December 15, 2016

Appeals Court Reinstates Constitutional Challenge in AB 1513 “Carve-Outs” Case

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with two San Joaquin Valley farmers in reinstating their lawsuit that contended that California legislators intentionally and arbitrarily crafted provisions to exclude them from the safe harbor protections in Assembly Bill 1513.

The Legislature passed, and Governor Jerry Brown signed into law, AB 1513, waiving penalties for companies that make payments to workers for unpaid rest periods and “non-productive time” before December 15, 2016.  Two provisions were added to the statutory scheme that allegedly intended to carve-out Fowler Packing Co. and Gerawan Farming Inc. from eligibility for the safe harbor. The companies alleged this was done at the request of the United Farm Workers who threatened to oppose the bill if protections given to similarly-situated employers were also given to Fowler and Gerawan.

Plaintiffs filed suit in federal court arguing that the carve-outs were unconstitutional as a violation of equal protection and as a bill of attainder. The district court dismissed the complaint ruling there was no viable claim of a constitutional violation.  The Appeals court disagreed with the district court finding that plaintiffs have stated a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, and directing the district court to consider the merits of that claim.

The Pacific Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief on behalf of the affected companies and several farm organizations, including Western Growers.

A written opinion giving the appellate court’s reasoning will follow “in due course.”

The court’s decision is unlikely to impact anyone other than Gerawan and Fowler, and the thousands of workers who may stand to collect back payments from those companies under AB 1513.