Perez-Farias v. Global Horizons Inc., No. 86793-3 (view WELA’s brief)
This was a case brought by a class of 650 farm workers in federal court against three growers and a farm workers contractor under the state Farm Labor Contractor Act (FLCA). They alleged multiple violations which were not disputed. They claimed the statutory damages of $500 per violation in lieu of actual damages. The federal district court determined that it had the discretion to award less than $500 per violation depending upon the severity of the violation. The farm workers appealed and the Ninth Circuit certified three questions to the Washington State Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court held that courts do not have discretion to award less than $500 per plaintiff per violation when awarding statutory damages under the FLCA.? It observed that remedial statutes must be construed liberally to further their intended purposes and that permitting courts to subjectively interpret the quality of violations would undermine the goals of deterrence in the statute.? It rejected the defendants’ state law public policy and due process arguments that the statutory penalties are excessive and deferred to the Ninth Circuit those questions under federal law, including whether, as WELA argued, the due process analysis for determining whether a civil penalty is excessive is controlled by St. Louis, IM & S. Ry. Co. v. Williams, 251 U.S. 63 (1919), and not the standard for punitive damages set forth in BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996).? Similarly, the Court found nothing in Washington law that prevented workers who were not “injured” to be nonetheless “aggrieved” under the FLCA, and left to the Ninth Circuit the standing question under federal law.