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Castillo v. Western Range Association

United States District Court, D. Nevada

February 13, 2018

ABEL CÁNTARO CASTILLO et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WESTERN RANGE ASSOCIATION et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Robert C. Jones, United States District Judge

         This is a putative employment class action alleging breach of contract and wage-and-hour violations. Now pending before the Court are four Motions to Dismiss, (ECF Nos. 117, 118, 121, 124), and a Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages, (ECF No. 128).

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Abel Cántaro Castillo, Alcides Inga Ramos, and Rafael De La Cruz are Peruvian citizens lawfully admitted to the United States under the Department of Labor's (“DOL”) H-2A guestworker visa program, pursuant to 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a), 1188(a)(1), and 20 C.F.R. Part 655, Subpart B. Cántaro alleges he was employed as a shepherd by Defendants Western Range Association (“WRA”), El Tejon Sheep Company, and Melchor Gragirena from October 2007 to June 2014. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 111.) Inga alleges he was employed as a shepherd by Defendants Mountain Plains Agricultural Services (“MPAS”) and Estill Ranches from April 2012 to February 2013.[1] (Id. at ¶ 15.) And De La Cruz alleges he was employed as a shepherd by MPAS from March 2009 to “late 2014.”[2] (Id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiffs filed this action on May 3, 2016, claiming breach of contract and violations of state labor laws, based primarily on their respective employers' failure to pay minimum wages under Article 15, Section 16 of the Nevada Constitution.

         On April 13, 2017, the Court dismissed the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) with leave to amend for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (See Order, ECF No. 107.) The Court found that this case, although related to federal statutes and regulations, consists solely of state-law causes of action and does not raise a substantial question of federal law. The Court also found that Plaintiffs had failed to allege that the case meets the requirements of diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”). (See Id. at 12-17.)

         On May 15, 2017, Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), which includes additional and more detailed allegations regarding the amount-in-controversy requirement under CAFA. (ECF No. 111.) The SAC also adds a new Plaintiff-Rafael De La Cruz.

         De La Cruz has previously been a plaintiff in multiple other cases involving Defendants WRA and MPAS. The first was filed on August 8, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. See Hispanic Affairs Project et al. v. Perez et al., No. 1:15-cv-1785-RM-MJW (D. Colo.) (filed Aug. 8, 2015). The case was primarily brought against Thomas E. Perez, former U.S. Secretary of Labor; the U.S. Department of Labor; and Portia Wu, former Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employment and Training Administration, as an action under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) challenging the implementation of the DOL's 2011 and 2015 Special Procedures for H-2A Shepherds. This case will be referred to as “the APA Action.”

         The second prior case was filed on September 1, 2015, also in the District of Colorado. See Llacua et al. v. Western Range Association et al., No. 1:15-cv-1889-REB-CBS (D. Colo.) (filed Sept. 1, 2015). In Llacua, De La Cruz brought class claims against, inter alia, WRA and MPAS. (Defendant Estill Ranches was also named as a defendant in Llacua, but was voluntarily dismissed from the action on March 31, 2016.) In their second amended complaint, the Llacua plaintiffs asserted the following claims against WRA and MPAS: (1) restraint of trade in violation of 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. (the Sherman Antitrust Act); (2) violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act; (3) failure to pay Nevada minimum wages (against MPAS only); and (4) breach of contract or quasi-contract. This case will be referred to as “the Antitrust Action.”

          On September 22, 2015, as the result of a joint motion by all parties, the APA Action was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint was subsequently amended twice, joining several defendants and adding class claims in quasi-contract (i.e., unjust enrichment and quantum meruit) against WRA and MPAS to recover back wages. Thereafter, on September 9, 2016, the D.C. court ordered that the claims in quasi-contract be severed and transferred back to the District of Colorado where the action was originally filed. The court noted that the Antitrust Action was already pending in Colorado, having been “brought by some of the same plaintiffs here, and litigated by the same attorneys, against the same defendants . . . .” Hispanic Affairs Project v. Perez, 206 F.Supp.3d 348, 377 (D.D.C.), on reconsideration in part, 319 F.R.D. 3 (D.D.C. 2016). The court then stated:

Therefore, even though the back pay claims at issue here are different in nature and involve different questions of law, they would come to the same conclusion- whether, and how much, the plaintiffs are entitled to damages to compensate for lost wages due to allegedly unlawful activity on the part of the Association Defendants or invalid administrative rules issued by DOL. Consequently, the administration of justice is best served by transferring these back pay claims against the Association Defendants to the District of Colorado so that they may be adjudicated at the same time as the plaintiffs' pending antitrust claims.

Id. at 377-78. The quasi-contract claims asserted in the APA Action were thus transferred to the District of Colorado on March 22, 2017.

         Meanwhile, on March 7, 2017, the Colorado court granted a motion to dismiss the Antitrust Action. The court dismissed the plaintiffs' federal-law claims, arising under the Sherman Act and RICO Act, and then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims. Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of the Antitrust Action to the Tenth Circuit, and that appeal is now pending. See Llacua et al. v. Western Range Association et al., No. 17-1113 (10th Cir. 2017) (filed March 29, 2017).

         On June 27, 2017, the portion of the APA Action that was transferred back to the District of Colorado was administratively closed subject to reopening for good cause, pursuant to District of Colorado Local Civil Rule 41.2. The parties had jointly moved for administrative closure based on the APA claims pending in the District of Columbia and the appeal of the Antitrust Action pending in the Tenth Circuit. The parties stated: “The Parties disagree about precisely how either the Tenth Circuit appeal or the D.C. action will affect the pending claims but are in agreement that it makes sense to litigate those issues after a decision from one of these other courts, which the Parties expect within a year.” (See Perez, No. 1:15-cv-1785 (D. Colo.), ECF No. 37 at 2.) Following the administrative closure, De La Cruz voluntarily dismissed his claims without prejudice. (See Perez, No. 1:15-cv-1785 (D. Colo.), ECF No. 44.)

         Finally, on July 7, 2017, summary judgment was granted in favor of the government agency defendants in that portion of the APA Action still pending in the District of Columbia. See Hispanic Affairs Project v. Acosta, 263 F.Supp.3d 160 (D.D.C. 2017). That decision is currently on appeal at the D.C. Circuit. See Hispanic Affairs Project et al. v. Acosta et al., No. 17-5202 (D.C. Cir.) (filed Sept. 11, 2017).

         De La Cruz joined the instant action on May 15, 2017, by way of the SAC. He seeks to represent classes of current and former H-2A program employees of MPAS. The claims alleged by De La Cruz include (1) failure to pay Nevada minimum wages, (2) promissory estoppel, (3) unjust enrichment and quantum meruit, (4) breach of contract or quasi-contract, and (5) failure to pay separated employees wages when due. (Second Am. Compl. 41-45, ECF No. 111.)

         Defendants now move again to dismiss the SAC under Federal Rules of Civil ...


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