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MARQUES v. TELLES RANCH

October 4, 1994

ELOY MARQUES, ERNESTO YZQUIERDO, NOEL YZQUIERDO, Plaintiffs,
v.
TELLES RANCH, INC., MAYFAIR FARMS, a partnership, TELLES FARMS, a partnership, and FRANK R. TELLES, d/b/a F.R. TELLES, a sole proprietorship, Defendants.


JAMES WARE, United States District Judge


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES WARE

I. INTRODUCTION

 In 1988 Congress enacted the Federal Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2101 et seq. ("WARN"). WARN affords protection for workers by requiring employers to provide sixty days advance notice of plant closings and mass layoffs. This case requires the Court to consider whether lettuce harvesting companies which use seasonal employees are covered by WARN and, if so, whether the company's notice given at the end of the season that the company was terminating harvesting operations violated WARN. These issues are presented by Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Defendants' Cross-motion for Summary Judgment, or Alternative Motion for Summary Adjudication of Issues. After considering the moving and opposition papers, arguments of counsel and all other matters presented, the Court finds in favor of Plaintiffs that WARN applies and finds in favor of Defendants that the notice given at the end of the season was timely. Therefore, the Court hereby GRANTS Partial Summary Judgment as set forth below.

 II. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiffs are a class of agricultural laborers. Telles Ranch, Inc., Mayfair Farms, Telles Farms, and Frank R. Telles d/b/a/ F.R. Telles ("Defendants"), operate a lettuce harvesting business in Salinas, Coalinga, and Huron, California and Yuma and Tacna, Arizona. The lettuce harvesting operations are divided into two areas: the northern area, composed of Coalinga/Huron and Salinas; and the southern area, composed of Tacna and Yuma. All members of the class in this action worked harvesting lettuce for Defendants in the northern area. During the season, which lasted from approximately April through November, the employees were required to start work in Huron, move to Salinas, and finish the harvest in Huron. Twenty-eight class members also worked in the southern area during the off-season.

 At the end of each harvest season, all lettuce harvesting employees who worked through the last day of the season would receive a standard form captioned "Employment, Change and Termination." This form had a box designated "layoff" which would be checked by the foreman on the notices distributed to lettuce harvesting employees. The date written on the notices was the date the workers were to call the office to find out when the season would begin so that they would know the date to report back. Over the years a regular pattern developed. Each year employees would work from the beginning of April until the end of November. December through March was the off-season. Many of the lettuce harvesting employees would file claims for unemployment insurance benefits during the off season.

 At some point before the conclusion of the 1991 season in Huron, Defendants decided to terminate their own harvesting and to hire a farm labor contracting company to do their lettuce harvesting beginning with the 1992 season. All of the lettuce harvesting employees received their regular layoff notices on November 27, 1991 and they all were paid for the Thanksgiving holiday, November 28, 1991. However, unlike previous years, on November 29, 1991, William A. Jones, the general farm manager for Defendants, gave a notice to all lettuce harvesting employees that the company was terminating its lettuce harvesting operation. *fn1"

 Plaintiffs claim that the termination notice given to them on the last day of the season, November 29, 1991, was in violation of the WARN Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2101 et seq. because they were not given sixty (60) days advance notice. Defendants contend that WARN does not apply, but if it does, they complied with WARN because WARN does not apply to the off-season and employees were given more than sixty (60) days notice that there would be no work at the beginning of the season. None of Defendants' lettuce harvesting employees were recalled to work within six months of November 29, 1991.

 On April 5, 1994, the Court stayed discovery in this case relevant to the issues of alter ego liability, single enterprise liability and the unforeseen business circumstances defense *fn2" and ordered the parties to file cross-motions for summary judgment on the following issues: (1) whether Defendants are an employer as defined under the WARN Act, (2) whether there was a plant closing or mass layoff as those terms are defined under WARN, and (3) whether seasonal employees are entitled to WARN notice. The Defendants papers have further addressed the issue of whether the notice given to the lettuce harvesting employees was adequate under WARN. Below the Court addresses the above-referenced issues only as they apply to class-members who were "seasonal" employees of Defendants. Issues regarding Defendants' employees who were employed for the entire year and Defendants' employees who worked in the southern area during the off-season will not be decided in this Order.

 III. LEGAL STANDARDS

 Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. " Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The purpose of summary judgment" is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." Celotex v. Catrell, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986).

 The moving party "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The moving party's burden will be discharged upon a showing to the court that, after adequate time for discovery, there is an absence of evidence on an essential element of the non-moving party's case and that the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on that element. Id. at 322.

 The non-moving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The non-moving party cannot defeat the moving party's properly supported motion for summary judgment simply by alleging some factual dispute between the parties. To preclude the entry of summary judgment, the non-moving party must bring forth "facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. . . . Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

 The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, including questions of credibility and of the weight to be accorded particular evidence. Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496, 111 S. Ct. 2419, 2434-35, 115 L. Ed. 2d 447 (1991) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 588, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). It is the Court's responsibility "to determine whether the 'specific facts' set forth by the nonmoving party, coupled with undisputed background or contextual facts, are such that a rational or reasonable jury might return a verdict in its favor based on that evidence." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

 IV. DISCUSSION

 A. Defendants are an Employer Under Warn

 The Worker's Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2101(a), defines an employer as

 
any business enterprise that employs
 
(A) 100 or more employees, excluding part-time employees; or
 
(B) 100 or more employees who in the aggregate work at least 4000 hours per week (exclusive of hours of overtime)

 Telles Ranch, Inc. is a California Corporation and is therefore a business enterprise under the statute. Every week between May 1, 1991 and November 30, 1991, except the weeks of November 10th and November 24th, Defendants employed 100 or more employees who in the aggregate worked at least 4000 hours per week exclusive of overtime. Accordingly, Defendants are an employer under WARN. *fn3"

 B. Defendants' Action was a 'Plant Closing' Under WARN

 The WARN Act defines a "plant closing" as follows:

 
the term "plant closing" means the permanent or temporary shutdown of a single site of employment or one or more facilities or operating units within a single site of employment, if the shutdown results in an employment loss at the single site of employment during any ...

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