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Margarita Rosales and Angelica Rosales, On v. El Rancho Farms and Does 1 To 20

July 5, 2012



I. History

Defendant El Rancho Farms ("El Rancho") is a commercial table grape grower based in Kern County. El Rancho does not directly employ workers; instead, El Rancho works with various farm labor contractors ("FLCs"), who provide workers. Plaintiffs Margarita Rosales and Angelica Rosales ("Plaintiffs") worked in El Rancho's facilities through 2005 and 2004 respectively. Plaintiffs were directly employed by a FLC known as Garza Contracting Inc. ("Garza"). Garza is not a defendant in this case.

This case had its genesis in 2004 in state court. The case was initially brought by third party workers as a potential class action against third party FLCs and other table grape growers. On September 12, 2005, Angelica Rosales and El Rancho were added as plaintiff and defendant. The case was removed to federal court in 2005 under federal question jurisdiction. Meanwhile, a parallel potential class action case against El Rancho and the other table grape growers was filed in federal court on November 9, 2005. After various motions, the two cases were consolidated and severed. The end result was that in each case, the defendant was one table grape grower and the plaintiffs are current or former workers seeking to represent a class action.

The operative complaint in this case alleges violations of the federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act; failure to pay wages; failure to pay reporting time wages; failure to provide rest and meal periods; failure to pay wages of terminated or resigned employees; knowing and intentional failure to comply with itemized employee wage statement provisions; penalties under Cal. Labor Code § 2699, et seq; breach of contract; and violation of the unfair competition law. Doc. 1. Generally, Plaintiffs allege El Rancho has failed to comply with a variety of California labor laws, chiefly failing to pay minimum wage, forcing employees off the clock, forcing employees to purchase their own tools, failing to provide adequate meal and rest periods, failing to provide adequate wage statements, and failing to keep adequate time records. Plaintiffs seek to represent four classes comprising of El Rancho workers covering 2000 to the present. Notably, the complaint indicates that Plaintiffs seek to represent all workers of El Rancho who have suffered labor violations regardless of which FLC they worked for.

Plaintiffs made a motion for class certification on September, 9, 2011, which El Rancho opposed. In the motion, Plaintiffs sought to certify four classes: an unpaid rest break class, untimely rest and meal break class, off the clock work class, and purchasing tools class. These proposed classes covered all fieldworkers employed by El Rancho from March 5, 2000 to the present. Doc. 33, 1:17-2:2. The motion made no distinction between employees of the various FLCs. Magistrate Judge Thurston issued a findings and recommendation denying Plaintiffs' motion ("F&R"). Doc. 52. In part Judge Thurston examined whether the workers were actually employed by El Rancho. There is no dispute that the potential class members were directly employed by FLCs. Plaintiffs argued that El Rancho was a joint employer. Judge Thurston held a hearing on the matter on December 7, 2011. Going through the relevant factors, Judge Thurston concluded that El Rancho was not a joint employer for the purposes of the motion only, recognizing that a decision on the merits on the question of joint employer status was not properly part of a motion for class certification. Doc. 52, 27:19-25. Turning to the Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 23 requirements, Judge Thurston found that Plaintiffs failed to show commonality (and consequently typicality) in the four proposed classes. Plaintiffs filed objections to the F&R on December 27, 2011. After review of the filed objections, the F&R was adopted in full. Doc. 56.

Plaintiffs have made a motion for reconsideration based on new evidence and a motion to certify the issue of class certification for interlocutory appeal. Docs. 60 and 66. The motion for reconsideration seeks to establish that Garza and El Rancho are joint employers. Based on such a finding, Plaintiffs seek to certify three narrowed classes (an untimely rest and meal break class, off the clock work class, and purchasing tools class) encompassing only those workers jointly employed by El Rancho and Garza. Doc. 63, Part 1, 2:4-8. El Rancho opposes both motions and objects to the change in proposed class definition. Additionally, El Rancho filed a motion for summary judgment against the named Defendants. Docs. 81 and 82.

II. Legal Standards

"Reconsideration is appropriate if the district court (1) is presented with newly discovered evidence, (2) committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly unjust, or (3) if there is an intervening change in controlling law. There may also be other, highly unusual, circumstances warranting reconsideration." School Dist. No. 1J Multnomah County v. ACandS, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir. 1993), citations omitted.

III. Discussion

A. New Evidence

Plaintiffs assert "at its recent deposition Garza confirmed that the material joint employer terms have been in effect throughout the class period. Prior to this deposition, the Agreement had not been authenticated, nor had Defendant El Rancho Farms or Garza acknowledged the existence of the agreement or the fact they had intentionally and voluntarily entered into a joint employer relationship." Doc. 63, Part 1, 2:15-19. The agreement between El Rancho and Garza was executed on June 1, 2005, and specifically states that "It is the intention of the parties, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and for purposes of workers compensation, to create a 'joint employer" relationship." Doc. 61, Part 1, Ex. 1. The deposition of Garza's person most knowledgable took place on February 7, 2012. Doc. 61, 1:14-16. The F&R had concluded that El Rancho "was not a 'joint employer' as defined by the FLSA and the AWPA nor was it a 'joint employer' as that phrase is used by Plaintiffs in their proposed class definitions" but noted that "whether El Rancho was a joint employer, should not be the sole reason for denying the motion for class certification." Doc. 52, 27:19-24. For the three proposed classes Plaintiffs seek reconsideration on, the F&R analyzed the evidence apart from the issue of joint employment and found that Plaintiffs failed to meet the Rule 23 standard. Based on the new evidence, Plaintiffs assert "these classes should be certified because the lack of commonality this Court found due to the various FLC's used by El Rancho and the lack of joint employer relationship between El Ranch and Garza disappears." Doc. 63, Part 1, 2:9-11.

El Rancho argues that there is no new evidence as the agreement referenced by Plaintiffs was produced by El Rancho on June 23, 2011, well before Plaintiffs filed their motion for class certification on September 9, 2011. Doc. 70, 2:3-5. Further, Plaintiffs took the deposition of El Rancho's person most knowledgeable on September 7, 2011, but did not inquire about the referenced agreement at that time. Doc. 70, 2:13-18. Plaintiffs do not address this contention, stating that "further evidence supporting the existence of joint employer relationship between El Rancho and Garza has recently been confirmed." Doc. 72, 2:13-14. "[T]o support a motion for reconsideration...based upon newly discovered evidence, the movant is obliged to show not only that this evidence was newly discovered or unknown to it until after the hearing, but also that it could not with reasonable diligence have discovered and produced such evidence at the hearing." Frederick S. Wyle Professional Corp. v. Texaco, Inc., 764 F.2d 604, 609 (9th Cir. 1985), citations omitted. Plaintiffs reference to authentication of the agreement between El Rancho and Garza does not qualify as new evidence. Plaintiffs possessed a copy of the agreement in June 2011, before filing the motion for class certification. That alone is enough to disqualify the evidence as new. Further, authentication could have been accomplished before December 2011.

Reconsideration based on new evidence is not warranted. For the purposes of class certification, Plaintiffs have not established that El ...

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