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Gaudencio Garcia-Celestino et al. and Individually, and On Behalf of v. Ruiz Harvesting

February 24, 2012

GAUDENCIO GARCIA-CELESTINO ET AL. AND INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER PERSONS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RUIZ HARVESTING, INC., BASILISO RUIZ, AND CONSOLIDATED CITRUS LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Plaintiffs' Motion for Declaration of a Class Action and Supporting Memorandum of Law (Dkt. 55), Defendant Consolidated Citrus Limited Partnership's Memorandum in opposition (Dkt. 65), and Plaintiffs' Reply. The Court, having considered the motion, response, reply, and record evidence, concludes that the motion should be granted.

BACKGROUND*fn1

This is an action by 38 migrant farm workers employed by Defendants Ruiz Harvesting, Inc. ("Ruiz Harvesting"), Basiliso Ruiz ("Ruiz"), and Consolidated Citrus Limited Partnership ("CCLP") to pick citrus fruit in central Florida in the 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, and/or 2009-10 harvest seasons. Plaintiffs bring this action, on behalf of themselves and their co-workers who picked citrus fruit for Defendants during these periods of time, to secure and vindicate rights afforded them by the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. §§1801, et seq. ("AWPA"), the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§201, et seq. ("FLSA"), the minimum wage provisions of the Florida Constitution, federal regulations governing the temporary foreign agricultural worker program, and common law.

Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that Defendants failed to pay minimum wages as required by the FLSA and Florida Constitution with regard to their employment picking oranges during the 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, and/or 2009-10 citrus harvests. Ruiz Harvesting employed agricultural "guest workers" recruited from Mexico pursuant to the temporary agricultural work visa program, commonly known as the "H-2A program." 8 U.S.C. §1188.*fn2

These guest workers ("H-2A workers") had written contracts of employment with Ruiz Harvesting that included specific representations regarding wages, hours, and working conditions. Specifically, as a condition of importing agricultural guest workers, Ruiz filed detailed job descriptions with the United States Department of Labor. These documents, commonly referred to as "clearance orders," described the job terms, most of which were dictated by federal regulations governing the H-2A program. These clearance orders served as the employment contracts between Ruiz Harvesting and the H-2A workers. See 20 C.F.R. §653.501, 655.102, and 655.103.

Plaintiffs' amended complaint alleges that during their employment, Defendants breached the terms of the clearance orders by failing to pay them the promised wage for all hours worked. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants also failed to reimburse them for costs they incurred primarily for the benefit of Defendants to the extent that these costs reduced Plaintiffs' earnings for their first week of work below the required hourly rate. In sum, Plaintiffs contend that Defendants breached the terms of the clearance orders in three respects as follows: (1) Defendants required Plaintiffs to kick back the supplemental wages designed to boost their weekly earnings; (2) Defendants automatically deducted an hour from each picker's recorded work time during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 harvests to account for travel time between the grove check-in gate and the work site; and (3) Defendants failed to fully reimburse Plaintiffs for their inbound and outbound transportation, visa, and subsistence expenses.

Plaintiffs ("Representative Plaintiffs")*fn3 seek to represent a class consisting of:

All temporary foreign workers ("H-2A workers") who were employed pursuant to temporary labor certifications issued to Ruiz Harvesting, Inc. for work during the 2007-08, 2008-09 and/or 2009-10 Florida citrus harvests.

The alleged class is comprised of approximately 286 guest workers residing in several different states in Mexico. Plaintiffs seek class action status on Counts V and VI of their amended complaint. Count V is a breach of contract claim with respect to Defendants' violations of the clearance orders. Count VI is a claim under the Florida Constitution's minimum wage provisions.

Defendant CCLP opposes Plaintiffs' motion for declaration of a class action with respect to Counts V and VI of the amended complaint.*fn4

ANALYSIS OF CLASS CERTIFICATION

The question of whether to certify a class is left to the sound discretion of the district court. Babineau v. Federal Exp. Corp., 576 F.3d 1183, 1189 (11th Cir. 2009). The party moving for class certification has the burden of proof to establish the propriety of the class certification. Busby v. JRHBW Realty, Inc., 513 F.3d 1314, 1322 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Valley Drug Co. v. Geneva Pharm., Inc., 350 F.3d 1181, 1187 (11th Cir. 2003)). As a prerequisite to certification, the putative class representatives must have Article III standing to pursue the claims on which class-related relief is sought. Id. Also, in order to certify a class, all the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a) must be met, as well as one requirement of Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b). Luna v. Del Monte Fresh Produce (Southeast), Inc., 2009 WL 4366953, at *1 (11th Cir. Dec. 3, 2009).

The four elements required for class certification under Rule 23(a) are: (1) numerosity, the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) commonality, there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) typicality, the claims or defenses of the class are typical; and (4) adequacy, the class representative will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. Id. (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)); Hines v. Widnall, 334 F.3d 1253, 1255-56 (11th Cir. 2003); Franze v. Equitable Assurance, 296 F.3d 1250, 1253 (11th Cir. 2002).

The district court is required to evaluate the requirements of a class certification even if not seriously contested by the defendants. Valley Drug Co., 350 F.3d at 1188. The court should not determine the merits of the claims at the class certification stage, however, the court can consider the merits of the case "to the degree necessary to determine whether the requirements of Rule 23 will be satisfied." Heffner v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ala., Inc., 443 F.3d 1330, 1337 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting Valley Drug, 350 F.3d at 1188 n. 15).

STANDING

Initially, the Court must determine that Plaintiffs have standing pursuant to Article III to raise each class claim. Busby, 513 F.3d at 1321 (citing Klay v. Humana, Inc., 382 F.3d 1241, 1250 (11th Cir.2004)). "Without individual standing to raise a legal claim, a named representative does not have the requisite typicality to raise the same claim on behalf of a class." Hines,334 F.3d at 1256.

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants employed them as H-2A workers during the 2007-08, 2008-09 and/or 2009-10 Florida citrus harvests, and that they were subject to unlawful practices that form the breach of contract claim and Florida minimum wage claim.

After a review of the allegations in the amended complaint, the Court concludes that the putative class representatives have standing to pursue ...


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