Castillo v. Case Farms of Ohio, Inc.

Citation96 F.Supp.2d 578
Decision Date01 December 1999
Docket NumberNo. Civ. A. DR 97-CA-89.,Civ. A. DR 97-CA-89.
PartiesGerardo CASTILLO, et. al., Plaintiffs, v. CASE FARMS OF OHIO, INC., et. al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Texas
MEMORANDUM OPINION

JUSTICE, Senior District Judge.

The above-entitled and numbered civil action was filed on December 19, 1997, by a group of migrant farm workers, claiming violations of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("AWPA"), the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), and various state laws. The primary defendant is Case Farms of Ohio, a chicken processing plant located in Winesburg, Ohio.

A bench trial in this civil action commenced on March 29, 1999,1 and was completed on April 1, 1999. In accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) the following memorandum opinion constitutes the court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in this civil action.

                TABLE OF CONTENTS
                INTRODUCTION
                   I. Background Facts
                  II. Trial Procedure
                PART I: AN OVERVIEW OF THE LAW
                PART II: GENERAL APPLICABLE LIABILITY PRINCIPLES
                   I. Case Farms' Liability as to the 1996 Plaintiffs
                      A. An Agricultural Employer's Liability Under the AWPA
                             The Joint Employer Doctrine
                Case Farms and ATC as Joint Employers
                The Implications of Joint Employer Status
                      B. An Agricultural Employer's Liability Under Common Law Agency Principles
                             ATC's Agency
                Hernandez's Agency
                      C. Case Farms' Liability for the Actions of ATC and Alvaro Hernandez
                  II. Case Farms' Liability as to the 1997 Plaintiffs
                PART III: ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF THE AWPA
                   I. Unregistered Farm Labor Contractors' Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1842
                      A. The Law
                      B. 1996 Plaintiffs
                      C. 1997 Plaintiffs
                  II. Written Disclosures: Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1821(a)
                      A. The Law
                      B. The 1996 Plaintiffs
                      C. The 1997 Plaintiffs
                 III. False or Misleading Information: Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1821(f)
                      A. The Law
                      B. The 1996 Plaintiffs
                      C. The 1997 Plaintiffs
                  IV. Compliance with the Terms of the Working Arrangement: Alleged Violations of 29
                      U.S.C. § 1822(c)
                      A. The Law
                      B. The 1996 Plaintiffs
                      C. The 1997 Plaintiffs
                   V. Housing Health and Safety Codes: Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1823(a)
                      A. The Law
                      B. The 1996 Plaintiffs
                      C. The 1997 Plaintiffs
                  VI. Posted Certificate of Occupancy: Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1823(b)
                 VII. Posted Terms and Conditions of Housing Occupancy: Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C
                      § 1821(c)
                VIII. Insurance and Inspection of Vehicles: Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1841(b)
                      A. The Law
                      B. The 1996 Plaintiffs
                      C. The 1997 Plaintiffs
                  IX. Proper Pay Statements: Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1821(d)(2)
                   X. Paid Wages When Due: Alleged Violations of 29 U.S.C. § 1822(a)
                  XI. Damages for Violations of the AWPA
                      A. The Assessment of Statutory Damages
                      B. The Assessment of Actual Damages
                      C. The Plaintiffs' Damages
                          1. Use of Unregistered Farm Labor Contractors
                          2. Failure to Provide Written Disclosures
                          3. Providing False or Misleading Information
                          4. Failure to Comply with the Terms of the Working Agreement
                          5. Failure to Comply with Housing Health and Safety Codes
                          6. Failure to Secure the Certificate of Occupancy
                          7. Failure to Post the Terms and Conditions of Housing Occupancy
                
                          8. Failure to Insure and Inspect Vehicles
                          9. Failure to Provide Proper Pay Statements
                         10. Failure to Provide Wages When Due
                PART IV: ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF THE FLSA
                   I. The Fair Labor Standards Act
                  II. The Rules for Calculating Minimum Wage Violations
                 III. Case Farms' Alleged Minimum Wage Violations
                  IV. Case Farms' Alleged Overtime Wage Violations
                      A. The 1996 Plaintiffs' Overtime Allegations
                      B. The 1997 Plaintiffs' Overtime Allegations
                PART V: ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF STATE LAW
                   I. Case Farms' Alleged Breach of Contract
                  II. Case Farms' Alleged Negligence
                 III. Case Farms' Alleged Fraud
                CONCLUSION
                
INTRODUCTION
I. Background2

Defendant Case Farms of Ohio, Inc. ("Case Farms"), is a chicken processing plant in Winesburg, Ohio. At this facility, approximately 400,000 live chickens per week, year-round, are live-hung, slaughtered, eviscerated, cleaned, cut and deboned, and ultimately packaged for market. Case Farms employees perform a range of jobs, which include eviscerating, deboning, receiving, grading, wrapping, weighing, and washing chickens.

In consideration of its historically high turnover rate, Case Farms actively recruited workers for its processing plant during 1996 and 1997. Andy Cilona, primarily responsible for recruiting workers for Case Farms, served as Case Farms' Human Resources Director from his date of hire until February 1996, and as Case Farms' Director of Corporate Development, from February 1996 until mid-1997. During one of his recruiting trips in Florida, Cilona initiated contact with a labor agency for temporary employees, America's Tempcorps ("ATC").3 In conformity with an unwritten agreement with Case Farms, ATC worked in Texas, recruiting and hiring a number of people to work at Case Farms' chicken processing plant in Ohio. During this recruitment process, ATC gave some of its recruits the telephone number of Alvaro Hernandez, a Case Farms employee, and instructed them to call Hernandez upon their arrival in Ohio. ATC also usually gave its recruits a free bus ticket or other free transportation to Ohio, as well as $20.00 each in traveling expenses. Case Farms ceased doing business with ATC in February 1996.

There are two groups of plaintiffs in this civil action. Those workers recruited by ATC in McAllen, Texas, make up the "1996 plaintiffs."4 The "1996 plaintiffs," sixteen in number, are as follows: Eloy Cantu, Gerardo Castillo, Edna Mae Chong (representing the estate of deceased plaintiff Josephine Tijerina), Efrain Leal, Rafael Gonzalez, Sergio Hernandez, Jose Guadalupe Estrada, Martin Hernandez, Esperanza Hernandez, Joseph Cooper, Hugo Hernandez, Jesus Mejia, Guadalupe Zamorano, Ricardo Zamorano, Raul Zavala, and Michelle Galvan.

The second group of plaintiffs, the eleven "1997 plaintiffs," were provided recruitment information by Cilona, Case Farms' employee, or by Alberto Garcia, an employee of the Texas Workforce Commission, in Eagle Pass, Texas. Most of the 1997 plaintiffs traveled to Ohio by bus and were, upon their respective arrivals in Ohio, without their own vehicles. This second group of plaintiffs was comprised of Gustavo Caballero, Estela Carreon, Carlos Gonzalez, Jose A. Guevara, Juan A. Jimenez, Yolanda Leura (representing the estate of her deceased son, Daniel Leura), Aurora Navarro, Carlos Reyna, Tomas Solis, Israel Trevino, and Urbana Zavala.

Most of the twenty-seven plaintiffs5 worked for some period of time at the Case Farms plant.6 Whether recruited by ATC, Cilona, or Garcia, all plaintiffs who worked at Case Farms' plant were supervised by Case Farms employees.

Both sets of plaintiffs generally claim that they were recruited in Texas to work at Case Farms' Winesburg facility, and that, upon arriving at Case Farms, they discovered that the actual terms and conditions of their employment, transportation, and housing in Ohio did not coincide with the promises made to them in Texas. At the trial of this case, plaintiffs testified to the inadequate housing conditions and transportation provisions they encountered upon arrival in Ohio.

Thus, the bases for this civil action are the defendants' alleged misrepresentations and mistreatment of the plaintiffs in the recruitment process in Texas, and, as well, the working and living conditions afforded them in Ohio. Plaintiffs contend that defendants violated a number of the statutory rights of employees created by the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("AWPA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq., and the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).7 Plaintiffs further allege that defendants were guilty of breach of contract, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation with regard to the bases of plaintiffs' claims.

Defendant Case Farms responded to these allegations with primarily legal defenses.8 Generally speaking, rather than refute the veracity of most of the plaintiffs' factual claims, Case Farms' primary defense at trial was that it cannot be held legally responsible for the plaintiffs' alleged mistreatment.

II. Trial Procedure

The necessity of individually considering the evidence pertinent to the approximately fifteen legal claims brought by each of twenty-seven plaintiffs has made for a...

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