. § 23-392(A), did not expressly incorporate the Portal Act. As such, the Department was left with an argument that § 23-392(A) implicitly incorporated the Portal Act. But such an argument, the Court held, violated a foundational rule of statutory interpretation: courts will not read something into a statute that is not present in the language of the statute itself. This rule applied with special force here—the Department’s argument would presumptively apply federal law, but principles of federalism require that state law be applied unless there was a manifest intent to adopt federal law. The statute displayed no such intent. Instead, the specific context of the statute made clear that it only incorporated a narrow slice of federal law pertaining to some definitions not at issue in this case.

The Court also rejected the Department’s alternative argument that, even if state statutes did not incorporate the Portal Act, the Arizona Department of Administration had done so pursuant to its rule making power. In the Court’s view, the act of doing so would have been a unilateral exercise of legislative power by the executive branch, which the Arizona constitution forbids. The legislature had not plainly or explicitly authorized the Department of Administration to adopt the Portal Act or otherwise create the definitions at issue (the Court doubted the legislature could even do so), and as such, the Department’s argument failed as a matter of separation of powers.

Judge Bolick authored the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Posted by: Joshua J. Messer