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Familias Unidas Por La Justicia v. Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 22, 2014



MARSHA J. PECHMAN, Chief District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to remand. (Dkt. No. 9.) Plaintiff also seeks an award of attorney fees for bringing this motion. (Id.) Having reviewed the motion, the response (Dkt. No. 10), all related papers, and having conducted oral argument on May 22, 2014, the Court GRANTS the motion and REMANDS the case to Skagit County Superior Court. Further, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's request for reasonable costs and attorney fees incurred in bringing this motion.


Plaintiff Familias Unidas Por Justicia ("Familias") is an organization of 400 migrant farm workers and their families. Member workers pick berries at Sakuma Farms. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 3.) Sakuma is a family-owned fruit farm in the Skagit Valley, Washington. (Dkt No. 11 at 1.)

Throughout the 2013 picking season, workers complained about wages and working conditions at Sakuma Farms. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 3-4.) These disputes culminated in work stoppages and other strikes. (Id. at 4.) Workers formed Familias as an advocacy organization, for the purpose of "collective action and concerted activity with regard to wages hours and working conditions." (Id. at 2.) Some of the disputes between Sakuma and Familias have been resolved. (Id.) The parties have not agreed to a labor contract for the 2014 harvest. (Id. at 6.)

This case is about Sakuma's recent policy and other changes before the 2014 picking season. To address the pending motion, the Court needs only to describe Sakuma's new housing policy. Before the 2014 harvest season, Sakuma provided housing to both families and single individuals as part of their employment. In late April, Sakuma notified some workers that it ended family housing, and instead would provide housing to "workers only." (Dkt. No. 3-6 at 7.) According to the letter, "[t]his means that housing for non-working family members will no longer be available. Cabins will be designated Male Only or Female Only. We do not have housing for married couples." (Id.)

Plaintiff filed this case on May 15, 2014, in Skagit County Superior Court. Familias asserts claims under the Washington Law Against Discrimination ("WLAD") because Sakuma will no longer provide family housing. Plaintiff argues this change amounts to housing discrimination, a violation of RCW 49.60. Plaintiff also seeks relief under the Little Norris-LaGuardia Act, RCW 49.32. Plaintiff seeks a temporary restraining order, to be free of coercion, and to "be allowed to apply for work and obtain family housing for the 2014 season." (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 2.) Sakuma removed this case to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction. Plaintiff filed an emergency motion to remand the case so it may seek a temporary restraining order from the state court before berry picking season begins.


A. No federal question jurisdiction

Sakuma removed this case to federal court on the grounds it presents a federal question under 28 U.S.C. §1441. (Dkt. No. 1). Sakuma theorizes that federal question jurisdiction exists because Plaintiff's WLAD claim is "completely preempted by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1986 as amended by the Immigration Reform Control Act of 1986 ("IRCA"), which requires H-2A employers like Sakuma to provide housing only if it is the prevailing practice' in the area and occupation of intended employment." (Dkt. No. 10 at 2.) Sakuma argues that because it is not the prevailing practice in Washington to provide housing for worker employees, let alone their non-employee families, it does not have to under the federal regulations. (Id.)

The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is on Sakuma, the party seeking removal. The removal statute is strictly construed against removal jurisdiction. Prize Frize, Inc. v. Matrix, Inc. , 167 F.3d 1261, 1265 (9th Cir. 1999). Any doubts about removability are resolved in favor of remanding the case to state court. Gaus v. Miles, Inc. , 980 F.2d 564, 566 (9th Cir. 1992).

Sakuma's claim of preemption does not confer jurisdiction on this Court. Under wellestablished principles, "a case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense, including the defense of preemption, even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties admit that the defense is the only question truly at issue in the case." Franchise Tax Bd. of California v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for S. California , 463 U.S. 1, 14 (1983)(emphasis added). But if a federal cause of action completely preempts a state law claim, any complaint that contains allegations within the scope of the federal cause of action necessarily "arises under" federal law. Id. at 24. This conversion of state law claims to federal claims is "extraordinary" and occurs only where Congress has indicated its intent to exclude the state from any role in the regulated area. K2 Am. Corp. v. Roland Oil & Gas, LLC , 653 F.3d 1024, 1029 (9th Cir. 2011). "The touchstone of preemption is congressional intent, " and Sakuma, as the party claiming federal jurisdiction, must show that Congress intended to exclude all state law claims. Martin v. Midwest Express Holdings, Inc. , 555 F.3d 806, 808 (9th Cir. 2009). It is into this latter category - field preemption-that Sakuma attempts to shoe horn this case and invoke this Court's subject matter jurisdiction.

The Court find's Sakuma's claim of field preemption unpersuasive. First, a review of the specific provision of ICRA at issue, 8 USCA § 1188(c)(4), evidences no congressional intent to exclude the states in H-2A worker regulations. That provision reads:

Employers shall furnish housing in accordance with regulations. The employer shall be permitted at the employer's option to provide housing meeting applicable Federal standards for temporary labor camps or to secure housing which meets the local standards for rental and/or public accommodations or other substantially similar class of habitation: Provided, That in the absence of applicable local standards, State standards for rental and/or public accommodations or other substantially similar class of habitation shall be met... Provided further, That when it is the prevailing practice in ...

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