Saucedo v. Hancock, et al.? Supreme Court No. 91945-3 (View WELA?s Brief)

Plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of approximately 700 farm workers to prevent a gun wielding foreman from cheating them out of their wages for work performed for John Hancock?s orchards.? The Plaintiffs alleged a violation of the Farm Labor Contractor Act, RCW 19.30 et seq. (“FLCA”), which requires that ?farm labor contractors? are licensed with the State, that workers are fully informed about their wages, and that the employer is financially responsible to pay their wages.? The statute provides for joint and several liability for those who ?knowingly? hire an unlicensed ?farm labor contractor.?? The statute provides for compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and that a violation is a gross misdemeanor.? Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment was granted, the Defendants appealed, and the Ninth Circuit certified the case to? the Washington State Supreme Court.

The Defendants claim that the management corporation hired to recruit the workers and run the orchard was not a ?farm labor contractor? within the meaning of the statute, and they did not ?knowingly? hire an unlicensed ?farm labor contractor.?? The Defendants claimed that the rule of lenity, a rule of statutory construction which applies to criminal statutes, required a strict construction of the FLCA.

WELA argues that the statute requires a liberal interpretation to advance its remedial purposes.? The rule of lenity only applies where ordinary rules of statutory construction are insufficient to discern its meaning, and here the meaning was clear.? Moreover, the rule of lenity does not apply to hybrid statutes (statutes with both a civil and criminal provision) where the statute is primarily civil in nature and not criminal.? WELA argued that the statute was violated and the Defendants were jointly and severally liable as a matter of law.? WELA?s brief was written by Jeff Needle and Christie Fix.