843 F.3d 1276 (11th Cir. 2016), 16-10790, Garcia-Celestino v. Ruiz Harvesting, Inc.

Docket Nº:16-10790
Citation:843 F.3d 1276, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 1067
Opinion Judge:HULL, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:GAUDENCIO GARCIA-CELESTINO, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, RAYMUNDO CRUZ-VICENCIO, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, RAUL ISMAEL ESTRADA-GABRIEL, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, DANIEL FERRO-NIEVES, individually and on behalf of all other pers
Attorney:For GAUDENCIO GARCIA-CELESTINO, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, RAYMUNDO CRUZ-VICENCIO, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, RAUL ISMAEL ESTRADA-GABRIEL, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, DANIEL F...
Judge Panel:Before TJOFLAT and HULL, Circuit Judges, and BYRON,[*] District Judge.
Case Date:December 15, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
SUMMARY

This appeal arose from a labor dispute involving the H-2A visa program. Defendant Consolidated Citrus Limited Partnership (“Consolidated Citrus”) appealed from the district court’s order granting judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and holding Consolidated Citrus liable as a joint employer. All original plaintiffs were Mexican nationals who came to the United States temporarily to work as harvesters on citrus groves in central Florida. These plaintiffs entered the United States legally under the federal H-2A visa program. During the 2005-06 harvest season, Consolidated Citrus struggled to find sufficient labor to meet its harvesting needs.... (see full summary)

 
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Page 1276

843 F.3d 1276 (11th Cir. 2016)

26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. C 1067

GAUDENCIO GARCIA-CELESTINO, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, RAYMUNDO CRUZ-VICENCIO, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, RAUL ISMAEL ESTRADA-GABRIEL, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, DANIEL FERRO-NIEVES, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, JOSE MANUEL FERRO-NIEVES, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, et al., Plaintiffs - Appellees,

v.

RUIZ HARVESTING, INC., et al., Defendants,

CONSOLIDATED CITRUS LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Defendant - Appellant,

No. 16-10790

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

December 15, 2016

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. D.C. Docket No. 2:10-cv-00542-MEA-MRM.

AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

For GAUDENCIO GARCIA-CELESTINO, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, RAYMUNDO CRUZ-VICENCIO, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, RAUL ISMAEL ESTRADA-GABRIEL, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, DANIEL FERRO-NIEVES, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, JOSE MANUEL FERRO-NIEVES, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiff - Appellee: Gregory Scott Schell, Florida Legal Services, Inc., PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL; Cassandra Jae Capobianco, Florida Institutional Legal Services, Inc., NEWBERRY, FL; James M. Knoepp, Southern Poverty Law Center, ATLANTA, GA; Victoria Mesa-Estrada, Mesa Estrada Law Office, BOYNTON BEACH, FL; Sarah M. Rich, Southern Poverty Law Center, ATLANTA, GA.

For CONSOLIDATED CITRUS LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Defendant - Appellant: David John Stefany, Allen Norton & Blue, PA, TAMPA, FL; Chilton Varner, King & Spalding, LLP, ATLANTA, GA; Brian Koji, Allen Norton & Blue, PA, TAMPA, FL; Merritt Ellen McAlister, King & Spalding, LLP, ATLANTA, GA; Billie Barker Pritchard, King & Spalding, LLP, ATLANTA, GA; Shaina Thorpe, Thorpe & Thorpe PA, TAMPA, FL.

For FLORIDA FRUIT & VEGETABLE ASSOCIATION, GEORGIA FRUIT AND VEGETABLE GROWERS ASSOCIATION, INC., NATIONAL COUNCIL OF AGRICULTURAL EMPLOYERS, Amicus Curiae: James Michael Honeycutt, Fisher & Phillips LLP, CHARLOTTE, NC; Ann Margaret Pointer, Fisher & Phillips, LLP, ATLANTA, GA; David Andrew Young, Fisher & Phillips, LLP, ORLANDO, FL.

Before TJOFLAT and HULL, Circuit Judges, and BYRON,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

HULL, Circuit Judge:

This appeal arises from a labor dispute involving the H-2A visa program. Defendant Consolidated Citrus Limited Partnership (" Consolidated Citrus" ) appeals from the district court's order granting judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and holding Consolidated Citrus liable as a joint employer. After review of the record and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

This litigation has a complex history. We first introduce the parties relevant to this appeal. Next we discuss the way that Consolidated Citrus and its labor contractors managed their daily harvesting operations, the payment arrangements between Consolidated Citrus and it labor contractor, and the kickback scheme that formed the basis of the plaintiffs' claims. We then recount the course of the proceedings in the district court.

A. Parties

In the initial complaint, eight plaintiffs brought claims against defendants Consolidated Citrus, Ruiz Harvesting, Inc. (" RHI" ), and Basiliso Ruiz (" Ruiz" ). All original plaintiffs were Mexican nationals who came to the United States temporarily to work as harvesters on citrus groves in central Florida.1 These plaintiffs entered the United States legally under the federal H-2A visa program, which is detailed below. See Part II, infra. The plaintiffs were employed as temporary laborers during the 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, and/or 2009-10 harvest seasons.

Defendant Consolidated Citrus is a large citrus producer with groves throughout the state of Florida. Consolidated Citrus cultivates several types of oranges, most of which it sells to processing companies to be pressed into juice.

Harvesting is a large part of Consolidated Citrus's operations. Each harvest season typically runs from late November through May or early June. During the 2005-06 harvest season, Consolidated Citrus struggled to find sufficient labor to meet its harvesting needs. Starting with the 2006-07 harvest season, Consolidated Citrus began working with labor contractors to hire temporary foreign workers.

One such labor contractor was defendant RHI, owned by defendant Ruiz. As a labor contractor, RHI acted as a liaison between Consolidated Citrus and the temporary workers. RHI would recruit these temporary workers from Mexico and help the workers complete the necessary paperwork for obtaining H-2A visas. For the workers to obtain these visas, RHI was required to file applications with the Department of Labor (" DOL" ), which issued certifications allowing RHI to employ temporary foreign workers. Though RHI completed these applications at the direction of Consolidated Citrus, the applications listed RHI as the temporary workers' employer. Once the workers obtained visas, RHI arranged for the workers to travel to the United States and provided housing for the workers in Florida for the duration of their employment.

B. Harvesting Operations and Worker Management

Before the harvest season began, Consolidated Citrus supervisors tested the fruit in various groves to gauge its readiness for picking. When Consolidated Citrus determined that a particular block of trees was ready for harvesting, Consolidated Citrus would direct RHI to bring a crew of workers to that area and would tell RHI how much fruit the workers should harvest from that block.

Consolidated Citrus expected the temporary workers to be at their assigned groves at some time in the early morning, but RHI personnel ultimately decided what time the workers would arrive. Each day, RHI transported workers to and from the groves in RHI vehicles.

Before the harvest season began, Consolidated Citrus issued identification badges to all RHI personnel and temporary workers. Each day when the workers arrived at their assigned groves, they would clock in by scanning their identification badges in a time-tracking device owned by Consolidated Citrus.

During the relevant time periods, citrus groves throughout Florida were blighted by a disease called " citrus canker." Consolidated Citrus implemented procedures designed to prevent harvest workers from spreading the disease from grove to grove. All harvesters were required, before beginning their daily work, to walk through an anti-bacterial mist and to dip their picking sacks into a barrel of decontamination solution. Consolidated Citrus personnel supervised these citrus canker prevention procedures.

After clocking in and finishing the citrus canker prevention procedures, the workers brought in by RHI could start harvesting fruit. RHI provided the workers with ladders, picking sacks, drinking water, and portable toilets for use at the work sites. Once a worker filled a picking sack with fruit, the worker would unload the contents into a tub owned by RHI. When the tub was full, an RHI employee, operating lift equipment owned by RHI, would then raise the tub into a large fruit trailer so that the fruit could be transported to the processor. This would continue until the workers had picked the desired amount of fruit from the block to which they were assigned.

Consolidated Citrus supervisors were present to oversee the harvesting process, but each Consolidated Citrus supervisor individually had to oversee as many as ten crews each day, with each crew consisting of around twenty five workers (i.e., approximately 250 workers). Some of these were RHI crews and others were crews of workers brought in by other labor contractors or hired by Consolidated Citrus itself. The crews were spread over an area spanning 8,000 acres, meaning that a Consolidated Citrus supervisor could monitor each outside crew for only a very limited period of time. If a Consolidated Citrus supervisor noticed an issue with the harvest work, the supervisor would report it to the RHI crew leader. Notably, the Consolidated Citrus supervisors did not direct or instruct the workers; rather RHI did. Consolidated Citrus did reserve the authority, however, to halt the workers' activities whenever Consolidated Citrus personnel determined that something was wrong with the harvesting process.

Even so, as compared to their oversight of Consolidated Citrus's own in-house workers, Consolidated Citrus...

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