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Mateo-Evangelio v. Triple J Produce, Inc.

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

August 24, 2017

MANUEL MATEO-EVANGELIO, JAIME TREJO-CARDONA, GILBERTO CERVANTES-VEGA, REYNALDO VILLALOBOS-MARTINEZ, EMILIO REYES, MARIA DE LOS ANGELES GONZALEZ-ROMAN, RAMIRO CERVANTES-VEGA, FRANCISCO CARMELO MATIAS-CASTRO, PABLO GONZALEZ-ROMAN, BENIGNO VILLA-GOMEZ, and SERGIO NARCISO LOPEZ-JUAREZ Plaintiffs,
v.
TRIPLE J PRODUCE, INC.; HOCUTT BROTHERS, INC.; HOCUTT FARMS, INC., JUDY HOCUTT; JOEY M. HOCUTT; JAMES MICHAEL HOCUTT; and M. JAY HOCUTT Defendants.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on plaintiffs' motion for cy pres distribution (DE 89) and defendants' motion for reversion (DE 94).[1] The court heard argument on the motions July 11, 2017, and reached decision regarding certain issues in order entered July 12, 2017, while taking under advisement final decision on the motions. Upon filing of supplemental submissions by the parties as directed by the court, the motions are ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is denied and plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The background of this case, as pertinent to the instant motions, may be summarized as follows. The first two named plaintiffs in this action filed suit on December 31, 2014, asserting violations of federal and state fair labor standards laws, based on alleged conduct by defendants in not paying properly wages for overtime work packaging sweet potatoes and other agricultural commodities. Plaintiffs amended their complaint several times, most recently on October 7, 2015, with a third amended complaint (the “complaint”) brought by all of the above-named plaintiffs against the above-named settling defendants, asserting the following claims:

1. Two class action claims for failure to pay the promised wage under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (“NCWHA”), N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 95-25.1 et seq. (3rd. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 104-109).
2. One collective action claim for minimum wage and overtime violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. (except plaintiff Sergio Narciso Lopez-Juarez). (3rd Am. Compl. ¶¶ 110-112).
3. One class action claim failure to pay sufficient wages in violation of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (“AWPA”). 29 U.S.C. §§ 1801, et seq. (3rd Am. Compl. ¶¶ 113-115).
4. Individual claims for wrongful discharge by plaintiff Jaime Trejo-Cardona and for retaliation by nine of eleven named plaintiffs. (Id. ¶¶ 116-132).

         The complaint seeks declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief, including unpaid back wages, liquidated damages, and statutory damages in the full amount authorized by the AWPA ($500 per plaintiff per violation, or up to $500, 000 upon class certification).

         On September 1, 2015, the parties executed a settlement agreement resolving all claims. (See DE 62-1, 75-1). The settlement agreement provides for settlement payments totaling $328, 920.00 to the named plaintiffs and to class members based on the class action and collective action claims asserted in the complaint, divided as follows:

1. Payments to named plaintiffs ranging from $9, 000 to $20, 800 each, totaling $159, 400. (DE 62-1 ¶1).
2. Payment of $20, 480 to a class of “former packing house employees” who have “overtime claims, ” corresponding to the FLSA collective action claim (hereinafter the “FLSA fund”) (Id. ¶ 2).
3. Payment of $20, 400 to a class of “former packing house employees” who have “corresponding employment claims, ” corresponding to the NCWHA class action claim (hereinafter the “NCWHA fund”) (Id. ¶ 2).
4. Payment of $128, 400 into a settlement fund for the benefit of “a class of plaintiffs” including plaintiff Sergio Narciso Lopez-Juarez (the “Sergio Class”), corresponding to the AWPA class action claim (hereinafter the “AWPA fund”). “Upon proof of their work, each [class member] is eligible to a distribution of $350 per season, ...

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