A federal court recently invalidated an NPS regulation which required NPS concessioners to comply with all state labor laws. The court’s decision relies on the principle that federal agency regulations which require the application of state laws to activities on federal land are not valid unless Congress clearly expressed an intent that those state laws should apply. In the case, the plaintiffs were existing or former employees of a concessioner at Sequoia National Park who claimed that they were not paid minimum wages or overtime in accordance with state and federal labor laws. The plaintiffs alleged that the concessioner was required to comply with the state labor laws pursuant to, among other bases, NPS’s regulations.
However, the court held that state laws may be applicable but only if they meet certain criteria. Based on the court’s decision, in order to be applicable to a federal concessioner, a law must fall under one of the following six categories:
- be a federal statute enacted by Congress;
- be a regulation implemented by a federal agency which imposes federal law;
- be a regulation implemented by a federal agency which imposes state law but only if Congress clearly and unambiguously intended for the state law to apply;
- be a state law which was in existence at the time the land was deeded over to the federal government and which has not been abrogated by Congress;
- be a state law enacted pursuant to authority granted to the state by Congress to enact the law; or
- be a state law that is applied pursuant to a right which a state retained if and when it deeded the land over to the federal government.
The regulation at issue in the case, 36 C.F.R. § 8.4, was issued by NPS and purported to require concessioners to comply with all state labor laws, including state minimum wage laws. The court held that Congress did not give NPS the authority to require concessioners to comply with state labor laws, and thereby invalidated this regulation. NPS argued that its general authority to regulate activities within National Parks allowed it to impose this requirement to adhere to state laws. The court, however, found that because Congress had limited the enforcement of any violation of the NPS regulations to what was required under federal penal laws, Congress did not express a clear intent to allow NPS to subject National Park concessioners to state authority.
The court then addressed whether the state laws nonetheless applied, regardless of NPS’s regulation, because they were in effect at the time the land was deeded over to the federal government. The court dismissed several of the plaintiff’s claims which were based on violations of certain California laws which clearly were enacted well after the land became a National Park. Those state laws were therefore not applicable on the federal land. The court, however, found that California’s minimum wage laws were enacted in 1913, before the National Park was created. Therefore, these laws met the criteria of state laws in place at the time the land became a National Park which are not in conflict with any federal laws. The court noted that the federal law regarding minimum wages, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), specifically acknowledges that states may enact higher minimum wages and does not invalidate the requirement under state law to pay these higher amounts.
Notably, the court’s decision supports the conclusion that NPS’s concession contract provisions which require concessioners to comply with applicable state laws are effectively the same as 36 C.F.R. § 8.4 and therefore cannot be used as a basis to require concessioners to comply with state laws unless those laws meet the test set out above. The same test would also apply to a concessioner’s obligation to pay any state or local taxes.