Consolidated Cigar Corp. v. Department of Public Health

Decision Date28 June 1977
Citation372 Mass. 844,364 N.E.2d 1202
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

James L. Allen, Springfield, for plaintiff.

Jonathan Brant, Asst. Atty. Gen., for defendant.

Kenneth A. Cohen, Boston, Alan Jay Rom, Neighborhood Legal Services, Hartford, Conn., John Reinstein, Boston, and Sydney T. Schulman, Hartford, Conn., for Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.


ABRAMS, Justice.

The plaintiff, Consolidated Cigar Corporation (Consolidated), sought a judgment declaring that G.L. c. 111, § 128H, 1 and the Regulations on Rights of Visitation for Migrant Workers (regulations) promulgated by the Department of Public Health (department) pursuant to the statutory mandate are unconstitutional on their face and as applied to Consolidated. It further sought a declaration that the statute and regulations are inapplicable to its tobacco harvesting facilities. The department filed a counterclaim for injunctive relief. Both parties moved for summary judgment. A judge of the Superior Court declared the rights of the parties in his order for judgment. G.L. c. 231A, § 1. See Attorney Gen. v. Kenco Optics, Inc., --- Mass. ---, --- a, 340 N.E.2d 868 (1976). The judgment enjoined Consolidated from further violations of the regulations. We granted an application for direct appellate review.

As a procedural matter, we think resort to declaratory relief particularly appropriate here. See G.L. c. 231A, § 2. 2 To require the statute and the regulations to be challenged only in an enforcement proceeding would delay the vindication of rights belonging to the public and to a group classified by the Legislature as requiring special protection. Cf. Norcisa v. Selectmen of Provincetown, --- Mass. --- b, 330 N.E.2d 830 (1975).

We also think it appropriate to note that the motions for summary judgment and the accompanying affidavits were well prepared, thus enabling the trial judge to determine accurately that there was no genuine issue of material fact to be tried. The effective and proper use of Mass.R.Civ.P. 56, 365 Mass. 824 (1974), in this case has eliminated an unnecessary trial, and has resulted in a more prompt disposition of this matter than would otherwise have been obtained.

The pertinent facts, accurately and artfully recounted in the Superior Court judge's order for judgment, are as follows.

Consolidated plants, harvests, and processes shade-grown tobacco in the Connecticut River Valley area, including parts of Massachusetts. Consolidated employs a number of young persons (ages fourteen to seventeen) during their school vacations under a special summer work program. These young persons are housed in facilities furnished by Consolidated and supervised by teachers or principals recruited by Consolidated from the home areas of the young workers. Consolidated obtains signed employment contracts from the parents or guardians of these young people.

The contracts drafted by Consolidated purport to regulate the nonworking activities of its young workers, as well as access by visitors to the housing facilities. Guests must obtain administrative approval from Consolidated in order to visit the young employees. Exceptions are made only for public agencies rendering emergency aid, medical personnel employed by Consolidated, and teachers sent by the Migrant Resource Center of the Massachusetts Department of Education.

Consolidated invoked this contractual provision in 1974 and 1975 to deny access to certain persons seeking to enter its young person facilities. Among persons barred from entry were a paralegal employee of Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc., of Hartford, Connecticut, and a chaplain affiliated with the Springfield Council of Churches and some of their supporting personnel. Consolidated sought judicial relief between the 1974 and the 1975 harvesting seasons.

The major dispute before us centers on the right of persons housed in the young person facilities to receive visitors. 3 Consolidated claims that the statute and the regulations are inapplicable to it for the reasons (1) that the young persons whom they employ during the school vacations are not "migrant farm workers"; (2) that the statute and regulations are unconstitutional; and (3) that the regulations, even if constitutional, exceed the scope of the enabling statute. We disagree.

1. Applicability of the regulations to Consolidated's young person facilities. The department is obligated to inspect annually "all farm labor camps as defined in the state sanitary code . . . ." G.L. c. 111, § 128G, inserted by St.1967, c. 718, § 5. Pursuant to G.L. c. 111, § 127A, the department promulgated regulations which define farm labor camps as: "(A)ny tract of land, including all buildings, vehicles, and other structures located thereon, any part of which contains sleeping facilities made available in connection with the employment of laborers in farm activities and living apart from the operator's household and which are occupied or intended for occupancy by two or more such laborers . . . and for whom the facilities are provided in connection with their employment." State Sanitary Code, art. III, regulation 1.1.

The Legislature recognized that a migrant worker at such farm labor camps shall "have reasonable rights of visitation in his living quarters outside of regular working hours," and authorized the department to promulgate regulations setting forth "such minimum standards relating to the rights of visitation . . . as will ensure the adequate protection of said rights." G.L. c. 111, § 128H.

In accordance with this legislative mandate, the regulations were promulgated. 4

Consolidated urges that its youthful employees are not "migrant workers" within the meaning of § 128H, because the term connotes agricultural laborers who "follow the crops." 5 It seeks to buttress this argument by reference to the United States House of Representatives report which accompanies Federal legislation now codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2861 (1970) et seq. The report defines a "migrant agricultural employee" as a worker "(a) whose primary employment is in agriculture . . . and (b) who establishes with his family . . . a temporary residence." H.R.Rep. No. 1458, 88th Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted in (1964) U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News, pp. 2900, 2924.

Initially, we note that we are not bound by the definition of the term which other jurisdictions have embraced where the meaning of the legislative enactment is clear from the text of the statute. 6 Such is the case with G.L. c. 111, §§ 128G and 128H. There is no doubt that Consolidated's facilities are "farm labor camps" within the meaning of the State Sanitary Code. Further, it is readily apparent that "migrant workers" are those workers who are employed to perform farm labor and are housed in farm labor camps. The Legislature has sought to insulate farm workers from potential exploitation while they are housed in farm labor camps; to condition such protection on the individual's activities before or after his term of employment in such a setting would be to frustrate the intent of the Legislature. 7

Because the corporation either owns or leases the facilities in which its employees are housed, Consolidated claims that those workers are not "living in quarters apart from the living quarters of (their) employer," G.L. c. 111, § 128H, and, therefore, the Connecticut River Valley operations are exempt from the statutes and regulations. We do not agree. This exempting clause is a simple concession to the fact that farm operators who house their employees in their own homes stand on a different footing in regard to visitation rights from those operators who own, operate, or lease housing facilities, but do not reside therein. Neither the fact of ownership of the facility nor the presence of the corporation's agent in the dormitory is a relevant factor in triggering this exempting clause.

The department has interpreted "living in quarters apart from the living quarters of (their) employer(s)" (§ 128H), as meaning "living apart from the operator's household." State Sanitary Code, art. III, regulation 1.1. The importance of an administrative interpretation of a statute is "never greater than where, as here, an agency must interpret a legislative policy which is only broadly set out in the governing statute." School Comm. of Springfield v. Board of Educ., 362 Mass. 417, 442, 287 N.E.2d 438, 455 (1972), citing Cleary v. Cardullo's, Inc., 347 Mass. 337, 343-344, 198 N.E.2d 281 (1964). Adopting the administrative construction of this statutory phrase, we conclude that the exempting clause pertains only to the situation where the farm operator houses his employees in his own home.

2. Constitutionality.

The parties have argued extensively on the constitutionality of the statute and the regulations, but their arguments were limited to the applicability of the "company town" doctrine. See Marsh v. Alabama, supra. Cf. Hudgens v. NLRB, supra. While it is clear that Consolidated has "business and property for which . . . (it can) claim protection," Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 51, 535, 45 S.Ct. 571, 573, 69 L.Ed. 1070 (1925), 8 it is, in our view, the reasonableness of the statute and the regulations promulgated pursuant to the statute which should be the focal point of our constitutional inquiry. The Legislature has spoken. Its acts are presumed constitutional. Commonwealth v. Henry's Drywall Co., 366 Mass. 539, 320 N.E.2d 911 (1974). Consolidated bears the heavy burden of showing an invalid exercise of legislative power or an impermissible infringement of its property rights. We believe it has not met its burden.

Consolidated urges that the regulations deprive it of property rights. However, the enjoyment...

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