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Juan Vazquez, Pablo Marin, Cirilo Pacheco, Osiel Vazquez, Alejandro Loaeza v. Lamont Fruit Farm

September 30, 2011


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



Plaintiffs brought this suit against Defendant Lamont Fruit Farm, Inc., for alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq., and New York State labor law, and for breach of contract. (Compl. (Docket No. 1) ¶¶ 102-30.)

Pending before this Court are the following motions: (1) Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification (Docket No. 15) with respect to the second cause of action (breach of contract);*fn1 (2) Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No. 28);*fn2 and (3)

Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No. 31).*fn3 For the reasons stated below, this Court finds that Plaintiffs' motion for class certification should be granted. The parties' cross-motions for partial summary judgment will be denied without prejudice.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiffs are ten Mexican citizens who came from Mexico to work on a seasonal basis at Defendant's New York farm during some or all of the 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 apple harvesting seasons. (Pls.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Pls.' Statement") ¶ 1; Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Statement (Docket No. 32, Ex. 15) at 1.) Plaintiffs hold themselves out as representatives of a class consisting of all foreign farm workers who entered the United States to work for Defendant during those seasons (collectively "the Workers"). (Pls.' Statement ¶ 1; Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Statement at 1.)

In each of the years at issue in this case, Defendant, a farming company, petitioned the United States Department of Labor for permission to hire temporary foreign agricultural workers through the federal "H-2A" immigration program, 8 U.S.C. § 1188. (Compl. ¶ 41; Answer at 3.) Under the H-2A program, an employer is required to submit a "clearance order" setting forth the terms and conditions of employment for the farm workers. (Compl. ¶ 11; Answer at 2.) The employer is required to certify to all of the material terms and conditions in the clearance order. (Compl. ¶ 12; Answer at 2.) The clearance order becomes the effective employment contract between the employer and the workers. (Compl. ¶ 13; Answer at 2.)

For each season, Defendant, with the help of International Labor Management Company ("ILMC"), a foreign labor broker, submitted one or more certified clearance orders requesting permission to hire foreign workers. (Compl. ¶¶ 42; Answer at 3.) Through the clearance orders, Defendant sought to hire between 55 and 72 workers for each given season. (Compl. ¶¶ 44, 49, 55, 56, 62, 67, 72; Answer at 3.)

The clearance orders were required to provide that the workers' wage would be no less than the"adverse effect wage rate" ("AEWR"), which is the wage rate that has been determined will not adversely affect the employment conditions and wages of similarly situated domestic workers, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 655.103, in effect at the time the work was performed. (Compl. ¶ 14; Answer at 2.) During the seasons in question, the AEWR ranged from $7.68 to $9.05 per hour. (Pls.' Statement ¶¶ 20-24; Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Statement at 1.)

Prior to beginning work for Defendant, the Workers obtained travel documents and traveled to Defendant's farm from various locations in Mexico. (Compl. ¶ 86.) It is undisputed that the Workers paid up-front for their own transportation and subsistence costs related to their journey to New York. (Pls.' Statement ¶¶ 3-5; see Decl. of Roderick Farrow*fn4 (Docket No. 24) ¶ 25.) Defendant, as a matter of business policy, did not reimburse the Workers for their recruitment costs, visa fees, passport fees, or border crossing fees. (Farrow Decl. ¶ 12.)

During their employment with Defendant, Plaintiffs were housed in one of several labor camps owned by the Defendant. (Compl. ¶¶ 93-94.) These camps were known as the Densmore Road and Ramshaw Road camps. (Id.)

B. Procedural Background

This case was filed on August 28, 2006. (Docket No. 1.) Originally, this case was before the Honorable John T. Elfvin, Senior United States District Judge; it was reassigned to the undersigned on October 17, 2007. (Docket No. 36.)

The named Plaintiffs bring a claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) ("FLSA"), alleging that Defendant (1) failed to pay them the required wages during their first weeks of work in 2003, 2004, and 2005; (2) failed to reimburse them for expenses incurred for Defendant's benefit during 2003, 2004, and 2005; and (3) failed to conspicuously post a written advisement of their rights. (Compl. ¶¶ 103, 104, 107.)

Plaintiffs also assert a putative class action claim on behalf of themselves and the other Workers for breach of contract, alleging that Defendant breached the clearance orders by (1) failing to provide copies of the clearance orders to the Workers at the time they began work; (2) paying less than the federally mandated AEWR to the Workers, in part due to the fact that the Workers were not reimbursed for certain expenses benefitting Defendant; (3) failing to comply with federal minimum wage provisions; (4) failing to reimburse the Workers for their full transportation and subsistence costs for their trips to and from Mexico; (5) failing to provide housing meeting applicable health and safety standards; and (6) failing to comply with applicable vehicle safety standards and OSHA regulations. (Compl. ¶¶ 110-122.)

Finally, the named Plaintiffs bring a claim under New York labor law, citing the failure to pay them the state minimum wage in every week of employment and to keep adequate records, and alleging that Defendant violated New York Labor Law § 193(2) by requiring Plaintiffs to incur expenses that could not legally be deducted from their pay. (Compl. ¶¶ 125-27.)

On March 30, 2007, Plaintiffs moved for class certification under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, and for appointment of class counsel, with respect to the state-law breach of contract claim only. (Pls.' Mem. in Support of Mot. to Certify Class at 1.) Plaintiffs also sought an extension of time to obtain additional declarations from various Workers. (Docket No. 15.) Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed several additional declarations from Workers. (Docket Nos. 17-20.) Defendant filed an opposition to the motion for class certification. (Docket No. 29.) The parties appeared before Judge Elfvin on June 8, 2007, for oral argument on the motion to certify the class.

On May 18, 2007, Defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment. (Docket No. 28.) Plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment on July 20, 2007. (Docket No. 31.)


A. Motion for Class Certification

Plaintiffs seek certification of a single class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3). The proposed class is defined as "all individuals admitted to the United States pursuant to Section 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a) ('H-2A Workers') who were employed by Lamont Fruit Farm Inc. to pick apples during the 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 Upstate New York apple harvest seasons." (Pls.' Mem. in Support of Mot. to Certify Class at 4.) The proposed class would be certified as to the second cause of action -- the breach of contract claim -- only. (Id. at 1.)

1. Class Action Standards

The underlying purpose of the class action mechanism is to foster judicial economy and efficiency by adjudicating, to the extent possible, issues that affect many similarly situated persons. Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 701, 99 S.Ct. 2545, 61 L.Ed.2d 176 (1979); see also Crown, Cork & Seal Co., Inc. v. Parker, 462 U.S. 345, 349, 103 S.Ct. 2392, 76 L.Ed.2d 628 (1983) ("The principal purposes of the class action procedure [are] promotion of efficiency and economy of litigation."). In pursuing these goals, a district court is afforded broad discretion in determining whether an action should be certified under Rule 23. See Teamsters Local 445 Freight Div. Pension Fund v. Bombardier Inc., 546 F.3d 196, 201 (2d Cir. 2008); see also 7A Charles Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 179 (3d ed. 2005). A court must engage in a rigorous analysis of the facts and circumstances of the case to ensure that class certification is appropriate. Gen. Tel. Co. of Sw. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147, 160-61, 102 S.Ct. 2364, 72 L.Ed.2d 740 (1982).

Under Rule 23(a), one or more representatives of a class of plaintiffs may sue on behalf of all members of the class if:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;

(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;

(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or ...

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