In???? Perez?? ?Farias,?? ?the?? ?Plaintiff?? ?was?? ?a representative on behalf of 650 farm workers alleging violations of the Washington?s Farm Labor Contractors Act (FLCA), RCW 19.30.110 et seq., and the federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (AWPA). They brought suit against three growers and Global Horizons, a farm labor contractor.? ?The?farm workers alleged that the growers learned that the contractor, Global, was not registered and are therefore jointly and severally liable for all damages. The trial court certified three subclasses.
The? ?FLCA’s? ?civil? ?remedies? ?provision,? ?RCW?19.30.170(2), states in pertinent part: ?[I]f the court finds that the respondent has violated this chapter… it may award damages up to and including an amount equal to the amount of actual damages, or statutory damages of five hundred dollars per plaintiff ?per ?violation,? whichever ?is ?greater, ?or other equitable relief.??? The District Court found joint and several liability and originally awarded statutory damages of $500 per violation, which equaled $1,875,000.
In a motion to reconsider, the Defendants argued that the amount of damages, if any, was totally discretionary with the Court, and that the Court had discretion to award statutory damages from $0 ?up to? $500 per violation.? ?They argued that in this ?case ?the ?statutory? damages ?of ?$500 ?per violation were wholly disproportionate to the harm that was done.? ?In the alternative, the growers argued that $500 per statutory violation was a violation of due process of law.? ?The Plaintiffs, who claimed no actual damages, argued that $500 was the statutory minimum and that the trial court has no discretion to reduce the amount awarded per violation.
The? trial ?court ?agreed ?with ?the? Growers ?and vacated that portion of the award imposing automatic statutory damages.??? ?The Court distinguished between what it considered ?technical? and substantive violations and awarded statutory damages of $228,150.? ?The workers appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
The Ninth Circuit certified three questions to the?Washington State Supreme Court: (1) Does FLCA,?and in particular RCW 19.30.170(2), provide that a court choosing to award statutory damages: (a) must award statutory damages of $500 per plaintiff per violation;? or (b) has? discretion? to determine the appropriate amount to award in damages from among a range of amounts, up to and including statutory damages of $500 per plaintiff per violation? (2) If FLCA provides that a ?court, ?choosing? to ?award ?statutory damages, must award statutory damages of $500 per plaintiff per violation, does that violate Washington’s public policy or its constitutional guarantees of due process? (3) Does FLCA provide? ?for? ?awarding? ?statutory?? damages? ?to persons who have not been shown to have been “aggrieved” by a particular violation?
In response to the first question, the Court distinguished the Ninth Circuit?s interpretation of the former federal Farm Labor Contractor Registration ?Act ?of ?1963, ?7 ?U.S.C. ?Sections?2041-2055, on the basis that the federal statute omits the critical language – ?whichever is greater.?? ?In addition, the federal replacement statute differed from the state statute because the federal statute required an intentional violation, limits damages of multiple infractions of a single provision to only one violation for purposes of determining ?the ?amount ?of ?statutory? damages, and because class action damages are capped under federal law.
The Supreme Court ruled that the workers? interpretation best reflected the statute?s remedial purposes, and that the $500 of statutory damages was a floor and not a ceiling; ?once the existence has been established, courts should review the quantity rather than the quality of violations to effectuate enforcement of the FLCA?s requirements and deter future violations.?
The Court declined to reach the federal constitutional issues concerning the due process standard for excessive statutory damages, and the standing?? of? ??aggrieved?? ?persons? ?within? ?the meaning of the state statute.
Perez-Farias v. Global Horizons (9/27/2012)