Martinez v. State

Decision Date01 November 2022
Docket Number2022-CC-00991
Citation349 So.3d 14 (Mem)
Parties Norma Vanessa MARTINEZ v. State of Louisiana, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND DEVELOPMENT
CourtLouisiana Supreme Court

Writ application denied.

Weimer, C.J., concurs, finding an adequate remedy on appeal.

Crichton, J., would grant and docket.

Crain, J., would grant.

McCallum, J., would grant and docket and assigns reasons.

McCALLUM, J., would grant and docket, and assigns reasons.

I would grant and docket this matter to fully evaluate the important issue raised in this writ application.

Only one Louisiana court has considered whether an undocumented worker is entitled to recover lost wages under Louisiana law. Maldonado v. Kiewit Louisiana Co ., 2012-1868 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/30/14), 152 So.3d 909, involved a claim for damages, including lost wages, resulting from a work-related accident. The court of appeal answered the question in the affirmative. Id ., 2012-1868, p. 46, 152 So. 3d at 941 (finding "no valid reason to deny recovery of an element of damages available in tort cases, i.e . lost wages from a third-party tortfeasor, simply because the damages are sustained by an illegal, undocumented worker." Id ., 2012-1868, p. 46, 152 So. 3d at 941 ). Although the court further noted that the worker's status "is not relevant to the issue of liability and will not automatically preclude recovery of lost wages," it observed that the worker's status is relevant as to "what amount to award for loss of support." Id ., 2012-1868, p. 46, 152 So. 3d at 941. (Emphasis in the original).

The issue presented by this writ application is one that will undoubtedly arise more frequently in the future and, for this reason alone, I believe that the writ application should be granted for closer examination by this Court.

More importantly, in my view, the writ application should be granted because the lower courts erred in denying the Department of Transportation and Development's ("DOTD") motion for partial summary judgment.1 Although no case law in Louisiana directly states that undocumented aliens have a right to pursue claims for personal injury damages,2 other jurisdictions recognize this right,3 and I agree that an undocumented person has standing to sue for personal injuries under La. C.C. art. 2315. In my view, however, a lost wage claim is a wholly separate issue and, while Maldonado and cases from other jurisdictions4 have found that an undocumented alien has a right to lost wages, this Court should reject that view and hold that there is no such right.

Congress enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101, et seq ., ("INA") as a "comprehensive and complete code covering all aspects of admission of aliens to this country, whether for business or pleasure, or as immigrants seeking to become permanent residents." Toll v. Moreno , 458 U.S. 1, 13, 102 S.Ct. 2977, 2984 (1982) (quoting Elkins v. Moreno , 435 U.S. 647, 664, 98 S.Ct. 1338, 1348 ). The INA "sets out the ‘terms and conditions of admission to the country and the subsequent treatment of aliens lawfully in the country.’ " Kansas v. Garcia , 140 S. Ct. 791, 797 (2020) (quoting Chamber of Commerce of United States of America v. Whiting , 563 U.S. 582, 587, 131 S.Ct. 1968 (2011). Almost forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court recognized that the INA has an "important objective of deterring unauthorized immigration that is embodied in the INA." Sure-Tan, Inc. v. N.L.R.B ., 467 U.S. 883, 903, 104 S. Ct. 2803, 2814 (1984).

Although the INA did not initially prohibit the employment of illegal aliens, in 1986, Congress enacted the Immigration Reform and Control Act ("IRCA") which made unlawful the knowing employment of unauthorized aliens or the continued employment of unauthorized aliens after learning of an alien's status. See Kansas , 140 S. Ct. 791, 797. More specifically, 8 U.S.C.A. § 1324 (a), entitled "(a) Making employment of unauthorized aliens unlawful" provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

(1) In general
It is unlawful for a person or other entity –
(A) to hire, or to recruit or refer for a fee, for employment in the United States an alien knowing the alien is an unauthorized alien ...with respect to such employment ...
* * * *
(2) Continuing employment
It is unlawful for a person or other entity, after hiring an alien for employment in accordance with paragraph (1), to continue to employ the alien in the United States knowing the alien is (or has become) an unauthorized alien with respect to such employment.

The IRCA provides criminal penalties for the employment of unauthorized aliens: "Any person or entity which engages in a pattern or practice of violations of subsection (a)(1)(A) or (a)(2) shall be fined not more than $3,000 for each unauthorized alien with respect to whom such a violation occurs, imprisoned for not more than six months for the entire pattern or practice, or both, notwithstanding the provisions of any other Federal law relating to fine levels." 8 U.S.C.A. § 1324a (f)(1). As the Supreme Court noted in Arizona v. United States , 567 U.S. 387, 404, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 2504 (2012) (quoting Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB , 535 U.S. 137, 147, 122 S.Ct. 1275 (2002), "Congress enacted IRCA as a comprehensive framework for ‘combating the employment of illegal aliens.’ " The Arizona Court further noted that, although the IRCA does not impose federal criminal sanctions on unauthorized aliens who "seek or engage in unauthorized work," there are a number of civil penalties:

With certain exceptions, aliens who accept unlawful employment are not eligible to have their status adjusted to that of a lawful permanent resident. See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1255(c)(2), (c)(8). Aliens also may be removed from the country for having engaged in unauthorized work. See § 1227(a)(1)(C)(i); 8 CFR § 214.1(e). In addition to specifying these civil consequences, federal law makes it a crime for unauthorized workers to obtain employment through fraudulent means. See 18 U.S.C. § 1546(b).

Id. , 567 U.S. at 404-05, 132 S. Ct. at 2504.

Louisiana law contains a similar prohibition against hiring undocumented workers. Under La. R.S. 23:992, a statute enacted in 1979, more than forty years ago, "[n]o person, either for himself or on behalf of another, shall employ, hire, recruit, or refer, for private or public employment within the state, an alien who is not entitled to lawfully reside or work in the United States." Louisiana imposes certain fines for violations of this statute, which are increased by repeated violations. See La. R.S. 23:993. Accordingly, one cannot seriously contest the conclusion that illegal aliens have no legal right to employment under either Louisiana or federal law. See , e.g ., Perdomo v. RKC, LLC , 2017-112, p. 14 (La. App. 5 Cir. 11/29/17), 232 So. 3d 90, 100 (the plaintiff, an undocumented person, "cannot legally obtain employment in the United States, and employers are prohibited from hiring him due to his immigrant status"); Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. N.L.R.B ., 535 U.S. 137, 148, 122 S. Ct. 1275, 1283, (2002) ("it is impossible for an undocumented alien to obtain employment in the United States without some party directly contravening explicit congressional policies. Either the undocumented alien tenders fraudulent identification, which subverts the cornerstone of IRCA's enforcement mechanism, or the employer knowingly hires the undocumented alien in direct contradiction of its IRCA obligations."). As observed by the Supreme Court, in finding that a California statute barring employers from "knowingly employing "persons not entitled to lawful residence in the United States, let alone to work here," was "certainly within the mainstream of such police power regulation":

Employment of illegal aliens in times of high unemployment deprives citizens and legally admitted aliens of jobs; acceptance by illegal aliens of jobs on substandard terms as to wages and working conditions can seriously depress wage scales and working conditions of citizens and legally admitted aliens; and employment of illegal aliens under such conditions can diminish the effectiveness of labor unions. These local problems are particularly acute in California in light of the significant influx into that State of illegal aliens from neighboring Mexico.
DeCanas , 424 U.S. at 356-57, 96 S. Ct. at 937

The Supreme Court later spoke again on the importance of "combating the employment of illegal aliens," which the IRCA made "central to [t]he policy of immigration law.’ " Hoffman , 535 U.S. at 147, 122 S. Ct. at 1282. The Hoffman Court considered whether the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") could award back pay to an undocumented alien whose employment had been terminated in violation of federal law. The Supreme Court held that it could not, noting that "awarding backpay in a case like this ... trivializes the immigration laws...." Hoffman , 535 U.S. at 150, 122 S. Ct. at 1284. The Court then concluded that:

... allowing the [NLRB] to award backpay to illegal aliens would unduly trench upon explicit statutory prohibitions critical to federal immigration policy, as expressed in IRCA. It would encourage the successful evasion of apprehension by immigration authorities, condone prior violations of the immigration laws, and encourage future violations.

Id ., 535 U.S. at 151, 122 S.Ct. 1275.

While the instant case presents a different issue than Hoffman , the policy enunciated by the Supreme Court in Hoffman could not be clearer: the Court rejected the principle that an illegal alien should be allowed to recover backpay, "for years of work not performed, for wages that could not lawfully have been earned, and for a job obtained in the first instance by a criminal fraud." Id . 535 at 149, 122 S.Ct. 1275. Such an award "runs counter to policies underlying IRCA." Id . Again, that policy of the IRCA is to combat the employment of illegal aliens.

In refusing to allow a claim for lost wages by an illegal alien, Louisiana would...

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