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Harrington v. Department of Labor and Industry

Decided: November 9, 1978.

MAUDE HARRINGTON ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRY ET AL., DEFENDANTS



Francis, A.j.s.c.

Francis

Plaintiffs have brought this action on behalf of themselves and other farm laborers similarly situated to compel enforcement of N.J.S.A. 34:9A-37 to 41, the Drinking Water and Toilet Facilities Act (henceforth the field sanitation provisions). Defendant, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Industry, charged with enforcing the act, ceased such enforcement because it claims the act is inseparable from the Seasonal Farm Labor Act, N.J.S.A. 34:9A-1 et seq. The latter act has, in part, been preempted by OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 651 et seq.), and is to that extent inoperative. There is no contention that the field sanitation provisions are preempted. The sole issue is whether or not these provisions are enforceable apart from the Seasonal Farm Labor Act.

Severability of a statute is a matter of legislative intent. Affiliated Distillers Brands Corp. v. Sills , 60 N.J. 342 (1972); State v. Lanza , 27 N.J. 516 (1958). Legislative intent is generally aided by a presumption of severability and "must be determined on the basis of whether the objectionable feature of the statute can be excised without substantial impairment of the principal object of the statute." Affiliated Distillers Brands Corp. v. Sills, supra 60 N.J. at 345.

The presumption is not a strong one and is further weakened by N.J.S.A. 1:1-10, which states:

If any title, subtitle, chapter, article or section of the Revised Statutes or any provision thereof, shall be declared to be unconstitutional, invalid or inoperative in whole or in part, by a court of competent jurisdiction, such title, subtitle, chapter, article, section or provision shall to the extent that it is not unconstitutional, invalid or inoperative [ sic ], be enforced and effectuated and no such determination shall be deemed to invalidate or make ineffectual the remaining titles, subtitles, chapters, articles, sections or provisions.

The Seasonal Farm Labor Act is constitutional but has been rendered at least partially inoperative by OSHA: indeed the Law Division stated in Five Migrant Farmworkers v. Hoffman , 136 N.J. Super. 242 (Law Div. 1975), that "there are left no requirements of the Seasonal Farm Labor Act as to which there must be compliance" (at 248).*fn1

Secondly, the presumption is not mandatory but is rather an interpretive tool to be used by the courts in determining the legislative intent. See State v. Lanza , 27 N.J. 516 (1958). That case explains:

The statute before the court has no separability provision, but this does not permit us to conclude that the Drinking Water and Field Toilet Act is inoperative along with the Seasonal Farm Labor Act. In fact, we conclude quite otherwise. Fundamentally we consider the acts to be separate and distinct parts of an overall statutory scheme whose object is the improvement and oversight of migrant labor conditions. State v. Shack , 58 N.J. 297 (1971), recognized that migrant farmworkers are "a highly disadvantaged segment of our society". They are "a community within but apart from the local scene. They are rootless and isolated. Although the need for their labors is evident, they are unorganized and without economic or political power. It is

their plight alone that summoned government to their aid" (at 303).

Chapter 9A of the New Jersey Labor and Workmen's Compensation Act represents New Jersey's response to the migrant farmworkers' problem as part of the overall regulation of labor within the state. There are two sections in this chapter. One is the Seasonal Farm Labor Act, N.J.S.A. 34:9A-1 to 36, which is entitled in the annotation to the first section, "An act relating to labor camps, supplementing Title 34 of the Revised Statutes, and establishing a bureau of migrant labor in the Department of Labor and Industry, defining the functions, powers and duties of the bureau and abolishing the migrant labor board and vesting its functions, powers and duties in the Commissioner of Labor and Industry." The second is entitled Drinking Water and Toilet Facilities, and its title is described in the annotation to N.J.S.A. 34:9A-37 as an "Act to require the furnishing of drinking water and toilet facilities to seasonal farm workers while working in the fields, and providing penalties for violations."

It seems clear from these quite separate titles that the Legislature passed two separate acts regarding migrant labor. Further suggestions that this was indeed their intention lie in the provision of separate penalty sections (N.J.S.A. 34:9A-17 and 34 in the Seasonal Farm Labor Act; N.J.S.A. 34:9A-40 and 41 in the Drinking Water and Toilet Facilities Act), and in the fact that immediately after the field sanitation act was passed the legislature passed N.J.S.A. 34:9A-7.1 to 7.4, and entitled those sections "A Supplement to the 'Seasonal Farm Labor Act.'" Immediately before those two acts the Legislature passed a crew leader act as Chapter 8A of Title 34 (N.J.S.A. 34:8A-7 to 17). This act clearly shows a legislative intent to protect the seasonal farm worker and goes so far as to ...


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