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Deck v. Peter Romein's Sons

March 24, 1997




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 91 C 2421 Harold A. Baker, Judge.


CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge.



On October 26, 1990, Jose Jesus Calderon, a migrant farm worker, was killed in an automobile accident while traveling from one work site in rural St. Anne, Illinois to another. Gregory Deck, administrator of Calderon's estate, brought suit against Peter Romein's Sons, Inc. ("PRSI"), for whom Calderon had worked during the 1990 season, asserting survival and wrongful death claims under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("AWPA" or "the Act"), 29 U.S.C. sec. 1801 et seq. *fn1 While this action was pending in the district court, Congress amended the AWPA to provide, among other things, that "where a State workers' compensation law is applicable and coverage is provided for a migrant or seasonal agricultural worker, the workers' compensation benefits shall be the exclusive remedy" for the death or bodily injury of such a worker. Pub. L. 104-49, sec. 1(a), 109 Stat. 432 (1995), codified at 29 U.S.C. sec. 1854(d)(1). The amendment further provides that this exclusivity provision "shall apply to all cases in which a final judgment has not been entered." Id. sec. 1(b), 109 Stat. 432 (1995). Giving effect to this new amendment, the district court dismissed Deck's action. In a two-page Order dismissing the suit entered on May 17, 1996, the district judge noted that in a previous decision he had determined that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether PRSI was Calderon's employer on the day of the accident; however, in the May 17 Order the judge reasoned:

[T]here is no need to decide this factual issue because no foreseeable result would save the case from dismissal. If [PRSI] were found to be an employer, they [sic] would be protected from liability by the Workers' Compensation exclusivity provisions of the AWPA amendments. If [PRSI] were found not to be an employer, they [sic] would be free from any liability at all under any statute -- state workers' compensation or federal AWPA. Therefore, employer status, although undecided, is not relevant.

Because this Court concludes that Deck's AWPA action may proceed even if PRSI is not found to have been Calderon's employer on the day of the accident, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings.


The issues presented in this appeal raise purely legal questions of statutory construction concerning the AWPA's scope of coverage and the constitutionality of the recent amendments to the Act; therefore, we shall recite the facts relating to the underlying accident only summarily to provide some context for the discussion. Jose Calderon and David Lopez were migrant workers who worked in St. Anne, Illinois during the 1990 season. PRSI is a farming concern, with its principal place of business in St. Anne, specializing in gladioli and vegetables. Marion Romein ("Romein") is half-owner of PRSI. Both Calderon and Lopez were temporary employees of PRSI during the 1990 season and they resided at the barracks on Romein's farm during that season.

On the morning of October 26, 1990, Romein was out in the yard giving instructions for the day's work to Maximo Frias, who was essentially the foreman at PRSI. Frias spoke both English and Spanish and had been with PRSI for several years. Romein, who did not speak Spanish, would give instructions to Frias, who, in turn, would convey the instructions in Spanish to the workers. At about 9:00 that morning, Richard Soucie, who was half-owner of Kankakee Valley Flowers and Produce, Inc. ("Kankakee Valley"), came to Romein's farm looking for extra farmhands. *fn2 He was accompanied by two Kankakee Valley migrant workers, Adolpho Ramirez and Eliseo Campos. There is dispute in the record about who said what to whom and where, *fn3 but there is no dispute that Calderon and Lopez went off to work with Soucie, riding in the back of Soucie's truck. It is also undisputed that Calderon and Lopez left with Romein's permission. As a matter of co-operation among farmers in the area, it was customary that if one farmer had workers available that were not being used on a given day, a farmer needing extra hands could call upon the farmer with excess labor to provide him with workers.

At about noon that day, Eliseo Campos drove Calderon and Lopez back to Romein's farm for lunch. Campos returned about an hour later to drive them back to work at a Kankakee Valley farm. Later that day, Soucie wanted the workers to go to another Kankakee Valley work site. He instructed Campos to follow him in a Kankakee Valley truck with Calderon and Lopez. En route, Campos lost control of the truck and rolled into a ditch. Calderon was thrown from the truck and killed. Lopez was severely injured. *fn4

Deck brought this lawsuit pursuant to the AWPA's private right of action provision, which provides: "Any person aggrieved by a violation of this chapter or any regulation under this chapter by a[n] . . . agricultural employer . . . may file suit in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties . . . ." 29 U.S.C. sec. 1854(a). Deck's second amended complaint alleged that Calderon suffered injuries caused by PRSI's intentional violations of the Act's motor vehicle safety requirements, 29 U.S.C. sec. 1841, and accompanying regulations, 29 C.F.R. sec. 500.105. Although the original complaint in this case was filed on October 22, 1991, the case was still pending over four years later when, on November 15, 1995, Congress passed Public Law 104-49, 109 Stat. 432, amending the AWPA. Thereafter, the district court granted PRSI's motion to dismiss, which was based on the newly enacted workers' compensation exclusivity provision. At issue in this appeal is whether the AWPA's private right of action provision encompasses suits by an aggrieved migrant worker against an agricultural employer that is not the worker's employer at the time of the occurrence giving rise to the suit, and whether the 1995 workers' compensation exclusivity amendment may be applied constitutionally to cases pending at the time of its enactment.


Retroactiv ...

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