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Fuente v. Stokely-Van Camp Inc.

decided: June 29, 1983.

PEDRO DE LA FUENTE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
STOKELY-VAN CAMP, INC., MARCELINO VASQUEZ AND ALBERT SOLIS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois, East St. Louis Division. No. 78 C 009D -- Harold A. Baker, Judge.

Cudahy and Eschbach, Circuit Judges, and Aspen, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Cudahy

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.

This appeal arises from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois which held that the defendants had violated certain disclosure and posting provisions of the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act ("FLCRA"), 7 U.S.C. §§ 2041-2055. After a bench trial, the court awarded damages and injunctive relief to the plaintiff class. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law of the district court are reported at 514 F. Supp. 68 (C.D.Ill. 1981). We affirm in part the judgment of the district court and remand the case for fact-finding and modification of the damage award.

I.

The complicated factual background of this case is thoroughly discussed in the district court's findings of fact. We will repeat only those facts necessary to an understanding of this appeal.

The case before us originated in November of 1977 when the five named plaintiffs filed a four-count complaint as a proposed class action.*fn1 Several separate classes were originally certified by the district court, but only Class I and its sub-class for those damages*fn2 which are awardable under the plaintiff's cause of action under FLCRA are involved in this appeal.

The Farm Labor Contractors Act was enacted in 1964 as a response to the problems of exploitation of migrant agricultural workers by "certain irresponsible contractors." 7 U.S.C. § 2041. The Act sought to eliminate some of the abuses faced by migrant farmworkers by regulating the "middlemen," or "farm labor contractors" ("FLC's"), who were instrumental in recruiting and furnishing farmworkers from areas of low employment to areas where these workers' services were more valued. See Alvarez v. Longboy, 697 F.2d 1333, 1335-37 (9th Cir. 1983); Donovan v. Marrero, 695 F.2d 791, 792-93 (3rd Cir. 1982); Mountain Brook Orchards v. Marshall, 640 F.2d 454, 457-58 (3rd Cir. 1981); S. Rep. No. 1295, 93d Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted in 1974 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 6441-6451. The Act compels "farm labor contractors," inter alia, to (1) obtain a certificate of registration from the Secretary of Labor; (2) make detailed disclosures to all migrant workers concerning the terms and conditions of their employment both at the time they are recruited and by posting these disclosure statements at job sites and in the labor camps; (3) obtain insurance of various types; and (4) maintain payroll records and give each worker certain income and payroll information. 7 U.S.C. § 2043-45. The Act imposes criminal and civil penalties for violation of its provisions, provides for suits for injunctive relief brought by the Secretary of Labor, and, since its 1974 amendment, specifically provides for a private right of action by "any person claiming to be aggrieved" for "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. §§ 2048, 2050a.*fn3

The plaintiff class ("the Farmworkers") is composed of United States citizens or lawfully admitted resident aliens from southern Texas. The principal language of the Farmworkers is Spanish. Approximately 80% of the Farmworkers do not speak or read English. Appellant Stokely-Van Camp, Inc. ("Stokely") is an Indiana corporation whose business in Illinois includes the harvesting, processing and packaging of agricultural products. Appellant Solis is a resident of Texas who worked for Stokely recruiting workers in Texas to work in Stokely's operations in Illinois. Appellant Vasquez is a resident of Texas who worked for Stokely as a "crew leader," or combined recruiter and foreman.

Stokely engages in the harvesting, processing and packaging of various farm products in Illinois and Indiana, and maintains canneries at Rochelle, Gibson City and Hoopeston, Illinois, as a part of this business. A large part of the work force for these operations is made up of migrant farmworkers who live in labor camps which are run by Stokely and located near the canneries. The season of employment for these farmworkers typically runs from April to September.

During 1977-1980, Stokely used the Interstate Recruitment System established under the Wagner-Peyser Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 49, et seq.*fn4 This system is a cooperative program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and state employment services that enables employers to use governmental resources to recruit workers in states with low demand for labor to work in states with high demand. In each of the years in question, Stokely submitted "clearance orders," or requests for workers, to the Illinois State Employment Service ("ISES") which described the terms and conditions of the employment it offered and detailed Stokely's requirements. Those clearance orders, after passing inspection at the ISES, were forwarded to the Department of Labor and the Texas Employment Commission ("TEC"). In addition to the clearance orders, Stokely prepared other forms required by Illinois law, including ISES form 560-C, describing the terms and conditions of the employment. The clearance orders were in English only, while form 560-C was in both Spanish and English.

In addition to the Interstate Recruitment System, and as a supplement to it, Stokely employees participated in the recruitment effort. Appellant Solis was employed by Stokely, as a year-round employee in 1977 and 1978 and as a seasonal employee in 1979 and 1980, as its Texas-based agent for recruiting workers to work in Stokely's Illinois operations. Appellant Vasquez served as Stokely's agent during the spring recruitment effort in Texas during all the years in question. Stokely also sent employee representatives to Texas each year to meet and discuss recruiting needs with Solis and Vasquez and other crew leaders prior to recruitment. Solis was particularly crucial in the recruitment process. Solis contacted farmworkers, explained Stokely's needs and conditions of employment and acted as a general supervisory liaison between Stokely, the TEC and the Farmworkers. Solis was also responsible for seeing that the Farmworkers both executed all necessary forms and contracts and received copies of form 560-C, the clearance orders and other documents. Solis had authority to sign contractual documents as a representative of Stokely.

The case before us is essentially a dispute between the Farmworkers and Stokely over Stokely's, and its representatives', failure to comply with certain of the disclosure obligations imposed on farm labor contractors by federal law. After extensive discovery and an eight-day bench trial, the district court concluded that Stokely was a "farm labor contractor" within the meaning of section 2042 of FLCRA, 7 U.S.C. § 2042, and was thus obligated to comply with the disclosure provisions of FLCRA. The district court further found that Stokely and its representatives failed to comply with several of the disclosure obligations enumerated in FLCRA. The court granted both equitable relief mandating future compliance with FLCRA and compensatory monetary damages to the plaintiff class.

On appeal, the appellants raise several issues. Appellants contend that the district court erred in certifying this case as a class action, in finding Stokely to be a "farm labor contractor" within the meaning of FLCRA, in construing FLCRA to apply to the activities of Stokely at issue in this case, and in finding that the appellants had violated any of the disclosure provisions of FLCRA. The appellants also assert that the damages awarded by the district court were excessive and punitive.

II.

A. Class Action ...


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