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Alvarez v. Joan of Arc Inc.

May 18, 1981

GUADALUPE F. ALVAREZ, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, CROSS-APPELLEES,
v.
JOAN OF ARC, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE, CROSS-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 78 C 1250 -- Robert D. Morgan, Judge.

Author: Bauer

Before CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge , GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge ,*fn* and BAUER, Circuit Judge .

BAUER, Circuit Judge . Plaintiff-appellant Guadalupe Alvarez and all other members of the plaintiff class*fn1 are Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers. In April 1978 they traveled from Texas to Illinois to work for defendant Joan of Arc, Inc. ("Company") harvesting asparagus. Plaintiffs claim that Joan of Arc violated the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act ("FLCRA"), 7 U.S.C. §§ 2041 et seq ., the Wagner-Peyser Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 49 et seq ., and Illinois contract law. After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs on only one of plaintiffs' three counts. It is from this judgment which plaintiffs appeal and Joan of Arc cross-appeals. For the reasons discussed in this opinion, we affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

I

Joan of Arc is a corporation doing business in Princeville, Illinois growing, harvesting, and canning vegetables. The Company employs migrant seasonal workers as needed. Joan of Arc obtains some of its workers through participation in the Interstate Requirement System established by the Wagner-Peyser Act. Pursuant to the requirements of that Act, defendant filed a clearance order with the Illinois State Employment Service in February 1978 specifying, inter alia , the number of workers needed, the period of employment, and the type of work to be done. 20 C.F.R. § 653.108(C)(2) & (d).

During January and February 1978, Sidney Stahl and David Stoner, employees of Joan of Arc, traveled to Texas to meet with labor recruiters Audaz Garza, Raul Lopez, and Benito Sanchez. Stahl and Stoner provided Garza, Lopez, and Sanchez with work agreements and copies of the clearance order to be given to recruited laborers. In addition, Garza, Lopez and Sanchez were authorized to enter into contracts on behalf of Joan of Arc and advance each hired migrant worker $30.00 for travel expenses. The recruiters were told not to send any laborers to Illinois until they received notice from the company that the asparagus was ready to harvest.

During April 1978, Stahl notified Garza, lopez, and Sanchez that work was ready for the migrants. The laborers were advanced the $30 and left Texas for Illinois. By April 27, 1978, approximately one-half of the migrants had arrived in Princeville. Harvesting began on May 1, 1978.

While the migrants were in Princeville, they were housed in four camps owned by Joan of Arc: Main Camp, Laura Camp, Wyoming Camp, and Monica Camp. Prior to the arrival of the migrants, the camps were inspected by representatives of the Illinois Department of Public Health. On May 3, 1978, the Department issued a license for the camps approving the housing for occupancy.

Plaintiff Guadalupe F. Alvarez brought this class action on behalf of all the migrant workers hired by Joan of Arc and housed in the four camps during the 1978 asparagus harvest. The complaint set forth three separate claims: (1) that the Company violated FLCRA by failing to register with the United States Secretary of Labor as a farm labor contractor, (2) that the company violated FLCRA, the Wagner-Peyser Act, and Illinois contract law by failing to inform plaintiffs that the announced harvest starting date depended upon crop and weather conditions, and (3) that Joan of Arc violated FLCRA and the Wagner-Peyser Act by providing housing that failed to comply with state and federal sanitation and safety regulations. The district court found for plaintiffs on the first claim and for defendant on the latter two. The court awarded each class member $100 liquidated damages.

II

FLCRA requires every farm labor contractor to register with the Secretary of Labor. 7 U.S.C. § 2043(a). A farm labor contractor is any person or corporation that, for a fee, either on its own behalf or the behalf of another, "recruits, solicits, hires, furnishes, or transports migrant workers... for agricultural employment." 7 U.S.C. § 2042(a), (b). Joan of Arc did not register as a farm labor contractor until June 1978, after the plaintiff migrant workers were hired. The district court found that defendant was a farm labor contractor in April and May 1978 when plaintiffs were hired and that Joan of Arc's failure to register before then violated FLCRA.

Joan of Arc claims that the district court erred, as a matter of law, in concluding that it was a farm labor contractor. Defendant argues that it did not recruit, solicit, hire, furnish, or transport migrant workers. Defendant argues alternatively that if it did any of the acts set forth in the statute, it did not do them "for a fee" as required by § 2043(b). Finally, the Company asserts that even if it was a farm labor contractor, it was exempted from the registration requirement by 7 U.S.C. § 2042(b)(2).

The record more than sufficiently supports the district court conclusion that Joan of Arc engaged in the conduct of a farm labor contractor as set forth in 7 U.S.C. § 2042(b). Defendant argues that it was not a farm labor contractor because it did not solicit workers, rather Garza, Lopez, and Sanchez, as independent contractors, did. Garza, Lopez, and Sanchez were authorized to distribute Joan of Arc's clearance order and work agreements to recruited workers and to contract with the migrants on Joan of Arc's behalf. They acted as Joan of Arc's agents in recruiting migrant workers for the Company. Hence, Joan of Arc was a farm labor contractor soliciting migrant workers on its own behalf.

The clearance order also stated that Joan of Arc would assist the migrants in finding employment with local farmers, producers, and nurseries during the interim period between the end of the asparagus harvest and the beginning of the canning season. The district court did not err in concluding that his language signified that Joan of Arc was soliciting laborers on behalf of others.

Joan of Arc argues that even if it did engage in the conduct of a farm labor contractor, it did not do it "for a fee" as required by § 2042(b). The Act defines a "fee" as any money or other valuable consideration paid to the farm labor contractor by another for the contractor's services. 7 U.S.C. § 2042(c). Defendant stipulated that the growers for whom the migrants worked during the interim paid Joan of Arc an amount equal to the cost of housing the workers. This payment of money falls within the statutory definition of a "fee".

Finally, the Company argues that even if we find that it falls within the § 2042(b) definition of a farm labor contractor, it is exempted from the registration requirement by 7 U.S.C. § 2042(b)(2). Section 2042(b)(2) exempts only those farm labor contractors who solicit workers solely for their own operations. As discussed above, Joan of Arc solicited migrant workers on behalf of other growers. Thus, its conduct does not fall within the statutory exemption.

FLCRA provides that the district court may award damages to migrant workers solicited or recruited by farm labor contractors who have failed to register with the Secretary of Labor. The Act provides in pertinent part:

If the court finds that the respondent has intentionally violated any provision of this chapter or any regulation prescribed hereunder, it may award damages up to and including an amount equal to the amount of actual damages, or $500 for each violation, or other equitable relief.

7 U.S.C. § 2050a(b) (emphasis added). The district court found that plaintiff suffered no actual damages as a result of Joan of Arc's failure to register and awarded each plaintiff $100 in liquidated damages.

The district court entered judgment in this case on June 17, 1980. On February 26, 1981, while this appeal was pending, we held in Espinoza v. Stokely-Van Camp, Inc ., No. 80-1597 (7th Cir. Feb. 26, 1981), that § 2050a(b) permits a district court to award either actual damages or "liquidated damages of $500 for each violation of the act." Slip op. at 7. Since the ...


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