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Paz v. Sakuma Brothers Farms Inc.

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

October 10, 2014

FRANCISCO EUGENIO PAZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SAKUMA BROTHERS FARMS INC., Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTION TO CERTIFY QUESTIONS TO WASHINGTON SUPREME COURT

MARSHA J. PECHMAN, Chief District Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Legal Questions to the Washington Supreme Court. (Dkt. No. 32.) Having reviewed the Parties' briefing and all related papers, the Court hereby GRANTS the motion.

Background

This motion presents the last remaining piece of a class action brought by piece-rate fruit pickers against their employer, Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc., for unpaid and missed rest breaks in violation of Washington law.

The parties reached a settlement concerning monetary damages for conduct up until December 31, 2013, and for injunctive relief for class members. The settlement agreement does not resolve, and Plaintiffs have not released, one final issue: a request for declaratory relief on whether, going forward, Sakuma Brothers must separately pay their piece-rate workers for rest breaks under WAC 296-131-020(2) and the Minimum Wage Act. This Court's preliminary approval of the settlement agreement allowed Plaintiffs to either present this issue to the Court for resolution or propose that the underlying legal issues be certified to the Washington Supreme Court. (Dkt. No. 31 at 5.) Plaintiffs now move for certification of the following questions:

(1) does a Washington agricultural employer have an obligation under WAC 296-131-020(2) and/or the Washington Minimum Wage Act to separately pay piece-rate workers for the rest breaks to which they are entitled?; and

(2) if the answer is yes, ' how must Washington agricultural employers calculate the rate of pay for the rest break time to which piece-rate workers are entitled?

Discussion

I. Legal Standard

This Court may certify a question to the Washington Supreme Court when "it is necessary to ascertain the local law of this state in order to dispose of [a] proceeding and the local law has not been clearly determined." RCW 2.60.020. The certification process is designed to "build a cooperative judicial federalism" and serve the interests of judicial efficiency and comity. Lehman Bros. v. Schein , 416 U.S. 386, 391 (1974). Use of the certification procedure "rests in the sound discretion of the federal court." Id.

Certification is particularly appropriate when there is no appellate authority interpreting a statute at issue, when the state law issue is especially complex, and when the issue has significant policy implications. Perez-Farias v. Global Horizons, Inc. , 668 F.3d 588, 589, 593 (9th Cir. 2011). Stated differently, certification is appropriate where the law "is not entirely settled, " and an answer to the question would "have far-reaching effects." Keystone Land & Dev. Co. v. Xerox Corp. , 353 F.3d 1093, 1097 (9th Cir. 2003).

II. Necessary to Dispose of the Proceeding

Certification is appropriate when "it is necessary to ascertain the local law of [Washington] in order to dispose of a proceeding." RCW 2.60.020.

Washington Administrative Code 296-131-020(2) states that "[e]very employee shall be allowed a rest period of at least ten minutes, on the employer's time, in each four-hour period of employment." (emphasis added.) Determination of whether this law, or the Minimum Wage Act, requires Sakuma Brothers to separately pay piece-rate workers for ...


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