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Martinez-Bautista v. D&S Produce

August 25, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garnett Thomas Eisele United States District Judge


Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiffs against D&S Produce and Ester Doolittle. Also before the Court is the Motion for Default Judgment against Earlee Armstrong for Specific Damages.

I. Background

The parties submitted an Agreed Statement of Undisputed Facts (Dkt. #54) signed by counsel for the Plaintiffs and counsel for Defendants D&S Produce and Ester Doolittle. The Court accepts the facts stipulated to therein.

Defendant Ester Doolittle is an individual residing in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and in 2002, he resided at 801 South Washington, Pine Bluff, AR 71601. Defendant D&S Produce LLC is a business entity, operated by Defendant Doolittle, with its principal place of business in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. On April 20, 1998, Defendant Ester Doolittle became the sole partner of Defendant D&S Produce LLC. On December 31, 1998, the Arkansas Secretary of State revoked the corporate charter for D&S Produce.

In 2002, AgWorks Inc. and Daniel Bremer, on behalf of D&S Produce and Earlee Armstrong Farm, submitted a joint application and clearance order ("Clearance Order") for temporary labor certification to the United States Department of Labor seeking admission of thirty (30) H-2A workers*fn1 to be employed from May 27, 2002 until September 7, 2002. While AgWorks Inc. and Mr. Bremer assisted in preparing and submitting the Clearance Order and the application, neither advised Defendant Doolittle about the responsibilities of growers who applied jointly for temporary labor certification.

The Clearance Order offered, inter alia, transportation arrangements in compliance with the requirements of 20 C.F.R. § 655.102(b)(5), including an offer that after 50% of the employment period is complete, the employer will reimburse the reasonable cost of transportation to the job site. Defendant Doolittle signed the Clearance Order and initialed each page of the attachments to the Clearance Order with his initials "ED".

The Department of Labor approved the Clearance Order and certified the admission of 30 H-2A workers for employment with "D&S Produce and Earlee Armstrong Farm, jointly". Twenty-seven H2-A workers, including the Plaintiffs, were imported under the Clearance Order. The Clearance Order constituted the employment contract between the twenty-seven workers and their employers, containing all the terms and conditions of their employment. These twenty-seven workers entered the United States in two groups: one group of fourteen workers entered on July 9, 2002, and the Plaintiffs, the second group of thirteen workers, entered the United States on July 19, 2002.*fn2

Plaintiffs Effias Hernandez-Ponce, Abundio Hernandez-Hernandez, Eugenio Hernandez-Salguero, Guadalupe Hernandez-Hernandez, Jose Felipe Hernandez-Hernandez, Leocadio Hernandez-Gonzalez, Pablo Hernandez-Hernandez, Fidel Martinez-Hernandez, Petronilo Oliveros-Trejo, Tomas Ponce-Alvarado, Jorge Rosales-Hernandez, and Sotero Santiago-Martinez each paid $151 in bus fare from central Mexico to Arkansas. Plaintiff Jacinto Martinez-Bautista paid $146 in bus fare from central Mexico to Arkansas. Each Plaintiff paid $171 in fees necessary to obtain and travel under an H-2A visa.

Upon arrival in Arkansas, each Plaintiff was presented with a copy of a booklet, in Spanish, entitled "D&S Produce y Earlee Armstrong Farm, juntos (el 27 de mayo hasta el 7 de septiembre 2002).*fn3 During their first week in Arkansas, each Plaintiff worked forty-one (41) hours and each Plaintiff was paid $250 in cash for this work. Over the second and third weeks of employment, each Plaintiff worked fifty-three (53) hours and were each paid $270 in cash. On August 13, 2002, Earlee Armstrong fired the Plaintiffs, telling them that he did not have any more work available. Each Plaintiff paid $163 in bus fare to return home from Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Defendant Doolittle supervised, housed, and paid wages to the first group of fourteen workers, while Defendant Armstrong supervised, housed, and paid wages to the second group of thirteen workers. Defendant Doolittle did not own, control, or manage Plaintiffs' housing, supervise Plaintiffs' work, or pay wages to the Plaintiffs. Defendant Doolittle has no personal knowledge about any fees or expenses incurred by Plaintiffs relating to their employment under the Clearance Order or the reasons why Defendant Armstrong terminated the Plaintiffs' employment.*fn4

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only when, in reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial-- whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit set out the burdens of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the party moving for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., '[to] point[] out to the District Court,' that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339 (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-74 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted)(brackets in original)).

"A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] . . . which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). However, the moving party is not required to support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Id.

Once the moving party demonstrates that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact, the non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 56(e). The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment against a non-moving party which, after adequate time for discovery, fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the ...

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