again resurface in the sugar cane industry. The Court is not convinced that the Department is justified in characterizing these changes as the "demise of the task rate system." Yet, even assuming arguendo that the Department is correct, these developments would merely narrow the scope of the controversy, not eliminate the entire underlying dispute as the Defendants contend. In other words, even if the Court were to accept the Department's premise that the sugar cane industry has witnessed the "demise of the task rate system," the Court would still reject the Department's conclusion that the Report is therefore "of no present impact, has no prospective effect, and review of it is precluded."
Defendants' claim that there is no longer any case or controversy thus clearly overstates the point. Irrespective of any present or future problems that may or may not remain in connection with the use of the "task rate" payment system in the sugar cane industry, Plaintiffs' complaint raised a legitimate question as to the validity of this payment practice during the 1986-87 harvesting season. It was in direct response to allegations of this problem that the Court ordered the Department to compile the Report and none of the later "intervening" developments noted by Defendants can be said to have had any impact on the problem as it existed during the 1986-87 season. At a minimum, then, this issue remains before the Court.
The fact that its resolution has had to await the seven year period during which the Final Report was being compiled should not in any way be used to prejudice the rights of the Plaintiffs to seek full and meaningful relief.
Nor is the Court persuaded by Defendants' claim that the Report is unreviewable agency action. Defendants' rely on the D.C. Circuit's opinion in Industrial Safety Equipment Ass'n, Inc. v. E.P.A., 267 U.S. App. D.C. 112, 837 F.2d 1115, 1120 (D.C. Cir. 1988) for the proposition that an agency report which does not directly "'impose an obligation, determine a right or liability or fix a legal relationship' is not reviewable agency action . . . (quoting Kukatush Mining Corporation v. SEC, 114 U.S. App. D.C. 27, 309 F.2d 647, 650 (D.C. Cir. 1962))." Defendants' Motion at 13. In addressing this claim, however, the Court notes that not only is the impact of the Report in this case far more significant than the Defendants concede, but the D.C. Circuit also noted that there are not necessarily hard and fast rules as to what constitutes reviewable agency action, remarking that "courts have made the threshold determination of reviewable agency action on a case-by-case basis." Industrial Safety Equipment Ass'n, Inc. v. E.P.A., 267 U.S. App. D.C. 112, 837 F.2d 1115, 1117 (D.C. Cir. 1988). In the instant case, the Departmental Report at issue is the direct product of a Court-ordered investigation in this very suit and by virtue of that alone is properly subject to judicial review.
Finally, contrary to the Defendants' suggestion, this Court has no intention of issuing an advisory opinion intended to influence the outcome of the Bygrave litigation now pending in the Florida court system. Review of the Department's Report was clearly contemplated by this Court and the parties to this suit as early as 1986, long before the litigation in Florida began. As such, the Court cannot accept Defendants' contention that judicial review of the Final Report, undertaken to resolve all remaining issues in this case, would in any way constitute an advisory opinion designed to affect the outcome in Bygrave.
In short, the Court must reject the Defendants' contention that this issue is moot. Nor is there merit to the Department's claim that the Final Report is not properly subject to judicial review. For these reasons, the Court declines to grant the Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.
B. This Court is the appropriate forum for resolution of the remaining issues in this case.
The Court also rejects the Defendants' contention that "it would be more efficient to allow the Florida court to resolve these [remaining] issues." Defendants' Motion at 12. This Court has a long history and resultant familiarity with the many issues involved in this case and the Plaintiffs' desire to pursue this cause of action to its final resolution in this forum is entirely understandable.
Moreover, to the extent that Plaintiffs presented valid causes of action in the mid 1980's, this Court intends to respect their rights to have these claims resolved on the merits. The fact that it has taken this many years to prepare these issues for decision, and the fact that intervening events, including the filing of the Bygrave lawsuit, may have changed the nature and scope of some of the remaining issues in this suit, should not prevent the Plaintiffs from having their full day in Court. To hold otherwise would be to deny Plaintiffs their right to a just resolution of their claims.
As such, the Court must deny the Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.
The Court shall now turn to address the Intervenor-Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment on Jurisdictional Grounds. As the following discussion reveals, the Sugar Cane Growers primarily argue that any issues that remain to be litigated with the Plaintiffs are not properly resolved by this Court, but for many of the same reasons articulated above, the Court does not agree.
IV. INTERVENOR-DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON JURISDICTIONAL GROUNDS
The Intervenor-Defendants, while not claiming that this case is moot, argue that the suit ought to be dismissed because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. The sugar cane growers base their claim on the following three grounds:
(i) the agency action for which plaintiffs apparently seek judicial review -- DOL's Final Report -- embodies an exercise of prosecutorial discretion not to take enforcement action and, thus, is unreviewable; (ii) based upon the pleadings allowed to date, plaintiffs do not have standing to sue because their claimed injury cannot be redressed by the remedy they seek against DOL and they have filed no claim against anyone else; and (iii) plaintiffs do not have a cause of action under the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA") for an order compelling the agency to take enforcement action against the growers.
Intervenor-Defendants' Motion at 10-11.
Essentially, the sugar cane growers' position is that "since NAACP cannot be continued against DOL, it cannot be continued at all." The Plaintiffs take issue with this position and, as indicated above, the Court also disagrees with the notion that the Department's Final Report is not subject to judicial review. As such, the Court finds that the Intervenor-Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment on Jurisdictional Grounds must be denied.
A. The Heckler v. Chaney presumption against judicial review of an agency's decision not to take enforcement action does not preclude judicial review of DOL's Final Report under the circumstances of this case and thus does not require that this cause of action be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.
The Intervenor-Defendants first argue that the Court lacks jurisdiction over this case because the agency action that the Plaintiffs are challenging is not judicially reviewable. The Sugar cane growers characterize Plaintiffs' claim as an allegation that DOL failed to enforce its piece rate regulations and as a request that the Court order the Department to undertake appropriate enforcement actions. Citing DOL's determination in its Final Report that the regulations were not violated and that "no remedy is appropriate", the Intervenor-Defendants urge the Court to find that the Department's Report is an "unreviewable exercise of enforcement discretion" under the rule of Heckler v. Chaney, 470 U.S. 821, 84 L. Ed. 2d 714, 105 S. Ct. 1649 (1985). See Intervenor-Defendants' Motion at 11.
In opposing this motion, Plaintiffs claim that the Intervenor-Defendants' "argument misconstrues the nature of the farmworkers' claim and must be rejected." Plaintiffs' Opposition at 19. More specifically, Plaintiffs argue that the case raises a "challenge to DOL misinterpretation of its piece rate regulations . . . [an issue] plainly subject to judicial review." Plaintiffs' Opposition at 19.
In arguing their respective positions, the Court notes that both parties devote considerable attention to the law surrounding judicial review of agency action. Yet neither party is really challenging the legal propositions set forth by the other. Plaintiffs do not dispute the notion that enforcement decisions are matters committed to agency discretion. Nor do the Intervenor-Defendants quarrel with the notion that questions of regulatory interpretation are reviewable under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 706. Rather, the primary issue in contention is the appropriate characterization of the agency action embodied in the Department's Final Report: the Intervenor-Defendants urge the Court to find that it is an unreviewable decision not to take any enforcement action and the Plaintiffs claim that it is a straightforward question of regulatory interpretation.
Under the circumstances of this case, the Court cannot accept the Intervenor-Defendants' contention that the Department's Final Report constitutes nothing more than a presumptively unreviewable enforcement decision. As the history of this case makes clear, DOL was directed to compile this Report by this Court's Order of September 25, 1986. Moreover, as the language of that Order suggests, the purpose of directing the Department to develop a factual record was far broader than the Defendant Intervenors would have the Court believe. Unlike those cases in which agencies conduct investigations purely for enforcement purposes, the investigation contemplated by the September 25, 1986 Order was designed to help resolve a factual dispute relating to the proper interpretation of the Department's piece rate regulations as applied to the sugar cane industry's "task rate" system. The fact that the Court's Order also provided for an inquiry into the issue of the sugar cane growers' compliance with the Court's prior orders and judgments in this case did not fundamentally alter the character of the investigation and Report. Nor is the entire Report rendered presumptively unreviewable merely because the Department included in its conclusions a finding that no violations had occurred and no remedies were appropriate.
The history of the case leaves no doubt that the Report constitutes a factual record compiled to assist the Court in resolving the legal claims raised by the Plaintiffs' complaint.
For this reason, many of the cases relied upon by the Intervenor-Defendants in attempting to characterize the Report as a statement of the Department's enforcement decisions are inapplicable. For instance, the "investigation" at issue in Giacobbi v. Biermann, 780 F. Supp. 33 (D.D.C. 1992), aff'd, 1992 U.S. App. LEXIS 31343, 1992 WL 309042 (D.C. Cir. 1992) was conducted to explore the Plaintiff's claims of discrimination by his employer in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Court's holding that judicial review was limited to the question of whether the Department conducted a prompt investigation is easily differentiated from the instant case. In Giacobbi, the Court was being asked to review an investigation addressed solely to the question of a particular violation. The ultimate decision of the agency in that case not to take any enforcement action was not judicially reviewable under the rule of Heckler v. Chaney. In this case, however, the Departmental Report Plaintiffs seek to have the Court review encompasses far more than a single agency enforcement decision, and for that reason is properly subject to judicial review.
Indeed, under the circumstances of this case, it would be highly unjust to preclude review merely because the Report contains certain findings that relate to enforcement decisions. This difficulty of characterizing agency action for purposes of judicial review has created a pervasive tension in similar cases where questions of regulatory interpretation seem inextricably linked to matters of enforcement and prosecutorial discretion. The danger to which the Intervenor-Defendants seek to alert the Court concerns the possibility that Plaintiffs will seek to cast an enforcement decision as a question of regulatory interpretation so as to preserve the possibility of judicial review. In the instant case, however, the Court finds itself presented with the opposite problem. The history of the case makes clear that the Report was intended to address the legal question of regulatory interpretation and it would be just as unfair to permit the Department to recast the entire issue as a question of enforcement for purposes of this litigation.
For these reasons, the Sugar cane growers' heavy reliance on the case of Safe Energy Coalition of Michigan v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 275 U.S. App. D.C. 355, 866 F.2d 1473, 1476 (D.C. Cir. 1989) is also misplaced. The Intervenor-Defendants rely upon Safe Energy for the proposition that Plaintiffs should not be permitted to "evade the presumption of unreviewability by artificially carving out this antecedent legal issue." Id. at 1476. Once again, though, the history of this case makes clear the distinction: the report at issue in Safe Energy constituted a written explanation of the agency's decision not to take enforcement action whereas DOL's Final Report was prepared in direct response to a Court Order seeking the development of a factual record upon which to decide the legal question of regulatory interpretation. The Court thus disagrees with the Intervenor-Defendants' claim that the NRC report is "analogous" to DOL's Final Report.
Indeed, it is not the Plaintiffs in this case who are guilty of a post hoc effort to re-characterize the Report under consideration as an issue of regulatory interpretation. The legal question raised by this case has been clear from the beginning and the Court's Order of September 25, 1986 leaves no doubt that the Report was intended to address precisely this legal issue right from the start. As such, the Report differs significantly from the primarily enforcement-related decisions embodied in the Report at issue in Safe Energy.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that there is no merit to the Intervenor-Defendants' contention that this matter must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that it is a presumptively unreviewable enforcement decision.
B. In view of the history of this litigation, equity demands that the Court not dismiss Plaintiffs' case for lack of standing on the grounds that Plaintiffs' claims cannot be redressed by a favorable decision.
The Intervenor-Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs have no standing to sue because a key element of standing, redressability, is not present in this case. In opposition, the Plaintiffs claim that the Court can redress their claims "both by enjoining DOL to lawfully interpret its piece rate regulations and by directly ordering the growers before it -- USSC and Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida -- to pay restitution to their workers." Plaintiffs' Opposition at 25. In view of the history and circumstances surrounding this case, the Court must also reject the Intervenor-Defendants' argument that Plaintiffs lack standing, as a matter of equity, if nothing else.
Once again, the parties are generally in agreement that the law governing standing is set forth in the Supreme Court case of Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 119 L. Ed. 2d 351, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 2136 (1992):
The irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements. First, the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact' -- an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized . . . and (b) "actual or imminent, not 'conjectural or hypothetical.'" . . . Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of -- the injury has to be "fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not, . . . the result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court." . . . Third, it must be 'likely' as opposed to merely 'speculative,' that the injury will be 'redressed by a favorable decision.'"