Perez v. Valley Garlic, Inc.

Decision Date27 February 2017
Docket NumberCASE NO. 1:16-CV-01156-AWI-EPG
PartiesTHOMAS E. PEREZ, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor Plaintiff, v. VALLEY GARLIC, INC., dba SEQUOIA PACKING CO., a California Corporation; CHRISTIAN BARRERE MARRIONE, an individual; DAVID CLARK ANDERSON, an individual; X-TREME AG LABOR, INC., a California corporation; ISABELLA ALVAREZ CAMACHO, an individual; OFELIA RAMIREZ MORALES, an individual; and CESAR NERI, an individual, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Thomas E. Perez is the United States Secretary of Labor ("the Secretary"). The Secretary is charged with enforcing the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA") and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("AWPA"). This action proceeds on the Secretary's FLSA and AWPA claims against Valley Garlic Inc. ("Valley Garlic"),1 a garlicprocessing and packing plant, X-Treme Ag Labor Inc. ("X-Treme Ag"), a farm labor contractor, and several of their respective managerial and supervisory employees.

On August 8, 2016, The Secretary filed a motion for preliminary injunction, seeking (among other things) to enjoin Valley Garlic from utilizing farm labor contractors ("FLCs") to provide transportation of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers when those FLCs do not possess certificates of registration to transport authorizing them to do so, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 1842 ("Section 1842"). See Doc. 7. The Court denied the motion as to Valley Garlic without prejudice, explaining that the Secretary did not make a clear showing that Valley Garlic "utilized" X-Treme Ag or any other FLC to provide transportation within the meaning of Section 1842 or that irreparable harm was likely to result if the Court refused to enjoin violation of Section 1842. Doc. 29 at 8-17.

The Secretary now moves for a preliminary injunction, enjoining Valley Garlic from causing vehicles to be used to transport migrant and seasonal agricultural workers without ensuring the vehicle safety requirements of 29 U.S.C. § 1841 ("Section 1841") are met. Doc. 34. Valley Garlic responds that it is not subject to the requirements of Section 1841 because it is not an agricultural employer and has not caused any vehicles to be used. Doc. 37. It further contends that the Secretary has also otherwise failed to establish entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief because he cannot show irreparable injury, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, or that the injunction is in the public interest. Doc. 37.

For the following reasons, the Secretary's motion will be denied.

II. Background

This Court set forth a statement of the factual background of this action in its October 19, 2016 order. Doc. 29 at 2-5. That statement is incorporated by reference. The Secretary's prior motion for preliminary injunction (and correspondingly the Court's background statement) focused largely on the automobile accident resulting from a field worker (recruited by X-Treme Ag pursuant to a contract with Valley Garlic) driving without a driver license, who fell asleep at the wheel while transporting seven other employees during the return trip from one of Valley Garlic's Gilroy, California worksites to the workers' homes in Merced, California. Docs. 7, 29.X-Treme Ag had a certificate of registration permitting recruitment of agricultural workers but that certificate did not permit transportation of such workers. See Doc. 7-3 at 5-6. Although the Secretary's present motion discusses the accident, it takes a broader approach, commenting on the scope and locations of Valley Garlic's operations in California and Oregon, Valley Garlic's hiring practices and requirements for FLCs, Valley Garlic's supervision of the workers recruited by FLCs, and the communities from which those FLCs are recruited.

Valley Garlic uses approximately 2,000 acres of land to grow garlic in California. Deposition of David Anderson ("Anderson Depo.") at 44:2-7.2 Those 2,000 acres fall within seven cities spread through five counties. Deposition of Elvis Martinez ("Martinez Depo.") at 19:13-19:23; 20:2-21:17. Many of those cities have multiple fields where Valley Garlic grows and harvests garlic. See Martinez Depo. at 20:2-21:17. Valley Garlic relies on FLCs to provide its farm labor to complete planting, cultivation, and harvesting of the garlic. Anderson Depo. at 131:4-132:18; Deposition of Christian Marrione ("Marrione Depo.") at 41:12-42:12. In 2015, Valley Garlic engaged at least four different FLCs. Anderson Depo. at 109:24-110:14. Valley Garlic decides when each process should be undertaken, where it should be undertaken, and how many workers are necessary; Valley Garlic then contacts the FLC, indicating the work to be done. Anderson Depo. at 60:16-19, 74:24-75:3, 77:6-79:11. During the planting, undercutting,3 windrowing,4 and clipping processes, at least one Valley Garlic employee is present at all times to ensure the quality of the work done by the workers recruited by the FLCs. Anderson Depo. at 72:12-15, 82:1-5, 93:3-14, 101:18-20, 114:4-12. During those processes, the Valley Garlic employees communicate to the workers primarily through the FLC or the FLC's supervisors; Valley Garlic employees do not directly communicate with the workers or foremen. Anderson Depo. at 86:19-87:17, 104:18-105:8, 119:14-21. Valley Garlic sets the duration of time workedby workers but acreage of land covered depends on the number of workers recruited by FLCs. See Anderson Depo at 91:21-92:1, 109:2-15, 122:21-123:2. Valley Garlic keeps daily records of the number of workers that FLCs provide and the number of hours that each of those workers works per day. Anderson Depo. at 153:12-154:6.

It is undisputed that Valley Garlic has never engaged a FLC that possessed a certification of registration from the Secretary authorizing it to transport workers. Doc. 34 at 10 citing Doc. 7-3 at Exh.1. Valley Garlic has never hired an FLC with direction to provide transportation, Anderson Depo. at 136:25-137:1, and all of its FLC contracts prohibit the FLC from providing transportation to workers without the express consent of Valley Garlic, See, e.g., Doc. 24-1 at 16. Valley Garlic has never consented to a FLC providing transportation to workers. Anderson Depo. at 137:13-14.

Valley Garlic expects that each of its workers will drive their personal vehicles to the Valley Garlic worksites. Anderson Depo. at 137:23-138:2, 155:22-23. In some situations, Valley Garlic reimburses those persons (potentially workers, crew bosses, or FLCs) who drive long distances to the worksite. See Martinez Depo. at 47:7-49:22. However, Valley Garlic does not monitor whether FLCs provide transportation to workers, Marrione Depo. at 127:15-18; Anderson Depo. at 155:24-156:10; Martinez Depo. at 65:17-66:15, or where the workers are recruited from, Anderson Depo. at 155:3-5. In fact, even after the auto accident giving rise to this action occurred, and Valley Garlic was informed that FLCs or crew bosses transported workers, Marrione Depo. at 116:12-14, Valley Garlic did nothing to monitor whether its FLCs provide transportation to workers to and from Valley Garlic's worksites. See Anderson Depo. at 162:19-21, 164:1-165:5; Marrione Depo. at 63:2-18. Instead, Valley Garlic sent a letter to X-Treme Ag indicating that X-Treme Ag was "not authorized to transport any workers who provide services under" the agreement between Valley Garlic and X-Treme Ag. Doc. 7-2 at 105. The letter continued, "the [DOL] investigator indicated the possibility that your supervisor or foreman was coordinating transportation. This is not allowed under [the] agreement and must stop immediately." Doc. 7-2 at 105.

Valley Garlic did not immediately terminate its contract with X-Treme Ag. Compl. at ¶19. Valley Garlic no longer uses X-Treme Ag as a FLC and X-Treme Ag no longer possesses a certificate of registration from the Secretary permitting FLC activity.

III. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a) governs requests for preliminary injunctions. "A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest." Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). "A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right. In each case, courts 'must balance the competing claims of injury and must consider the effect on each party of the granting or withholding of the requested relief.' 'In exercising their sound discretion, courts of equity should pay particular regard for the public consequences in employing the extraordinary remedy of injunction.'" Winter, 555 U.S. at 24 (internal citations omitted); see Lopez v. Brewer, 680 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir.2012) (A preliminary injunction is a "drastic remedy that should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion.") The Ninth Circuit has adopted a "serious questions" approach to preliminary injunctions under which an injunction may issue if there are "serious questions going to the merits"—rather than likelihood of success on the merits—so long as the "balance of hardships that tips sharply towards the plaintiff ..., [and] plaintiff also shows there is a likelihood of irreparable injury and the injunction is in the public interest." Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1135 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 340 F.3d 810, 813 (9th Cir. 2000)).

Generally, when courts grant preliminary injunctions they prohibit a defendant from taking action, "the purpose ... [of which] is merely to preserve the relative positions of the parties until a trial on the merits...

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