305 F.3d 1228 (11th Cir. 2002), 01-16402, Arriaga v. Florida Pacific Farms, L.L.C.

Docket Nº:01-16402
Citation:305 F.3d 1228
Party Name:Arriaga v. Florida Pacific Farms, L.L.C.
Case Date:September 11, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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305 F.3d 1228 (11th Cir. 2002)

Jorge E. ARRIAGA, Rosalio Haro-Sanchez, Moises Ochoa-Rosales, Raymundo Vasquez, Lucio Bartolo-Huerta, Oscar Bravo-Moya, Inocenio Geronimo-Magana, Adolfo Gregorio, Santiago Jaramilla-Gomez, Alfonso Luna-Martinez, Jorge Nieto-Jasso, Daniel Molina-Gregorio, Gilberto Perez-Flores, Jose Luis Solis-Camacho, Juan Francisco Balderas-Sepulveda, Francisco Sepulveda, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

FLORIDA PACIFIC FARMS, L.L.C., Sleepy Creek Farms, Inc., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 01-16402

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

September 11, 2002

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Thomas Julian Page, A. Stephen Hut, Jr., Robin A. Lenhart, Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Washington, DC, Edward Tuddenham, Austin, TX, Gregory S. Schell, Migrant Farmworker Justice Project, Lake Worth, FL, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

David J. Stefany, Tampa, FL, Amy C. Sugimori, National Employment Law Project, New York City, Monte B. Lake, McGuiness, Norris & Williams, Washington, DC, for Defendants-Appellees.

Catherine Kiley Ruckelshaus, Nat. Employment Law Project, New York City, for Amicus Curiae.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before DUBINA, BARKETT and KRAVITCH, Circuit Judges.

KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs-appellants are migrant farm workers from Mexico (the "Farmworkers") employed by the defendants-appellees Florida Pacific Farms, L.L.C. and Sleepy Creek Farms, Inc. (the "Growers") during the 1998-1999 strawberry and raspberry seasons. The Farmworkers sued the Growers, alleging a failure by the Growers to comply with the minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 203(m) & 206(a), and the terms of the work contracts. Specifically, the FLSA claim asserted that the Growers' failure to reimburse the Farmworkers' travel, visa, and recruitment costs at the end of the first

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workweek pushed their first week's wages below the minimum wage. The contract claim contended that the Growers violated the work contract by not reimbursing the Farmworkers for the cost of transportation to and from their home villages to the Mexican point of hire.

The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, which were based upon an agreed statement of undisputed facts. The district court granted the Growers' motion and denied the Farmworkers' motion. The court concluded that the Growers were not obligated under the FLSA to reimburse transportation and visa costs because such expenses were not primarily for the benefit of the employer as defined by the FLSA and Department of Labor ("DOL") regulations. Because the Growers had not authorized the referral fees and lacked awareness or control of that practice, the court held that they should not be responsible for reimbursing the fees. As for the contract claim, the court held that the Growers did not breach the contract with the Farmworkers because it found that the agreement clearly and unambiguously intended to reference Monterrey, Mexico, and not the home villages of the Farmworkers, as the point from which the Growers would provide transportation costs.

Because the district court misinterpreted the DOL regulations, we hold that it erred in determining that the Growers are not obligated to reimburse the Farmworkers for their transportation, visa, and immigration expenses. The court correctly held that the Growers are not responsible for the recruitment fees. As to the breach of contract claim, the court erred in holding that the contract provision unambiguously provided for transportation from Monterrey to be paid by the Growers; under Florida contract law, the Farmworkers were entitled to transportation costs incurred from their home villages.

I. BACKGROUND

A. H-2A Program Overview

As part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 ("IRCA"), Pub.L. No. 99-603, 100 Stat. 3359 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 8 U.S.C), the H-2A program was established. See U.S.C. § 1188. Under the program a category of nonimmigrant foreign workers can be used for temporary agricultural employment within the United States. See id. Agricultural employers are permitted to hire nonimmigrant aliens as workers under the H-2A program if they first obtain from DOL certification that (1) there are insufficient domestic workers who are willing, able, and qualified to perform the work at the time and place needed; 1 and (2) the employment of aliens will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of domestic workers. See id. §§ 1184(c)(1), 1188(a)(1).

The conditions under which an H-2A worker may be allowed into the United States for temporary agricultural employment are prescribed by the H-2A regulations. See generally 20 C.F.R. Part 655, Subpart B.2 The H-2A regulations include provisions related to housing, meals,

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work-related equipment, and transportation. For example, an employer seeking the services of H-2A workers must compensate them at a rate not less than the federal minimum wage, the prevailing wage rate in the area, or the "adverse effect wage rate," whichever is highest. See 20 C.F.R. § 655.102(b)(9). The "adverse effect wage rate" is the minimum wage rate that DOL determines is necessary to ensure that wages of similarly situated domestic workers will not be adversely affected by the employment of H-2A workers. See id. §§ 655.100(b), 655.107. An employer must also pay an H-2A worker for inbound transportation and subsistence costs, if the worker completes 50 percent of the contract work period, unless the employer has previously done so. See id. § 655.102(b)(5)(i).3 Similarly, if the worker completes the contract work period, the employer is generally responsible for the payment of outbound transportation and subsistence costs. See id. § 655.102(b)(5)(ii).4

B. Facts

The parties agreed to a statement of undisputed facts. The Growers applied for and obtained approval from DOL for admission of alien workers under H-2A status to be employed during the 1998-99 strawberry and raspberry seasons. The applications 5 were completed by the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association ("FFVA") on behalf of the Growers. Both of the clearance orders submitted by the Growers offered transportation arrangements in compliance with the requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 655.102(b)(5), including an offer that a worker who completed the first 50 percent of the contract period was entitled to reimbursement for the costs of his transportation to the jobsite "from the place from which the worker has come to work for the employer." For workers who completed the contract period, the clearance orders offered to provide return transportation using similar language.

In its efforts to locate Mexican workers willing to accept the approved H-2A visas and to arrange for their transportation to Florida, the Growers used the services of FFVA, which utilized Florida East Coast Travel Service Inc. ("Florida East Coast Travel") and Berthina Cervantes. Cervantes

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maintained an office in Monterrey, Mexico, and assembled the group of workers through several means. Some workers already in Monterrey learned that Cervantes was searching for agricultural workers to go to the United States. Cervantes also called contact persons or responded to calls from persons in other parts of Mexico who sought agricultural work in the United States for themselves or others in their communities. The Growers at times provided Cervantes with the names of contact persons in other parts of Mexico and specific individuals who should be contacted for jobs.

When communicating with contact persons, Cervantes gave general information related to the employment. She explained that interested workers would be contacted again to identify when they were to report to Monterrey. Cervantes indicated that the workers would need $130 for transportation from Monterrey to Florida, $45 for the visa application, and $100 for the visa. The contact persons then passed this information on to interested workers. Some of these contact persons charged the workers a referral fee which varied in amount. The Growers, FFVA, Florida East Coast Travel, and Cervantes had no knowledge that referral fees were being requested or paid, and none of them made any payments to the contact persons.

Florida East Coast Travel arranged for buses to transport workers from Laredo, Texas, to the job sites in Florida for $110 per worker. After Florida East Coast Travel informed Cervantes of the date of departure from Laredo, she called the contact persons to inform them when the workers should report to Monterrey. The contacted workers who were not from Monterrey paid their own transportation and subsistence from their home villages to Monterrey.

Cervantes required workers who had not previously been hired by her or the Growers to be interviewed in Monterrey. At the interview she or one of her employees determined if the applicant had prior agricultural experience and was capable of doing the work. The workers who passed the interview, along with those who did not require an interview, then filled out visa applications and paid Cervantes the following amounts: $100 for the visa; $45 for the visa application fee; and $130 for transportation ($20 bus fare from Monterrey to Laredo, Texas, and $110 bus fare from Laredo to Florida). Some workers also were required to pay a recruitment fee to Cervantes's assistant, Maria Del Carmen Gonzalez-Rodriguez. This occurred without the knowledge of Cervantes, Florida East Coast Travel, FFVA, or the Growers; this fee was contrary to directions given by Florida East Coast Travel, FFVA, and the Growers, who were paying Cervantes $50 per worker for her...

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