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Mountain Brook Orchards Inc. v. Marshall

decided as amended march 6 1981.: January 21, 1981.

MOUNTAIN BROOK ORCHARDS, INC., APPELLEE
v.
RAY MARSHALL, SECRETARY OF LABOR, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, APPELLANT



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 79-0802)

Before Seitz, Chief Judge, Higginbotham, Circuit Judge and Meanor, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Higginbotham

Opinion OF THE COURT

For almost two decades Congress has been concerned with the exploitation of migrant labor in agriculture. The record demonstrates that often migrant laborers have been cheated of their wages, overcharged for their purchases, transported in unsafe and uninsured vehicles, and forced to live in run down unsanitary housing that was destructive of their health and a repudiation of their inherent dignity as human beings.*fn1 While the plight of the victim has been self-evident, the specific solutions for eradicating these wholesale injustices have been more elusive. One of the Congressional tools designed to deter the worst abuses has been passage of statutes which require farm labor contractors to be certified by the Department of Labor and which prohibit any person from engaging the service of a farm labor contractor "unless he first determines that the farm labor contractor possesses a certificate from the Secretary that is in full force and effect at the time he contracts with the farm labor contractor." 7 U.S.C. § 2043(c) (hereinafter § 2043(c)).*fn2 For purposes of this appeal, the primary issue is whether a grower has violated the statute when he places a farm labor contractor in control of housing when the contractor has been certified for some purposes, but not for housing matters.

In effect, the district court held that a farm labor contractor's certification under § 2043(c) for any one endeavor, was a certification in "full force and effect" for all endeavors. We disagree with the lower court and reverse. Since the other issues raised by the grower were not reached by the district court because of its construction of § 2043(c), we remand the case for the court's adjudication of each of those issues.*fn3

I.

The pertinent facts of this case are not in dispute. Mountain Brook Orchards (hereinafter Mountain Brook) runs an orchard comprising some eight hundred acres on which it grows fruit such as apples and peaches. In the summer of 1977, Mountain Brook hired Frank Lowe, Ozzie Lovett, and Emmett Rozier as farm labor contractors. In this capacity, they furnished migrant laborers to help in harvesting the orchard's crop. The contractors possessed an unrevoked and current certificate of registration which authorized them to recruit, solicit, hire, furnish and transport migrant workers; but they were not authorized to house migrant workers. Mountain Brook admitted that the certificate cards of contractors Lowe, Lovett and Rozier were marked "Not Authorized" for housing in 1977 at a time when each of the contractors and the migrant labor force were living in housing at Mountain Brook. App. at 112. Thus, none of the contractors were certified to house migrant workers when they were hired. When Jerry Edwards, the manager of Mountain Brook, hired them, he inspected each of their certificates of registration, and, at that time he was made aware that each registration card clearly showed upon its face that the contractor was not authorized to house migrant workers.

II.

These proceedings started when on February 17, 1978 and March 15, 1978 the Secretary of Labor (hereinafter Secretary) assessed civil money damages totalling $750.00 against Mountain Brook pursuant to Section 9(b)(1), 7 U.S.C. § 2048(b)(1). He alleged that the owner violated § 2043(c) by engaging an unregistered farm labor contractor. A hearing was timely requested by Mountain Brook. On April 10, 1978, this hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Eli Nash, Jr. in Harrisburg. In a thoughtful opinion he discussed the pivotal question, which is not now before us,*fn4 as to whether Mountain Brook or the labor contractors were in "control" of the housing within the context of the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act (hereinafter the Act). After concluding that the contractors were in control of the housing he affirmed the Secretary's assessment of the $750.00 penalty. Mountain Brook appealed to the district court, which reversed the ALJ's decision and found the Secretary's interpretation of § 2043(c) erroneous. In arguing this appeal, the counsel for the Secretary stressed that their interest was not in the nullification of a $750.00 fine but rather a concern that the trial court's interpretation was "... plainly unreasonable in light of the certificate itself, the statutory language and legislative intent." Appellant's brief at 27.

III.

As the Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed "in any case concerning the interpretation of a statute the "starting point' must be the language of the statute itself." Reiter v. Sonotone Corporation, 442 U.S. 330, 337, 99 S. Ct. 2326, 2330, 60 L. Ed. 2d 931 (1979), See also Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, 442 U.S. 560, 568, 99 S. Ct. 2479, 2485, 61 L. Ed. 2d 82 (1979); Southeastern Community College v. Davis, 442 U.S. 397, 405, 99 S. Ct. 2361, 2366, 60 L. Ed. 2d 980 (1979); Lewis v. United States, 445 U.S. 55, 60, 100 S. Ct. 915, 918, 63 L. Ed. 2d 198 (1979). Section 2043(c), provides:

No person shall engage the services of any farm labor contractor unless he first determines that the farm labor contractor possesses a certificate from the Secretary that is in full force and effect at the time he contracts with the farm labor contractor. (Emphasis added).

The statutory construction issue here is what constitutes a certificate that is in full force and effect. Would a certificate granted for supplying migrant laborers be a valid certificate "in full force and effect" for transporting migrant labor? Would a certificate for transporting migrant labor be a certificate "in full force and effect" for the providing of housing services? For our purposes we must accept as correct the ALJ's finding that the farm labor contractors were in fact providing housing services, even though they did not have a Department of Labor certificate to provide housing services and even though on their actual certificate it was noted that they were "unauthorized" to provide housing services. Was engagement of the farm labor contractors who provided housing services a violation by the grower of § 2043(c)? The ALJ said providing such services clearly was in violation of the statute because § 2043(c) "... is clear on its face, and full force and effect means exactly what it says that a certificate card only partially in effect is not valid" when the contractor is providing services for which there is no certification. App. at 114. In contrast the district judge held that § 2043(c) merely "requires the user of migrant laborers to first determine that the farm labor contractor possesses a certificate from the Secretary that is in effect, unrevoked," and that the unrevoked certificate is "in full force and effect" even for those services which the contractor had ...


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