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Martinez-Rodriguez v. Giles

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 20, 2019

CESAR MARTINEZ-RODRIGUEZ; DALIA PADILLA-LOPEZ; MAYRA MUNOZ-LARA; BRENDA GASTELUM-SIERRA; LESLIE ORTIZ-GARCIA; and RICARDO NERI-CAMACHO, Plaintiffs,
v.
CURTIS GILES, an individual; DAVID FUNK, an individual; FUNK DAIRY, INC., an Idaho corporation; SHOESOLE FARMS, INC., an Idaho corporation, JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          David C. Nye Chief U.S. District Court.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Defendants Curtis Giles, David Funk, Funk Daily, Inc., and Shoesole Farms, Inc.'s (Collectively “Defendants” or “Funk Dairy”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 35) and Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Expert Disclosure (Dkt. 36).

         On January 9, 2019, the Court held oral argument and took the motions under advisement. Upon review, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court finds good cause to GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiffs are six professional veterinarians from Mexico who allege that Defendants have engaged in a “criminal conspiracy to bring Mexican nationals to the United States illegally for the purpose of forced labor.” Dkt. 1 at 1. Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs assert claims of Forced Labor and Trafficking into Servitude under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (18 U.S.C. §§ 1589, 1590, and 1595), as well as six state law claims under Idaho law.

         Broadly speaking, Plaintiffs assert that Defendants conspired to recruit experienced Mexican veterinarians to work in the United States under the false pretense that they would be professional animal scientists, only to be hired as low-wage, general laborers at Funk Dairy. Id. Plaintiffs allege that these acts violated U.S. immigration laws. They also assert that Defendants subjected them to long working hours under arduous conditions and forced them to stay under threat of deportation, fear, and unfamiliarity with the English language and American legal system. Id.

         A. Factual background

         Cesar Martinez-Rodriguez, Dalia Padilla-Lopez, Mayra Munoz-Lara, Brenda Gastellum-Sierra, Leslie Ortiz-Garcia, and Ricardo Neri-Camacho (collectively “Plaintiffs”) are all native citizens of Mexico.

         Funk Dairy is a commercial dairy operation located near Murtaugh, Idaho. The owners of the dairy are David Funk and his wife, who is not individually named as a defendant in this case. David Funk's son-in-law, Curtis Giles, manages dairy operations. David Funk and his wife also own and operate an independent farming operation known as Shoesole Farms. Giles is not involved with the farming operation. Funk Dairy is an integrated operation-meaning the dairy performs all aspects necessary for the production and sale of raw milk. It impregnates cows and births calves, raises heifer calves, sells steer calves, cares for sick animals, milks cows, and performs all other aspects related to a large-scale dairy operation.

         In the Fall of 2014, Funk Dairy began recruiting skilled labor from Mexico, specifically intending to obtain workers that qualified for the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) Visa program-specifically the “TN”, or “Trade”, Visa.

         At that time, Plaintiffs all had 4-year college degrees and were each licensed as animal scientists or veterinary scientists in Mexico. Giles personally attended Plaintiffs' universities, presented on the employment opportunity at Funk Dairy, interviewed each Plaintiff, made each Plaintiff a job offer (which each accepted), and then put each Plaintiff in touch with legal counsel in order to secure their TN Visas.

         In securing employment, it was Plaintiffs' understanding that they would be receiving: $10 per hour (with the opportunity for raises) for working approximately 10-12 hours per day, 6 days a week; a $2, 000 bonus after one year of service; six days of paid vacation after one year of service; initial help with housing and transportation; and that their employment would last for three years. The terms of employment were never reduced to a signed writing.

         Funk Dairy put each Plaintiff in touch with legal counsel to assist in obtaining TN Visas. This process involved applying to, and subsequently being interview by, the U.S. Department of State. As part of this process, Funk Dairy made certain representations to the U.S. Department of State regarding the nature of the employment and the kind of work that each Plaintiff would perform so the government could determine whether each Plaintiff qualified for the NAFTA TN Visa program. Plaintiffs allege that Funk Dairy's legal counsel specifically instructed them not to say that they would be milking cows.

         Upon arrival at Funk Dairy, Plaintiffs contend that Defendants tasked them with menial, unskilled farm duties, despite their understanding that they would be animal scientists. Additionally, Plaintiffs assert that Defendants monitored their movements and communications, charged them for things such as rent and transportation, reduced their income arbitrarily, and generally failed to abide by the agreed upon terms of their employment. Ultimately, three Plaintiffs quit, and Funk Dairy terminated three Plaintiffs.

         B. Procedural background

         Plaintiffs filed their original Complaint on January 1, 2017. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs alleged various causes of action against the present Defendants, but also against Jeremy Pittard. Pittard is the attorney who each Plaintiff met with prior to their interview with the U.S. Department of State. On February 28, 2018, Pittard filed a Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. 13. The Court ultimately granted Pittard's Motion (Dkt. 23), but gave Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their Complaint in order to cure deficiencies outlined in the Court's Decision. Plaintiffs elected not to file an Amended Complaint that included additional allegations or facts against Pittard, but submitted an Amended Complaint nonetheless. See Dkt. 24.

         At the completion of fact and expert discovery, Defendants filed the two Motions currently pending: A Motion for Summary Judgment, and a Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Expert Disclosures.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court's role at summary judgment is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Zetwick v. Cty. of Yolo, 850 F.3d 436, 441 (9th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must “view[] the facts in the non-moving party's favor.” Id.

         To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the respondent need only present evidence upon which “a reasonable juror drawing all inferences in favor of the respondent could return a verdict in [his or her] favor.” Id. (citation omitted).

         Accordingly, the Court must enter summary judgment if a party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The respondent cannot simply rely on an unsworn affidavit or the pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment; rather the respondent must set forth the “specific facts, ” supported by evidence, with “reasonable particularity” that precludes summary judgment. Far Out Productions, Inc. v. Oskar, 247 F.3d 986, 997 (9th Cir. 2001).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         In this case, Plaintiffs allege numerous federal and state law causes of action against Defendants. The crux of this case, however, centers around the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”) (18 U.S.C. § 1581 et. sec.). Plaintiffs claim that Defendants specifically violated two provisions of the Act: the forced labor provision (18 U.S.C. § 1589) and the trafficking into servitude provision (18 U.S.C. § 1590).

         A. Forced Labor

         The forced labor provision of 18 U.S.C. § 1589 provides, in relevant part, as follows:

(a) Whoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of, the following means-
(1) by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint to that person or another person;
(2) by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm to that person or another person;
(3) by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or
(4) by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint, shall be punished as provided under subsection (d).
. . .
(c) In this section:
(1) The term “abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process” means the use or threatened use of a law or legal process, whether administrative, civil, or criminal, in any manner or for any purpose for which the law was not designed, in order to exert pressure on another person to cause that person to take some action or refrain from taking some action.
(2) The term “serious harm” means any harm, whether physical or nonphysical, including psychological, financial, or reputational harm, that is sufficiently serious, under all the surrounding circumstances, to compel a reasonable person of the same background and in the same circumstances to perform or ...

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