SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court gave a green light to two growers who
claim a state labor law violates their 14th Amendment right to equal
protection, but rejected their charge of political targeting.
Fresno growers Fowler Packing Co. and Gerawan Farming Inc.
filed a lawsuit
in January 2016 claiming the labor deal struck by Gov. Jerry Brown
and the Legislature in 2015 illegally excludes them from safe-harbor
benefits afforded to every other grower in the state.
Circuit Court of Appeals upheld
the Eastern District Court's ruling that the plaintiffs lacked the
basis for a 14th Amendment “bill of attainder” claim. This refers
to passage of a law that inflicts punishment without a judicial
on the case were judges Richard Clifton, Paul Watford, and Ronald
written by Gould, concluded that the bill's exemptions “do not
impose punishment upon plaintiffs. Because punishment is a necessary
element of a bill of attainder, the district court properly dismissed
The dismissal of the bill of attainder claim
was a disappointment to Wen Fa, staff attorney for Pacific Legal
Foundation (PLF), who filed an amicus
or “friend of the court” brief in its support. He argued the
plaintiffs are, in fact, being punished.
think what the court did in this case is take the very narrow,
historical view of punishment rather than looking at the precedent
from more recent court decisions,” Fa told The
Northern California Record.
definition of punishment was usually associated with death, courts
have since expanded that slim definition many times to include
“banishment and even the inability to receive government funds,”
Fa said. His
amicus brief was filed on behalf of Western Growers, California Fresh
Fruit Association, African-American Farmers of California, California
Farm Bureau Federation and Fresno County Farm Bureau.
In reversing the lower court's dismissal, the appellate court
found that the Legislature's justification for cutting the plaintiffs
out of the labor deal was illegal “because the only reason the
carve-outs were included in the final bill was to procure the support
of the UFW ... that justification alone does not survive
constitutional scrutiny,” Gould wrote. The case was returned to
district court for additional review.
The PLF is no stranger
to bill of attainder arguments. The organization litigated and won a
for Alan Merrifield in 2008. Merrifield owned a structural
pest-control business, which caught and/or killed mice, rats and
pigeons using traps, screens and other tools rather than pesticides.
The state Legislature had adopted an exemption to the
pest-control license statute in 1995 so that those in the profession
of trapping and removing pests were excluded from the licensing that
pesticide companies, which handled toxic chemicals, were required to
have. The provision did not include companies that exterminated rats,
mice and pigeons — the focus of Merrifield's company. The court
ruled that the state's singling out of these three pests was
“I do think in some cases there is an
unfortunate presumption of government control,” Fa said regarding
the types of lawsuits brought to the PLF in recent years. “Our
organization believes there should be a presumption of liberty.
People are free to act however they want as long as they respect the
rights of others.”