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Trollinger v. Tyson Foods

October 10, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier


Before the Court is Plaintiffs'*fn1 motion for class certification with supporting memorandum (Plaintiffs' memorandum), pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3) (Court File Nos. 121, 123). Defendants*fn2 Tyson Foods, Inc., filed a memorandum in opposition to Plaintiffs' motion for class certification (Court File No. 139) and Plaintiffs filed a reply brief (Court File No. 144). For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Plaintiffs' motion for class certification.


Plaintiffs have brought this lawsuit against Tyson Foods, Inc., one of the largest, if not the largest, poultry companies in the United States.*fn3 There have been an unusually high number of previous decisions issued in this case: Judgment Granting Summary Judgment and Supporting Memorandum, July 16, 2002, Trollinger v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 214 F. Supp. 2d 840 (E.D. Tenn. 2002) (Court File Nos. 22, 21); Reversal of Summary Judgment, Trollinger v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 370 F.3d 602 (6th Cir. 2004); Order Denying Motion for Summary Judgment and Supporting Memorandum, February 8, 2006 (Court File Nos. 158, 157); Memorandum Elaborating on Bench Ruling Denying Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, September 18, 2006 (Court File No. 174); Order and Supporting Memorandum Denying Motion to Amend or Correct or to Certify Case for Interlocutory Appeal, September 29, 2006 (Court File Nos. 179, 180).

Plaintiffs filed suit in this case under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1964 (Court File No. 1). A Second Amended Complaint ("the Complaint") was filed on June 24, 2005 (Court File No. 115, Second Amended Complaint). In the Complaint Plaintiffs allege Tyson committed acts of racketeering by engaging in a systematic policy of criminality. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim Tyson violated predicate RICO statutes relating to the nation's law against illegal immigration. Over some fourteen pages of the Complaint, Plaintiffs set out their allegations asserting Tyson harbored and employed illegal aliens in violation of federal law and thereby subverted the federal laws on immigration of aliens, particularly the Immigration Reform and Control Act ("IRCA"), 8 U.S.C. § 1324.*fn4

In 1996, Congress amended RICO and added as predicate offenses those statutes prohibiting harboring and the knowing employment of illegal immigrants. 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1)(F) (incorporating violations of § 274 of the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA")).*fn5 Section 274 of the INA, like IRCA, prohibits the employment of illegal immigrants. RICO has long been understood to be an effort by Congress to authorized private individuals to bring civil suits based upon federal criminal violations.

Plaintiffs, according to the Complaint, are individuals employed by Tyson as some point who are "legally authorized to be employed in the United States" (Court File No. 115, Complaint, ¶ 1). They are paid hourly as unskilled or semi-skilled legally authorized workers, at eight*fn6 chicken processing plants, owned and operated by Tyson. Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint ("the Complaint") asserts Tyson depressed Plaintiffs' wages by knowingly employing a workforce substantially comprised of illegal immigrants (Court File No. 115, ¶ 2). Plaintiffs refer to this as the "Illegal Immigrant Hiring Scheme" (id.). Plaintiffs allege the Illegal Immigrant Hiring Scheme saved Defendant Tyson large sums of money by driving down wages at the chicken processing plants below what wages would be if the Scheme were not in existence and claim this money belongs to Plaintiffs (id. at ¶ 60).

Plaintiffs assert the Illegal Immigrant Hiring Scheme violates RICO and is "conducted in direct contravention of the Immigration Reform and Control Act ("IRCA")" (Court File No. 123 at 2). According to the Complaint Plaintiffs were injured by Tyson's illegally violating provisions of IRCA. In their memorandum Plaintiffs trace the history and purpose of IRCA. In 1986, Congress enacted IRCA, a comprehensive scheme prohibiting the employment of illegal aliens in the United States. § 101(a)(1), 100 Stat. 3360, 8 U.S.C. § 1324a. "IRCA 'forcefully' made combating the employment of illegal aliens central to 'the policy of immigration law.'" Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137, 147 (2002) (citing INS v. National Center for Immigrants' Rights, Inc., 502 U.S. 183, 194 (1991)). It did so by establishing an extensive "employment verification system," § 1324a(a)(1), designed to deny employment to aliens who (a) are not lawfully present in the United States, or (b) are not lawfully authorized to work in the United States, § 1324a(h)(3). Hoffman, 535 U.S. at 147. To enforce the law, "IRCA mandates that employers verify the identity and eligibility of all new hires by examining specified documents before they begin work. § 1324a(b). If an alien applicant is unable to present the required documentation, the unauthorized alien cannot be hired. § 1324a(a)(1)." Id. at 148.

As Plaintiffs' memorandum points out, in enacting IRCA, Congress was motivated by the effects of illegal immigration on wage levels, particularly in unskilled jobs.

Both houses of Congress explicitly noted that the hiring of undocumented workers adversely affects American employees because alien workers, out of desperation, will work in substandard conditions and for starvation wages. Particularly affected, Congress found, are low-income and low-skilled Americans, including many members of minority groups, who compete most directly with undocumented aliens for jobs.

A.P.R.A. Fuel Oil Buyers Group, Inc., 320 N.L.R.B. 408, 413-414 (1995)(citing H.R. Rep. No. 99-682 Part 1 at 47 (1986) and S. Rep. No. 99-132 at 5 (1986)). See also President's Memorandum, 60 FR 7885, 7886 (memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies outlining and discussing his Administration's efforts at deterring illegal immigration) ("Employers who hire illegal immigrants not only obtain unfair competitive advantage over law-abiding employers, their unlawful use of illegal immigrants suppresses wages and working conditions for our country's legal workers."). Further, the United States Supreme Court has recognized the employment of illegal aliens causes wage depression for workers who are legally employed. De Canas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, 356-357 (U.S. 1976) ("acceptance by illegal aliens of jobs on substandard terms as to wages and working conditions can seriously depress wage scales and working conditions of citizens and legally admitted aliens; and employment of illegal aliens under such conditions can diminish the effectiveness of labor unions"); Sure-Tan, Inc. v. NLRB, 467 U.S. 883, 892 (1984)(same).

Plaintiffs also allege Tyson "engaged in a long-term pattern and practice of violating [the immigration law]." Plaintiffs refer to this claimed practice as the Willful Blindness Policy (Court File No. 115 at ¶ 24).

Plaintiffs filed the Complaint on behalf of themselves and members of a proposed class. The named Plaintiffs move under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a) and 23(b)(3) to certify this lawsuit as a class action with a proposed class of "all persons legally authorized to be employed in the United States who have been employed" at the Tyson facilities since April 1998 through the present ("the Class" or "the proposed class")(Court File No. 115 ¶¶ 1, 16, 17).*fn7


Deciding class certification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 involves a two step process. "In order to obtain class certification, plaintiff must first satisfy Rule 23(a)'s requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation." Coleman v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 296 F.3d 443, 446 (6th Cir. 2002). Additionally, plaintiff "must demonstrate that the class fits under one of the three subdivisions of Rule 23(b)." Id. As mentioned above, Plaintiffs seek class certification under Rule 23(b)(3). Rules 23(a) and 23(b)(3) provide:

Rule 23. Class Actions

(a) Prerequisites to a Class Action. One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all only if (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

(b) Class Actions Maintainable. An action may be maintained as a class action if the prerequisites of subdivision (a) are satisfied, and in addition:...

(3) the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy. The matters pertinent to the findings include: (A) the interest of members of the class in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of separate actions; (B) the extent and nature of any litigation concerning the controversy already commenced by or against members of the class; (C) the desirability or undesirability of concentrating the litigation of the claims in the particular forum; (D) the difficulties likely to be encountered in the management of a class action.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a), 23(b)(3). A district court enjoys broad discretion in certifying class actions, but must exercise this discretion within the framework of Rule 23. In re American Med. Sys., Inc., 75 F.3d 1069, 1079 (6th Cir. 1996).

When evaluating whether to certify the class, the district court must take the allegations of plaintiffs as true, with any doubts resolved in favor of certification. Iron Workers Local Union No. 17 Ins. Fund v. Philip Morris Co., 29 F.Supp.2d 825, 830 (N.D. Ohio 1998) (citing Cross v. National Trust Life Ins. Co., 553 F.2d 1026, 1029 (6th Cir. 1977)). Although the Court may, and often must, look beyond the bare pleadings in the case, it may not examine the merits of the parties' claims or defenses. Garrish v. United Auto., Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, 149 F.Supp.2d 326, 330 (E.D.Mich. 2001)(citing Eisen v. Carlisle and Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156 (1974)("In determining the propriety of a class action, the question is not whether the plaintiff or plaintiffs have stated a cause of action or will prevail on the merits, but rather whether the requirements of Rule 23 are met")(internal quotations omitted)).

The Court is required to conduct a "rigorous analysis" into whether the prerequisites of Rule 23 are met before certifying a class. Sprague v. General Motors Corp., 133 F.3d 388, 397 (6th Cir. 1998); In re American, 75 F.3d at 1079. The plaintiff has the burden of showing that all of the requirements for class certification have been met. Id. For purposes of certifying a class in a class action, mere repetition of the language of governing federal rule is not ...

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