Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Elkhorn is a farm labor contractor for a California-based vegetable grower. As part of Elkhorn’s orientation for incoming employees, Martinez-Gonzalez signed employment paperwork that included arbitration agreements. The district court held that the arbitration agreements resulted from undue influence and economic duress and were invalid and unenforceable.The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for determination of whether Martinez-Gonzalez’s allegation of federal and state labor and wage law violations fell within the scope of the arbitration agreements. Under California law, the doctrine of economic duress did not render the arbitration agreements unenforceable because Elkhorn did not commit a wrongful act and reasonable alternatives were available to Martinez-Gonzalez. Martinez-Gonzalez made the journey from Mexico to California, where he was dependent on Elkhorn housing and had already started work but, while “not ideal,” those circumstances did not constitute a “wrongful act” under California law. No one at Elkhorn told Martinez-Gonzalez that refusing to sign the agreements was a cause for termination. It was clearly erroneous for the district court to conclude that MartinezGonzalez lacked a reasonable alternative. The timing and place of the orientation did not show that Martinez-Gonzalez’s will was overborne; the lack of time to consult with attorneys or read the agreements did not improperly induce his signatures. Elkhorn’s representatives’ instructions to sign the agreements quickly were not insistent demands. View "Martinez-Gonzalez v. Elkhorn Packing Co. LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Finberg became the Chief Operating Officer of Adams, a produce distributor. Grinstead was Adams’s CEO. In 2011, federal authorities investigated Adams for fraud against the Department of Defense. Finberg claims he was unaware of the scheme until later when suppliers and Adams’s CFO discussed the scheme in front of him. Finberg agreed to gradually end the scheme to avoid further detection. Adams hired a law firm to internally investigate its operations, which revealed that CEO Grinstead had engaged in extensive fraud. PNC Bank froze the business’s accounts; Adams was unable to promptly pay suppliers $10 million. Adams declared bankruptcy. Grinstead pled guilty to wire fraud, misprision of felony, and multiple failures to file tax returns. Finberg pled guilty to misprision of a felony. A disciplinary complaint was filed against Adams with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, alleging violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 7 U.S.C. 499b(4), by failing to promptly pay suppliers. The determination that Adams violated the Act triggered the Act’s employment bar for each person who was responsibly connected to the violation.An ALJ found that Finberg was responsibly connected. A USDA Judicial Officer affirmed, finding that Finberg exercised judgment, discretion, or control once he learned of the fraudulent scheme and failed to report. The D.C. Circuit reversed The agency lacked substantial evidence that Finberg’s activities contributed to Adam’’s violation of the Act. View "Finberg v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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A California regulation mandates that agricultural employers allow union organizers onto their property for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year. Union organizers sought access to property owned by two California growers, who sought to enjoin enforcement of the access regulation. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit.The Supreme Court reversed. California’s access regulation constitutes a per se physical taking and the growers’ complaint states a claim for an uncompensated taking in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. When the government, rather than appropriating private property for itself or a third party, imposes regulations restricting an owner’s ability to use his own property, courts generally determine whether a taking has occurred by applying the “Penn Central” factors. When the government physically appropriates property, the flexible Penn Central analysis has no place. California’s access regulation appropriates a right to invade the growers’ property and therefore constitutes a per se physical taking. Rather than restraining the growers’ use of their own property, the regulation appropriates for the enjoyment of third parties (union organizers) the owners’ right to exclude. The right to exclude is “a fundamental element of the property right.” The duration of a physical appropriation bears only on the amount of compensation due. The California regulation is not transformed from a physical taking into a use restriction just because the access granted is restricted to union organizers, for a narrow purpose, and for a limited time.The Court distinguished restrictions on how a business generally open to the public may treat individuals on the premises; isolated physical invasions, not undertaken pursuant to a granted right of access; and requirements that property owners cede a right of access as a condition of receiving certain benefits. Government inspection regimes will generally not constitute takings. View "Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid" on Justia Law

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Statewide harvests and hauls fruit from about 1,500 fields for Florida farmers. It does not own any of the lands it harvests. In 2014-2017, Statewide employed mostly temporary foreign guest workers as its seasonal harvest workers, through the federal H-2A program, which requires a labor contractor to provide workers with housing, either three meals a day or “free and convenient cooking and kitchen facilities,” and other basic housing amenities including laundry facilities. Statewide provided its workers with cooking facilities instead of meals and with transportation from housing to a grocery store, laundromat, and bank. Statewide employed Ramirez and Santana as crew leaders during the harvest seasons; they also drove the workers to and from housing and the grocery store, laundromat, and bank. These weekly trips lasted approximately four hours. Ramirez and Santana worked up to 80 hours a week. Neither received overtime compensation.They sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201, for unpaid overtime compensation for the driving trips. Statewide argued that those activities fell under the agricultural work exemption from the overtime requirements, section 213(b)(12). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in favor of the crew leaders. Statewide is not a farmer; it “did not own, lease, or control the farms or crops harvested. To be exempt from the overtime requirements, the driving trips must have been “performed . . . on a farm.” They occurred off a farm and were not physically tied to a farm. View "Ramirez v. Statewide Harvesting & Hauling, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the constitutionality of RCW 49.46.130(2)(g), the provision exempting agricultural workers from the overtime pay requirement set out in the Washington Minimum Wage Act, ch. 49.46 RCW. Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar worked for DeRuyter Brothers Dairy as milkers. DeRuyter milkers used mechanized equipment to milk close to 3,000 cows per shift, 24 hours a day, three shifts a day, 7 days a week. In 2016, Martinez-Cuevas and Aguilar filed the present class action suit along with about 300 fellow DeRuyter dairy workers, claiming that DeRuyter failed to pay minimum wage to dairy workers, did not provide adequate rest and meal breaks, failed to compensate pre- and post-shift duties, and failed to pay overtime. The complaint also sought a judgment declaring RCW 49.46.130(2)(g) unconstitutional. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the class, finding the exemption violated article I, section 12 of the Washington Constitution and the equal protection clause. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concurred with the trial court and affirmed that judgment. View "Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Bros. Dairy, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that the Texas Farm Animal Activity Act (the Act), Tex. Civ. Proc. & Rem. Code 87.001-87.005, does not apply to ranchers and ranch hands, holding that the court of appeals did not err.The Act limits liability for injury to "a participant in a farm animal activity or livestock show" that results from an "inherent risk" of those activities. Raul Zuniga worked full-time for Conway and Marlene Waak to work cattle on a ranch, landscape, and cut hay. Zuniga died after being trampled. Plaintiffs, Zuniga's family, sued the Waaks, on wrongful death and survival claims. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Waaks, concluding that the Act barred Plaintiffs' claims. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Zuniga was not "a participant in a farm animal activity" for whose injuries and death the Act limits liability. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Act does not cover ranchers and ranch hands and, therefore, did not shield the Waaks from liability for their negligence resulting in Zuniga's death. View "Waak v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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Francisca Gomez died as the result of a horrific industrial accident while she was cleaning a seed sorting machine as part of her employment with the Crookham Company (“Crookham”). Her family (the Gomezes) received worker’s compensation benefits and also brought a wrongful death action. The Gomezes appealed the district court's decision to grant Crookham’s motion for summary judgment on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims failed as a matter of law because Crookham was not a “manufacturer.” In affirming in part and reversing in part, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it failed to consider whether Crookham committed an act of unprovoked physical aggression upon Mrs. Gomez by consciously disregarding knowledge that an injury would result. As such, the matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an appeal by Growers against members of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board who promulgated a regulation allowing union organizers access to agricultural employees at employer worksites under specific circumstances. Growers sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the access regulation, as applied to them, was unconstitutional.The panel held that the access regulation as applied to the Growers did not amount to a per se physical taking of their property in violation of the Fifth Amendment. In this case, the Growers did not suffer a permanent physical invasion that would constitute a per se taking. The panel also held that the Growers have not plausibly alleged that the access regulation effects a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. View "Cedar Point Nursery v. Shiroma" on Justia Law

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The Project and four individual herders challenged the agencies' 364-day certification period for H-2A visas, which allowed nonimmigrants to enter the country to perform certain agricultural work. The DC Circuit held that the Project's complaint adequately raised a challenge to the Department of Homeland Security's practice of automatically extending "temporary" H-2A petitions for multiple years; the Project adequately preserved its challenge to the Department of Labor's decision in the 2015 Rule to classify herding as "temporary" employment; the 2015 Rule's minimum wage rate for herders was not arbitrary, capricious, or unsupported by the record; and the Project lacked standing to challenge the wage rates set by the already-vacated 2011 Guidance Letter. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hispanic Affairs Project v. Acosta" on Justia Law

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Arnaudo Brothers challenged the Board's award of make whole-relief based on the determination that the company's litigation of a disclaimer issue did not further the policies and purpose of the Agriculture Labor Relations Act of 1975. The Court of Appeal held that the Board did not err when it identified and applied the rules that define when a certified union has made a disclaimer of interest in representing the bargaining unit; determined the statement by the Union representative that "we’re through with you" (if made) was not a clear and unequivocal disclaimer of interest; and concluded the Union's subsequent conduct consistent with a disclaimer could not render the equivocal disclaimer effective. Finally, the principles set forth in Tri-Fanucchi Farms v. Agricultural Labor Relations Bd., (2017) 3 Cal.5th 1161, compelled the conclusion that the Board properly exercised its broad discretionary authority when it awarded make-whole relief in this case. View "Arnaudo Brothers v. ALRB" on Justia Law