803 F.2d 1341 (5th Cir. 1986), 85-2412, Montelongo v. Meese

Docket Nº:85-2412.
Citation:803 F.2d 1341
Party Name:Antonia MONTELONGO, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees Cross-Appellants, v. Edwin MEESE, III, Attorney General, et al., Defendants, Glen Martin, et al., Defendants-Appellants Cross-Appellees.
Case Date:November 05, 1986
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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803 F.2d 1341 (5th Cir. 1986)

Antonia MONTELONGO, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees Cross-Appellants,

v.

Edwin MEESE, III, Attorney General, et al., Defendants,

Glen Martin, et al., Defendants-Appellants Cross-Appellees.

No. 85-2412.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

November 5, 1986

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied Dec. 17, 1986.

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Thomas J. Bacas, Washington, D.C., Robert L. Guerra, McAllen, Tex., for defendants-appellants, cross-appellees.

James A. Herrmann, Harlingen, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellees, cross-appellants.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before BROWN, REAVLEY and JONES, Circuit Judges.

REAVLEY, Circuit Judge:

This case arises out of defendant Glen Martin's recruitment of the plaintiff class of migrant farm workers to harvest cantelopes in the Presidio and Redford Valleys (Presidio) in June 1977. Defendants Martin, Griffen & Brand of McAllen, Inc. (G & B), Presidio Valley Farmers Association (PVFA) and Presidio Valley Farms, Inc. (PVF) appeal the judgment holding them liable to plaintiffs for violations of the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act (FLCRA), 7 U.S.C. Secs. 2041 et seq. (repealed 1983). 1 Plaintiffs cross-appeal, contesting the district court's denial of certain alleged class members' claims. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS

Presidio is a remote agricultural enclave in Southwest Texas, along the Rio Grande

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River adjacent to the Mexican city of Ojinaga. Until 1977, Presidio growers regularly hired undocumented workers from Ojinaga to harvest their onion, cantelope and pepper crops from May through July or August. In the spring of 1977, however, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) decided to enforce the border, cutting off the flow of Mexican workers. Thus faced with no guaranteed supply of workers for their upcoming harvests, Presidio growers joined together to form the Presidio Valley Farmers Association. PVFA's main, short-term objective was to secure enough workers, either domestically or from Mexico, to harvest its members' crops.

Billy Joe Bishop, president and co-owner with G & B of Presidio Valley Farms, was named president of PVFA. On behalf of both PVF and PVFA, he enlisted the help of G & B, a registered farm labor contractor, in finding workers for Presidio. 2 Upon learning of the labor crunch, G & B president Othal Brand in turn contacted Glen Martin, G & B's principal farm worker recruiter. 3 Brand told Martin to "do whatever was necessary" to find domestic farm workers for Presidio.

In May and early June, Martin spoke to numerous crew leaders, orally offering them work in Presidio for themselves and their crews. No housing was available, however, and the crew leaders would not go where there was no place to live.

Finally, Martin added housing to the terms of the offer. Thereafter, plaintiffs Crispin Sanchez, Juanita Martinez, Santiago Quintero and Florencio Camacho accepted and began assembling crews; Camacho also asked crew member Jose Flores to help him find additional people. As the work was to begin in mid-June, these crew leaders were told to return between June 9 and 13 for exact departure instructions.

Meanwhile, PVFA had also been negotiating with INS and the Department of Labor (DOL) throughout the spring for 809 temporary worker (H-2) visas for the Mexican workers they had previously employed. After much hesitation, INS suddenly issued the visas on June 9 or 10.

With an adequate supply of workers from across the border, Presidio growers no longer needed domestic crews. Thus, when the crew leaders appeared as agreed for departure instructions, Martin informed them that the deal was off, leaving plaintiffs without work for most of June. Martin did offer work in July in Fort Stockton/Pecos; Martinez and Camacho accepted although most of their crews drifted off to other jobs before that time.

Several crew members brought the present suit soon thereafter, seeking damages against these defendants 4 for breach of the employment agreements and FLCRA violations. Following various delays, a class of the recruited farm workers was certified in 1980, and a bench trial held in 1982.

The district court found that Martin had violated three provisions of the FLCRA, and awarded liquidated damages of $500 to each class member for each violation. Then, applying agency principles, it held G & B and PVFA jointly and severally liable with Martin for these violations. The court further found that PVF had violated another FLCRA provision, and awarded $500 per member for that violation. In addition, it awarded plaintiffs costs and attorney's

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fees, under Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat.Ann. art. 2226 (Vernon 1971), repealed & replaced by Tex.Civ.Prac. & Rem.Code Ann. Secs. 38.001-006 (Vernon 1986), and interest as of the date of the liability order. The court also found defendants liable to the four crew leaders on breach of contract claims, but it later determined that they had failed to prove any contract damages.

Notice was then sent to all potential class members. Two hundred and three people filed claims. Defendants challenged numerous claimants; after a hearing in 1984 at which each crew leader identified the members of his crew, 159 claims were approved. Final judgment was entered in May 1985, and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

Defendants appeal virtually every aspect of the trial court's rulings. In addition, plaintiffs cross-appeal the treatment of certain claims. The issues fall into three general categories: liability and damages; class certification and claims; and interest and attorney's fees.

I. Liability-Related Issues

According to defendants, the court committed legal and factual errors in imposing any liability upon them. The court held Martin, G & B and PVFA liable for violating three FLCRA provisions, by failing (1) to inform plaintiffs, in writing, of the correct terms of employment, Secs. 2044(b)(2) & 2045(b); and (2) to provide the promised work, Sec. 2044(b)(4). It also held PVF liable under Sec. 2043(c), for dealing with an unregistered farm labor contractor. 5 As the liability of the other defendants partly depends on the court's findings concerning Martin, we will begin by examining their contentions as to him.

  1. Martin

    Defendants first argue that Martin was exempt from the statute's coverage, under Sec. 2042(b)(6), as a full-time employee of a registered farm labor contractor. This argument is nullified by the clear provision of the statute. The exemption applies only to the registration requirements. Although Martin did not need to register as a farm labor contractor, he was bound by all the other provisions of the Act. See Sec. 2043(b).

    They next contend that he received no "fee" for his services. This argument is equally unmeritorious. The Act defines "fee" to include "any money or other valuable consideration paid or promised to be paid to a person for services as a farm labor contractor." Sec. 2042(c). The district court correctly found that Martin's salary constituted a "fee," for Sec. 2042(c) purposes. See Castillo v. Givens, 704 F.2d 181, 197 (5th Cir.) (finding that crew leader's wage constituted fee), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 850, 104 S.Ct. 160, 78 L.Ed.2d 147 (1983).

    Defendants then claim that Martin is not liable to the plaintiff crew members because he had direct contact only with the crew leaders. This argument runs contrary to our case law. "[A] person may not insulate himself from the provisions of the

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    Act by simply conducting his activities through underlings who deal more directly with the workers." Soliz v. Plunkett, 615 F.2d 272, 277 (5th Cir.1980).

    Defendants last contend that two critical factual findings are unsupported by any "credible" evidence. We review the district court's factual findings under a "clearly erroneous" standard. Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a). This standard

    recognizes and rests upon the unique opportunity afforded the trial court to evaluate the credibility of witnesses and to weigh the evidence. Because of the deference due the trial judge, unless [we are] left with the 'definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed,' [we] must accept the trial court's findings.

    Inwood Laboratories, Inc. v. Ives Laboratories, Inc., 456 U.S. 844, 855, 102 S.Ct. 2182, 2189, 72 L.Ed.2d 606 (1982) (quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, 68 S.Ct. 525, 541, 92 L.Ed. 746 (1948)) (citation omitted).

    First, defendants challenge the court's finding that Martin actually recruited plaintiffs. Martin testified, they point out, that he lacked authority to enter into any "contracts" with crew leaders.

    We need not decide whether Martin's offer and plaintiffs' acceptance constituted a "contract" or merely an enforceable promise under a promissory estoppel theory: the recruitment system may be sui generis. All of the testimony clearly demonstrates that, due to his position, Martin's word carried the authority to send workers out into the fields to work either for G & B or, upon request, for other growers who were expected to pay for that work.

    Plaintiffs all testified that Martin had recruited them and their crews to pick cantelopes in Presidio. In addition, Martin himself, in explaining his recruitment system, testified that he lined up willing workers from the lower Rio Grande Valley and then "[t]hey go to Presidio and contact them out there and they take care of [the details]." Depo. of G. Martin at 22; see also id. at 17-22, 43-44; T.R. 483. Bishop testified that G & B officers had told...

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