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Javier H., et al v. Maria Garcia-Botello

September 11, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court



In this putative class action, Plaintiffs, all seasonal or migrant farm workers, allege that Defendants violated several federal and state statutes in the course of their employment. Specifically, Plaintiffs assert claims under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("AWPA") 29 U.S.C. §§ 1801, et seq., the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) and (d), the Alien Tort Claims Act ("ATCA"), the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and New York State Labor and contract law. Plaintiffs also assert fraud, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. Finally, Plaintiffs allege violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq.

There are two distinct groups of defendants, referred to throughout this litigation as the "Contractor Defendants" and the "Grower Defendants." The Contractor Defendants -- so called because they were hired or contracted to supply workers, allegedly including Plaintiffs, to the Grower Defendants' farms -- include Maria Garcia-Botello, Elias Botello, Jose J. Garcia, Jose I. Garcia, and Rogelio Espinoza, the first four of whom pled guilty to criminal charges arising from events related to this lawsuit. The Grower Defendants*fn1 owned or operated the farms where Plaintiffs allegedly worked. They were not charged with any crime. Presently before this Court are Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Action Certification (Docket No. 199), brought pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and several Grower Defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Docket Nos. 207, 215, 216, 252.)*fn2 For the following reasons, each motion is denied.


A. Facts

This case, commenced over nine years ago, began with the actions of Maria Garcia-Botello, her sons Elias Botello and Jose J. Garcia, and her husband Jose I. Garcia. Maria Garcia-Botello was a farm labor contractor registered with the State of New York and the United States Department of Labor. (Maria Garcia-Botello Plea Agreement, Docket No. 199-3, Exhibit A.) Her business, which was run by her and her family, recruited field workers and, for a fee, provided them to farmers in Orleans and Genesee Counties in New York State. (Id.)

In July and August of 2001, Maria sent her son, Elias, to locate workers in Arizona. (Id.) Elias transported the workers he gathered there by van to Albion, New York and upon arrival, told them they owed anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800 for transportation costs, a sum which would be deducted from their pay. (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, all but one of them, Agustin San Juan, were among the workers Elias brought from Arizona to New York.

In fact, Elias made two trips to Arizona. (Id.) Six of the eventual plaintiffs were on the first trip: Javiar Hernandez, Hector Hernandez, Sergio Rosales Cuello, Miguel Perez, Juan Antonio Garcia, and Juventino Cazuelas. (Grand Jury Testimony of Javier Hernandez, Tr. p. 15; Grand Jury testimony of Miguel Perez, p. 4; Docket No. 205, Exhibits 9,12.) The second trip included Plaintiffs Baldemar Cacho Velez, Marcos Cacho Velez, Jonas Geronimo, and Lazaro Perez Rodriguez. (Grand Jury Testimony of Agent Kevin Ryan, p. 43; Docket No. 205, Exhibit 14.)

Once in New York, Maria and her family housed the workers in overcrowded and cramped labor camps, deducted money from their earnings for food, housing, and electricity, and told them they could not leave until they had paid all their debts. (Maria Garcia-Botello Plea Agreement.) She also warned the workers to avoid walking on public roads or talking to other people. (Id.) She further threatened them with deportation. (Id.) Although the Grower Defendants ostensibly paid the workers at legally sufficient rates, Maria cashed the checks herself, deducted pay, and only then issued earnings to the workers. (Id.) Upset with the conditions, the first group of plaintiffs who arrived on July 17, quit only 5 days later, on July 22, 2001. (Grand Jury Testimony of Miguel Perez, p. 20.) These events eventually came to the attention of law enforcement.

On December 2, 2004, after a full investigation and a grand jury indictment, Defendants Maria Garcia-Botello, Elias Botello, Jose J. Garcia, and Jose I. Garcia each pled guilty to various criminal charges relating to this trafficking and forced labor scheme. (Plea Agreements; Docket Nos. 199-3 -- 199-6, Exhibits A-D.)

Plaintiffs contend that some of the Grower Defendants (who allegedly contracted with Maria Garcia-Botello and her family) were complicit and even facilitated this scheme, while others payed Plaintiffs at rates below the legal minimum, or are otherwise liable for the actions of the Contractor Defendants as "joint-employers."

B. Procedural History*fn3 *fn4

Plaintiffs commenced this action by filing a complaint in this Court on July 22, 2002 (Docket No. 1.)*fn5 On May 21, 2003, the United States filed a Motion to Intervene and to Stay Civil Proceedings pending the conclusion of the criminal trial. (Docket No. 40.) Magistrate Judge Schroeder denied the Motion to Intervene but stayed discovery until the resolution of the criminal case. (Docket No. 67.) On December 2, 2005, Maria Garcia-Botello, Elias Botello, Jose J Garcia, and Jose I. Garcia pled guilty to charges relating to the events described above. On June 2, 2005, Judge Schroeder vacated the stay of discovery and ordered settlement negotiations, which were ultimately fruitless. (Docket No. 74.)

Subsequently, this Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File a Class Certification, which Plaintiffs filed on October 26, 2007 and which is presently before this Court. (Docket No. 199.) In late 2007 and early 2008 various defendants moved for summary judgment; those motions are also presently before this Court. (Docket Nos. 207, 215, 216, 252.) On March 30, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a motion to compel discovery, which Judge Schroeder granted in part and denied in part. Several grower defendants contend that their response to this order effectively rendered discovery complete. (Docket No. 275.) Plaintiffs, however, continue to assert that they are entitled to deposition discovery of the Grower Defendants.


A. Class ...

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