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Sanchez-Rodriquez v. Jacksons Farming Co. of Autryville

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

January 27, 2017

CONSTANTINO SANCHEZ-RODRIGUEZ, JOSE ALBERTO AGUILERA-HERNANDEZ, ULISES EDGARDO CRUZ-GONZALEZ, ESMTH GONZALEZ-RODRIGUEZ, VALENTIN ALVARADO-HERNANDEZ, DANIEL RODRIGUEZ-GARCIA, and ESDRAS SAffl MENDIOLA-BORDES, on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated persons, Plaintiffs,
v.
JACKSON'S FARMING COMPANY OF AUTRYVILLE a/k/a JACKSON'S FARMING COMPANY OF AUTRYVILLE, WILLIAM BRENT JACKSON, and WILLIAM RODNEY JACKSON, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JAMES C. DEVER III Chief United States District Judge

         On January 18, 2017, the parties filed a joint motion for class certification [D.E. 37]. As explained below, the motion is granted.

         I.

         This lawsuit concerns collective and class action claims pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLS A"), 29 U.S .C. § § 201, et secu, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act ("NCWHA"), N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 95-25.1, et seq., and the North Carolina common law of contracts. Plaintiffs are migrant agricultural workers who worked for defendants, a farm and its individual officers or owners, pursuant to the H-2A guest worker program, in and around Sampson County, North Carolina. The FLSA collective claim, along with the first NCWHA class claim, seeks payment of back wages and liquidated damages based upon defendants' alleged failure to timely pay the class members the named plaintiffs seek to represent weekly wages that were at least the minimum wage rate required by 29 U.S.C. § 206(a). The second NCWHA class claim seeks back wages and liquidated damages based upon the alleged failure of defendants to pay all wages when due at the wage rate that was disclosed to all named plaintiffs, except Aguilera-Hernandez, and the class members they seek to represent for all hours worked for those workweeks in which they performed piece work for defendants. The third NCWHA class claim seeks back wages and liquidated damages based upon the alleged failure to pay the named plaintiffs and the class they seek to represent for travel time "all in a day's work." Finally, the "Contract Class" claim seeks back wages for the alleged failure to pay the named plaintiffs and the class they seek to represent all wages due at the adverse effect wage rate ("AEWR") or contract rate to which plaintiffs were entitled as a condition of their employment. Defendants deny liability for all claims.

         The parties have negotiated a settlement agreement in this action that includes class-wide relief. For settlement purposes only, defendants consent to and join in the joint motion for class certification pursuant to the settlement agreement reached between the parties, which is the result of a compromise to resolve the disputes between them and does not constitute an admission of any liability by any party.

         The parties' settlement calls for the certification of a class, pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The class is defined as follows:

All migrant or seasonal agricultural workers who performed temporary or seasonal work in agriculture under the H-2A guest worker program for Jackson Farming Company of Autryville, William Brent Jackson, or William Rodney Jackson at any time during calendar years 2015 and through September 28, 2016.

         Accordingly, pursuant to the settlement agreement, the parties now seek to certify a class under the NCWHA for underpaid wages and liquidated damages under N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 95-25.22(a) and 95-25.22(al) and Rule 23(b)(3).

         II.

         When a settlement is reached before Rule 23 certification, the law permits a class to be certified solely for settlement purposes. Covarrubias v. Capt. Charlie's Seafood. Inc.. No. 2:10-CV-10-F, 2011 WL 2690531, at *2 (E.D. N.C. July 6, 2011) (unpublished). The parties seeking class certification still must meet the four prerequisites of Rule 23(a)(1)-(4) and then must establish that they constitute a proper class of at least one of the types described in Rule 23 (b)(1)-(3). Nonetheless, courts need not inquire whether the class will be manageable at trial because settlement makes a trial unnecessary. See Amchem Prods.. Inc. v. Windsor. 521 U.S. 591, 620 (1997).

         The court must make two initial findings before determining whether to certify a class action: that a precisely defined class exists, and that the class representative is a member of the proposed class. Havwood v. Barnes. 109 F.R.D. 568, 576 (E.D. N.C. 1986); see E. Tex. Motor Freight Sys.. Inc. v. Rodriguez. 431 U.S. 395, 403 (1977).

         Here, the proposed class is defined as all migrant or seasonal agricultural workers who performed temporary or seasonal work in agriculture under the H-2A guest worker program for Jackson's Farming Company of Autryville, William Brent Jackson, or William Rodney Jackson at any time during calendar years 2015 and through September 28, 2016, and is, therefore, sufficiently precise. Haywood. 109 F.R.D. at 576. Plaintiffs worked for defendants as temporary or seasonal agricultural workers during the relevant time period. Therefore, they are members of the class they seek to represent.

         A trial court may certify a class under Rule 23 if it is satisfied that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied. See Gen. Tel. Co. of the Southwest v. Falcon. 457 U.S. 147, 161 (1982). However, the trial court does not examine the merits of the underlying claims when it decides a motion for class certification. See Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin. 417 U.S. 156, 177-78 (1974).

         Courts should "give Rule 23 a liberal rather than a restrictive construction, adopting a standard of flexibility in application which will in the particular case best serve the ends of justice for the affected parties and... promote judicial efficiency." Gunnells v. Healthplan Servs.. Inc.. 348 F.3d 417, 424 (4th Cir. 2003) (quotations omitted) (omission in original); In re A.H. Robins.880 F.2d 709, 740 (4th Cir. 1989); see Kidwell v. Transportation Commons Tnt'1 ...


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