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decided: May 23, 1955.



Warren, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Burton, Clark, Minton, Harlan

Author: Clark

[ 349 U.S. Page 256]

 MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves, primarily, the coverage of the agriculture exemption*fn1 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 52 Stat. 1060, as amended, 29 U. S. C. § 201 et seq. The petitioners are 31 employees of respondent corporation,*fn2 which is engaged in the growing, harvesting and processing of sugar cane at its plantation in the Territory of Hawaii. Respondent seeks a declaratory judgment that its operations are exempt from the overtime provisions of the Act, while the petitioners, through a counterclaim under § 16 (b) of the Act, seek to recover unpaid overtime compensation. The action pertains only to work performed between November 20, 1946, and September 14, 1947.

Waialua owns and operates what might be called the agricultural analogue of the modern industrial assembly line. On its plantation, consisting of some ten thousand acres of land, it cultivates sugar cane which it processes into raw sugar and molasses. It utilizes the year-round growing season to produce a steady supply of cane and employs in its operations over a thousand persons,

[ 349 U.S. Page 257]

     many at specialized tasks. Some move from field to field preparing the soil, fertilizing, planting seed or cultivating. Others attend to the irrigation of the fields. As the cane crop matures, crews of employees move in with mechanical cane harvesters that cut and throw the cane into railroad cars. The cane is then taken over portable tracks laid into the growing fields to Waialua's mainline railroad, which runs throughout the plantation, and from there skilled railroad workers transport the cane to the processing plant. Freshly cut sugar cane is extremely perishable and must be processed within a few days of harvesting or serious spoilage will result. The processing plant is typical of such modern industrial facilities and is manned by employees specially trained in its operation. It has all of the equipment needed to receive the freshly cut cane from the railroad cars and process it into raw sugar and molasses. Adjacent to the processing plant are warehouses where the raw sugar and molasses are stored preparatory to shipment to the United States.

A tremendous variety of work must be done to keep this enterprise going, and Waialua employs persons versed in each operation. In addition to those employed as indicated above, about a hundred more work in repair shops as mechanics, electricians, welders, carpenters, plumbers and painters. They keep Waialua's highly mechanized enterprise operating, making not only emergency repairs but complete overhauls of the railroad, milling, harvesting and other equipment. Waialua also maintains a plant for the manufacture of concrete products (paving blocks and flumes for irrigation ditches), an electric generating plant in the same building as the mill, and a laboratory for the testing of its soil, water, cane and raw sugar.

In addition to all this, Waialua owns a village where the great majority of its employees live. Known as Waialua

[ 349 U.S. Page 258]

     Village, it was originally built when housing for the employees was inadequate, and is located on plantation property within the limits of the City of Honolulu. Within the town are several hundred houses and business establishments, all occupied on a rental basis, together with recreational areas and other town facilities. The respondent furnishes all the maintenance work for its village, employing street cleaners, road graders and janitors.

Proceedings Below.

The trial judge found that all the employees were outside of the agriculture exemption save those engaged directly in agricultural work in the fields, in loading the freshly cut cane into cane cars, and in hauling the loaded cars to the mainline railroad. Those employees working in the sugar mill were found to be under the special processing provisions of § 7 (c) of the Act. As to the other employees, the court entered judgment for overtime as well as liquidated damages and attorney's fees. 97 F.Supp. 198. The Court of Appeals reversed, believing that "the entire cause was tainted by apparent collusion" because stipulations covered the commerce features of the case. It thought that "agriculture is not commerce, interstate or foreign," and that "federal regulation of agriculture invades the reserved rights of the states. United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 . . . . But cf., Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111." It indicated, further, that even if the suit were not collusive, the workers would not be entitled to the relief claimed because all of them came within the agriculture exemption of the Act. 216 F.2d 466 (1954). Despite this reasoning, the Court of Appeals refused to dismiss petitioners' counterclaim but remanded it to the trial court "for proceedings in accordance with this opinion." We granted certiorari, believing

[ 349 U.S. Page 259]

     that the proper administration of the Act requires a resolution of the questions presented. 348 U.S. 870.

We are in full agreement with the parties that the first ground relied upon by the Court of Appeals is incorrect. It is not necessary now to consider the vitality of United States v. Butler, supra, for that decision expressly reserved the question of whether the regulation of agriculture was within the commerce power,*fn3 and Wickard v. Filburn, supra, decided the question in favor of the congressional power. In view of the fact that Waialua exports virtually its entire output for sale throughout the United States, we find ourselves unable to say that the stipulation with respect to the power of Congress was collusive.

The Scope of the Agriculture Exemption.

Congress exempted agriculture from the terms of the FLSA in broad, inclusive terms:

SEC. 3. "(f) 'Agriculture' includes farming in all its branches and among other things includes the cultivation and tillage of the soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing, and harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodities (including commodities defined as agricultural commodities in section 15 (g) of the Agricultural Marketing Act, as amended), the raising of livestock, bees, fur-bearing animals, or poultry, and any practices (including any forestry or lumbering operations) performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations, including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market or to carriers for transportation to market."

[ 349 U.S. Page 260]

     The exemption was meant to embrace the whole field of agriculture, and sponsors of the legislation so stated, 81 Cong. Rec. 7648, 7658. This Court also has had occasion to comment on its broad coverage. See Addison v. Holly Hill Co., 322 U.S. 607, 612 (1944). Nevertheless, no matter how broad the exemption, it was meant to apply only to agriculture and we are left with the problem of what is and what is not properly included within that term.

From the very beginning of the legislative consideration of the Act, a comprehensive exemption of agricultural labor was a primary consideration of the Congress. Nevertheless, before its final language developed, the agriculture exemption ran the gamut of extensive debates and amendments, each of the latter invariably broadening its scope. Exempting "any person employed in agriculture," its first comprehensive definition declared "farming in all its branches" to be exempt, including "any practices ordinarily performed by a farmer as an incident to such farming operations." S. 2475, Calendar No. 905, 75th Cong., 1st Sess. 51. Although this language was described by those in charge of the bill in the Senate as "perhaps, the most comprehensive definition of agriculture which has been included in any one legislative proposal," 81 Cong. Rec. 7648, its coverage was broadened until it became coterminous with the sum of those activities necessary in the cultivation of crops, their harvesting, and their "preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market or to carriers for transportation to market." Our main problem is to determine which activities of Waialua come within this definition, thus exempting the persons so employed from the provisions of the Act.

The Railroad Workers.

Waialua's railroad workers not only haul cane from the fields to the processing plant but also transport farming

[ 349 U.S. Page 261]

     implements and field laborers on the narrow-gauge railway extending throughout the plantation. For numerous reasons, we feel that these employees fall within the comprehensive wording of the agriculture exemption. Nowhere in the Act was any attempt made to draw a distinction between large and small farms or between mechanized and nonmechanized agriculture. In fact, the very opposite appears, since Congress in 1949 specifically refused to draw a distinction between large and small farms similar to the distinctions drawn in the size of newspapers or telephone companies. See H. R. Rep. No. 267, 81st Cong., 1st Sess., p. 24. Compare FLSA, as amended, §§ 13 (a)(8), 13 (a)(11), 13 (a)(15).

In view of this, we cannot hold that merely because Waialua uses a method ordinarily not associated with agriculture -- a railroad -- to transport the cane from the fields to the mill, it has forfeited its agriculture exemption. Where a farmer thus uses extraordinary methods, we must look to the function performed. Certainly no one would argue that the agriculture exemption did not apply to farm laborers who took the cane to the plant in wheelbarrows. There is no reason to construe the FLSA so as to discourage modernization in performing this same function.

Furthermore, had Waialua not owned a mill, its transportation activities from field to mill would come squarely within the agriculture exemptions covering "delivery to storage or to market or to carriers for transportation to market." We do not believe the Congress intended to deprive farmers having their own mills of the exemption it afforded farmers who do not. In the debate on the amendment extending exemption to "delivery to market," its sponsor made clear that auxiliary activity of the kind here involved would be included within that term. 81 Cong. Rec. 7888.

[ 349 U.S. Page 262]

     Similarly, the exemption clearly covers the transportation of farm implements, supplies and field workers to and from the fields. Being performed "on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations," this activity is a necessary part of the agricultural enterprise.

Although the original administrative interpretation squarely supports our conclusion in regard to such hauling activity,*fn4 it is insisted that the administrative practice has been to the contrary since Bowie v. Gonzalez, 117 F.2d 11 (1941). We have examined the press release relied on and find that it stated only that the exemption "does not apply to sugar mill employees, even if the only cane ground in such a mill is cane grown by the sugar mill owner in his own fields," and made no reference to employees engaged in transporting the cane to the mill.*fn5 Subsequent statements by the Administrator merely make the coverage of this activity a question of fact to be determined on an ad hoc basis.*fn6 We see no basis for the assertion, therefore, that the administrative practice since 1941 has been to exclude from the exemption the transportation of cane from field to mill. Moreover, Bowie itself established no such rule, ...

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