United States District Court, D. Maine
ORDER ON MOTIONS TO DISMISS
NANCY TORRESEN, Chief District Judge.
The Plaintiffs, eighteen migrant workers who traveled to Maine in 2008 to work in the wild blueberry harvest, assert claims against, among others, Defendant Coastal Blueberry Service, Inc. ("Coastal"), Defendant Hancock Foods, Inc. ("Hancock"), and Defendant Carol Paul, an individual who allegedly worked on both Coastal and Hancock's behalf (ECF No. 25). The Plaintiffs claim, variously, that the Defendants underpaid them in violation of the Maine Wages and Medium of Payment Act (the "MWMPA") and that the Defendants put them up in substandard housing in violation of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (the "AWPA"). Before the Court are Hancock and Paul's motion seeking dismissal of one category of the Plaintiffs' claims (ECF Nos. 34 & 80), Hancock's motion seeking dismissal of a second category of the Plaintiffs' claims (ECF No. 34), and Coastal's motion seeking dismissal of a third category of the Plaintiffs' claims (ECF No. 35). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES all three motions.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." The trial court may not grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion unless the complaint fails the limited notice pleading standard imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which "requires only a plausible short and plain statement of the plaintiff's claim, not an exposition of his legal argument." Skinner v. Switzer, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1296 (2011) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The "complaint need not pin plaintiff's claim for relief to a precise legal theory." Id.
The court must accept all the well-plead allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, González Figueroa v. J.C. Penney P.R., Inc., 568 F.3d 313, 316 (1st Cir. 2009), but need not accept "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements....'" Morales-Cruz v. Univ. of P.R., 670 F.3d 220, 225 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain only "enough factual material to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'" Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
Defendant Coastal, a Maine corporation based in the town of Union, grows and harvests blueberries. First Am. Compl. ¶ 30. Defendant Hancock, a Maine corporation based in the town of Hancock, operates a blueberry processing facility. First Am. Compl. ¶ 32. Both companies employ migrant agricultural workers. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30, 32. During the 2008 blueberry season, Defendant Carol Paul, a resident of Lamoine, Maine, recruited, transported, and housed migrant workers on Hancock and Coastal's behalf. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29, 33-34. The eighteen Plaintiffs, Creole-speaking migrant workers of Haitian descent hailing predominantly from the American South, are former Hancock and Coastal employees. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5-22, 27.
The Plaintiffs bring 360 separately delineated counts against nine separate defendants. The motions before the Court concern claims in only fifteen of those counts, which can be further broken down into three discrete categories: (1) claims involving the alleged use of vehicles to house workers, which Hancock and Paul move to dismiss; (2) a claim that a blueberry processing worker was undercompensated because he was not paid for time spent putting on and taking off protective clothing he needed to work in a freezer, which Hancock moves to dismiss; and (3) claims that blueberry harvesters paid on a "per box" piece rate basis were undercompensated because they were required to overfill boxes, which Coastal moves to dismiss. Because each category of claims implicates different sets of factual allegations and legal arguments, the Court discusses them separately below.
The Vehicles-as-Housing Claims Counts 17, 39, 59 & 119
I. Factual Allegations
The claims at issue here concern AWPA housing violations that allegedly occurred after Solange Estinvil, Dieuseul Francillon, Lenord Damisse, and Henriquez Polycarpe arrived in Maine. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 136-38, 343-46, 497-500, 964-67. The claims fit into two groups. The first consists of Estinvil and Francillon's claims concerning their stays at 759 Tunk Lake Road in Sullivan, Maine, found in Counts 39 and 59, respectively. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 378-86, 532-40. The second consists of Damisse and Polycarpe's claims concerning their first night in Maine, found in Counts 17 and 119, respectively. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 193-205, 990-1002.
A. Estinvil and Francillon's Claims
With respect to Estinvil and Francillon, the First Amended Complaint alleges that Paul and Hancock housed each of them at 759 Tunk Lake Road in Sullivan, Maine, a property owned by another defendant in the case, the George C. Allen Property Trust. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 378-79, 532-33. 995. Both Estinvil and Francillon arrived at 759 Tunk Lake Road in late July or early August of 2008. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 355, 509. Estinvil remained on Tunk Lake Road for only three nights, before being moved to another location. First Am. Compl. ¶ 378. Francillon remained on Tunk Lake Road for approximately six weeks. First Am. Compl. ¶ 532.
There were two residential trailers on the 759 Tunk Lake Road property, one brown and one white. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 381, 457, 600, 788, 991. Twenty-five to thirty migrant workers employed by Hancock lived in the brown trailer. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 333, 381, 408, 457. About eighteen migrant workers employed by Hancock lived in the white trailer. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 574, 600.
The First Amended Complaint alleges that the brown trailer was badly overcrowded. First Am. Compl. ¶ 461. Hancock provided no mattresses or beds for the workers staying there. First Am. Compl. ¶ 461. Plaintiff Jean Etienne slept on a scrap of carpet with a sheet on the floor of the trailer's living area. First Am. Compl. ¶ 461. Plaintiff Clotaire Laguerre slept on a sheet on the floor in a room so overcrowded he could not stretch out. First Am. Compl. ¶ 792. Other workers slept on the floor of the kitchen. First Am. Compl. ¶ 461. According to the complaint, conditions in the white trailer were largely the same. First Am. Compl. ¶ 604. Plaintiff Andrena Jean-Jacques slept in a small bedroom with as many as six other workers sharing the floor and a bunk bed. First Am. Compl. ¶ 604. Others slept in the living room, kitchen, and hallway. First Am. Compl. ¶ 604.
For the duration of Estinvil and Francillon's stays at 759 Tunk Lake Road, both trailers were so overcrowded that Estinvil and Francillon were unable to live inside. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 381, 535. Estinvil slept in a vehicle parked on the property with three other workers. First Am. Compl. ¶ 381. Francillon lived in his own vehicle, also parked on the property, with one other worker. First Am. Compl. ¶ 535.
Estinvil and Francillon allege that Hancock and Paul violated 29 U.S.C. § 1823(a), a subsection of the AWPA's housing provision, during the portion of time they lived in their vehicles on the premises of 759 Tunk Lake Road. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 384-86, 538-40.
B. Damisse and Polycarpe's Claims
With respect to Damisse and Polycarpe, the allegations are more spare. The First Amended Complaint claims that Paul recruited them to work for Hancock (in part by telling Damisse there would be housing in Maine), that Paul transported Damisse and Polycarpe from New Jersey to Maine, and that, on Hancock's behalf, Paul "housed" each of them "in a vehicle for one night upon [their] arrival in Maine." First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 136, 193, 964, 966, 990. The complaint alleges that Paul "located, provided, and controlled" the vehicles, First Am. ...