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Martinez v. Combs

Supreme Court of California

May 20, 2010, Filed



 [**262]  [***518]   WERDEGAR, J.—Plaintiffs, seasonal agricultural workers, brought this action under Labor Code section 1194 1  [**263]  and other theories to recover unpaid minimum wages. Plaintiffs contend the Industrial Welfare Commission's (IWC) wage order No. 14-2001, entitled “Order Regulating Wages, Hours, and Working Conditions in Agricultural Occupations” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 11140), commonly known as Wage Order No. 14, defines  [****3] defendants as their employers for purposes of section 1194. The lower courts rejected the argument. We affirm.

I. Background

This case arises out of the strawberry farming operations of Isidro Munoz, Sr., who did business as Munoz & Sons (Munoz). Plaintiffs are seasonal agricultural workers whom Munoz employed during the 2000 strawberry season: Antonio Perez Cortes, Catarino Cortez, Otilio Cortez, Asuncion Cruz, Hilda Martinez and Miguel Martinez. Munoz, originally named as a defendant, has been granted a discharge in bankruptcy. The remaining defendants are two of the produce merchants through whom Munoz sold strawberries: Apio, Inc. (Apio), and Combs Distribution Co.,  [*43]  together with its principals, Corky N. Combs and Larry Combs, and its field representative Juan Ruiz (collectively Combs). Plaintiffs' separate action against a third merchant, Frozsun, Inc. (Frozsun), has been stayed pending the outcome of this action. A fourth merchant, Ramirez Brothers, has petitioned for bankruptcy.

During the 2000 season, Munoz grew and harvested strawberries in the Santa  [***519]  Maria Valley, which lies on the Central Coast along the border  [****4] of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties. Munoz farmed a total of 130 acres divided among four sites. He leased two 30-acre sites (the “Oceano” and “Zenon” fields) from defendant Apio and a 40-acre site (the “El Campo” field) from an unidentified third party. 2 Munoz had leased the Oceano and El Campo fields in prior years. He rented an additional 30-acre site (the “Santa Maria” field) from Ramirez Brothers. Munoz operated his business as a single, integrated concern, using his employees and equipment in all four fields, as needed, and combining his revenues and expenses. During the peak of the harvest, Munoz employed approximately 180 agricultural workers, three foremen (including his brother, Armando Munoz) and two office workers (including his son, Isidro Munoz, Jr.). Munoz owned his equipment, including trucks, tools and strawberry carts, and paid his own business expenses, including plants, fertilizer, pesticide, irrigation, fuel, packaging, and rent for additional trucks, a large tractor and field toilets. On the occasions when Apio and Combs paid Munoz's expenses in the first instance, they billed him. Both defendants, for example, charged Munoz for packaging that bore  [****5] their companies' labels, and for refrigeration, and Apio charged Munoz for his portion of the cost of a shared irrigation system.

Munoz grew and harvested strawberries for two distinct markets: fresh sale to consumers in markets, and sale for processing (typically freezing). Fresh market and freezer berries are harvested differently. Fresh market berries cannot be too green or too ripe, and the calyx (sepals and stem) is left attached. Market berries are packed in the field, as they are picked, into the containers in which they will be sold to consumers, such as plastic baskets or clamshell boxes. Freezer berries, in contrast, are selected for advanced ripeness and packed in bulk into crates with the calyx removed. Munoz harvested strawberries for both markets from the same fields. He decided which fields to harvest on any given day, and whether to harvest for fresh market sale or the freezer, based largely on the need to pick fields every three days, informing the merchants of his schedule and taking into account their orders and  [****6] the berries' condition.

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49 Cal. 4th 35 *; 231 P.3d 259 **; 109 Cal. Rptr. 3d 514 ***; 2010 Cal. LEXIS 4660 ****; 75 Cal. Comp. Cases 430; 16 Wage & Hour Cas. 2d (BNA) 408

MIGUEL MARTINEZ et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CORKY N. COMBS et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Subsequent History: As Amended May 20, 2010.

Reported at Martinez v. Combs, 2010 Cal. LEXIS 5612 (Cal., May 20, 2010)

Time for Granting or Denying Rehearing Extended Martinez (Miguel) v. Combs (Corky N.), 2010 Cal. LEXIS 5757 (Cal., June 7, 2010)

Modified by Martinez v. Combs, 2010 Cal. LEXIS 5036 (Cal., June 9, 2010)

Modified by Martinez (Miguel) v. Combs (Corky N.), 2010 Cal. LEXIS 5111 (Cal., June 9, 2010)

Rehearing denied by, Request denied by Martinez v. Combs, 2010 Cal. LEXIS 6274 (Cal., June 30, 2010)

Prior History:  [****1] Superior Court of San Luis Obispo County, No. CV001029, Earle Jeffrey Burke, Judge. Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Six, No. B161773.

Martinez (Miguel) v. Combs (Corky N.), 2010 Cal. LEXIS 2086 (Cal., Mar. 1, 2010)

Disposition:  The court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal.


wage order, minimum wage, employees, wages, strawberries, plaintiffs', berries, employment relationship, harvest, working conditions, unpaid, fresh, common law, packed, terms, season, hired, exercise control, provisions, italics, fields, superior court, regulations, merchants, definitions, occupation, freezer, minors, field representative, courts

Business & Corporate Compliance, Wage & Hour Laws, Scope & Definitions, Minimum Wage, Labor & Employment Law, Remedies, Private Suits, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Definition of Employ, Administrative Proceedings, Rulemaking Authority, Definition of Employers, Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Appeals, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review