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MALDONADO v. LUCCA

May 1, 1986

EFRAIN MALDONADO, JESUS COLON, RENE TORRES, NELSON GARCIA, HECTOR COLON, REINALDO CLARIN, ANGEL CARABALLO, DANIEL CARABALLO, HERNAN CORTES, LUIS ACEVEDO, BENJAMIN PABON, ROBERTO CLAUDIO, PABLO SANCHEZ, ALFREDO MUNIZ, FELIPE MELENDEZ, and KETSY ALICEA (MERCED), Plaintiffs,
v.
RUSTY LUCCA, LAWRENCE ERRERA, d/b/a BAR O FARMS, and PEDRO BERMUDEZ, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BROTMAN

 This opinion addresses the amount of damages, attorney's fees, and costs owed to plaintiffs by defendants Rusty Lucca and Lawrence Errera, d/b/a Bar O Farms. On February 24, 1986 the court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law, pursuant to a week-long trial on liability issues. The court found, inter alia, that defendants Lucca and Errera were "joint employers" with crewleader and co-defendant Pedro Bermudez under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("MSPA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1801 et seq. Accordingly, they are liable to plaintiffs for unpaid minimum wages for work performed on defendants' blueberry farm in the summer of 1984.

 The damage phase of the trial was held March 10, 1986. At its conclusion, counsel for defendants Lucca and Errera stipulated that the figures set out in the Joint Final Pre-Trial Order accurately represented the unpaid minimum wages owed to plaintiffs. The aggregate amount of unpaid wages is $3,636.81. *fn1" The FLSA provides that successful plaintiffs shall recover costs and attorney's fees. Accordingly, plaintiffs' counsel has filed a motion for costs and attorney's fees.

 Factual and Legal Background

 The court incorporates by reference its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Maldonado v. Lucca, 629 F. Supp. 483 (D.N.J. 1986).

 A. Damages

 1. FLSA

 a. Actual Damages

 As noted, defendants stipulated that actual damages total $3,636.81 for violation of the minimum wage provision, 29 U.S.C. § 206(a) (5).

 b. Liquidated Damages

 Section 216(b) of the FLSA provides that defendants found to have violated the act's minimum wage or maximum hour provisions shall pay to plaintiffs damages consisting of unpaid wages and "an additional equal amount as liquidated damages." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). However, employers have a defense to this otherwise mandatory liquidated damages provision. Section 11 of the Portal-to-Portal Act, 29 U.S.C. § 260, provides:

 
if the employer shows to the satisfaction of the court that the act or omission giving rise to such action was in good faith and that he had reasonable grounds for believing that his act or omission was not a violation of the [FLSA], the court may, in its sound discretion, award no liquidated damages or award any amount thereof not to exceed the amount specified in section 216 of this title.

 29 U.S.C. § 260.

 The employer thus has the "'plain and substantial burden of persuading the court by proof that his failure to obey the statute was both in good faith and predicated upon such reasonable grounds that it would be unfair to impose upon him more than a compensatory verdict.'" Marshall v. Brunner, 668 F.2d 748, 753 (3rd Cir. 1982), quoting Rothman v. Publicker Industries, 201 F.2d 618, 620 (3rd Cir. 1953). Without such a showing, a district court has no discretion to mitigate an employer's statutory liability for liquidated damages. Id. See also Williams v. Tri-County Growers, Inc., 747 F.2d 121, 128-30 (3rd Cir. 1984).

 In its previous opinion, the court observed that defendants had attempted to meet their legal obligations to the farmworkers.

 
The court believes that defendants Lucca and Errera did act responsibly in requiring their crew leaders to submit payroll records and to provide proof of their state and federal certification. They complied with the state's investigation of Bermudez' crew members' claims for unpaid wages and willingly wrote checks to satisfy the amounts the state decided were due. However, the court is obliged to find that defendants Lucca and Errera were plaintiffs' employers within the meaning of the federal scheme. Defendants' prior conduct and compliance may well mitigate the amount of damages assessed against them, but the issue of damages is not before the court at this time.

 629 F. Supp. at 489.

 The good faith requirement of 29 U.S.C. § 260 requires that an employer demonstrate an "honest intention to ascertain and follow the dictates of the [FLSA]." Marshall v. Brunner, supra, 668 F.2d at 753, citing Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 185 U.S. App. D.C. 322, 567 F.2d 429, 464 (D.C. Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 434 U.S 1086, 55 L. Ed. 2d 792, 98 S. Ct. 1281 (1978). The court has already made ...


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