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United Farm Workers v. Chao

January 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 2



This case is before the court on the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") and preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs, two farm workers' unions and eight individual farm workers, ask the court to postpone the effective date of a Final Rule announced by the Department of Labor ("DOL") on December 18, 2008. Without court intervention the Final Rule will become effective on January 17, 2009. Because the plaintiffs have failed to make a showing of likely, imminent and irreparable harm, the court denies the plaintiffs' motion.


Plaintiffs United Farm Workers and Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste ("PCUN") are farm workers' unions that advocate for and promote the employment rights of farm workers. Compl. ¶ 4-5. The individual plaintiffs comprise two distinct groups of farm workers: U.S. citizens and non-citizens who hold H-2A "guestworker" visas.*fn1 Id. ¶¶ 6-14. The defendants are the DOL and the Department of Homeland Security and their respective Secretaries.

The DOL is charged with overseeing the H-2A visa program, 8 U.S.C. § 1188, and it issues regulations to carry out this mandate, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 655.90-655.113. On December 18, 2008, the DOL announced the Final Rule modifying and updating its regulations with regard to domestic and H-2A farm workers. See 73 Fed. Reg. at 77110-239. The plaintiffs contest the legality of certain provisions, specifically the attestation process for H-2A applications,*fn2 Pls.' Mot. at 6-11; the formula for determining the "adverse effect wage rate,"*fn3 Pls.' Mot. at 11-23; the change in the "50% Rule,"*fn4 Pls.' Mot. at 24-26; the possibility of wage discrimination against U.S. workers,*fn5 Pls.' Mot. at 23-24; the modification of the housing inspection timeline,*fn6 Pls.' Mot. at 32-34; the change in recruitment requirements,*fn7 Pls.' Mot. at 28-32; and the alteration in the transportation reimbursement language,*fn8 Pls.' Mot. at 34-38. The plaintiffs filed a complaint and a motion for a TRO and preliminary injunction on January 12, 2009. The court turns now to the plaintiffs' motion.


A. Legal Standard for Injunctive Relief

This court may issue interim injunctive relief only when the movant demonstrates "[1] that he is likely to succeed on the merits, [2] that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, [3] that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and [4] that an injunction is in the public interest." Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 129 S.Ct. 365, 374 (2008) (citing Munaf v. Geren, 128 S.Ct. 2207, 2218-19 (2008)). It is particularly important for the movant to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. Cf. Benten v. Kessler, 505 U.S. 1084, 1085 (1992) (per curiam). Indeed, absent a "substantial indication" of likely success on the merits, "there would be no justification for the court's intrusion into the ordinary processes of administration and judicial review." Am. Bankers Ass'n v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 38 F. Supp. 2d 114, 140 (D.D.C. 1999) (internal quotation omitted).

Moreover, the other salient factor in the injunctive relief analysis is irreparable injury. A movant must "demonstrate that irreparable injury is likely in the absence of an injunction." Winter, 129 S.Ct. at 375 (citing Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 103 (1983)). Indeed, if a party fails to make a sufficient showing of irreparable injury, the court may deny the motion for injunctive relief without considering the other factors. CityFed Fin. Corp. v. Office of Thrift Supervision, 58 F.3d 738, 747 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (stating that because the movant "has made no showing of irreparable injury here, that alone is sufficient for us to conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by rejecting [the movant's] request. We thus need not reach the district court's consideration of the remaining factors relevant to the issuance of a preliminary injunction"). The plaintiffs here assert likely economic loss as grounds for the irreparable harm they allege. Pls. Mot. at 38-41. It is well-settled that economic loss alone will rarely constitute irreparable harm. Wis. Gas Co. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm' n, 758 F.2d 669, 674 (D.C. Cir. 1985); Barton v. D.C., 131 F. Supp. 2d 236, 247 (D.D.C. 2001) (Urbina, J.). In the business context, however, the well-settled exception to the rule is that if the potential harm could threaten the very existence of the business, a court may deem such harm irreparable. E.g., Wis. Gas Co., 758 F.2d at 674. Similarly, while an employer's discharge or constructive discharge of an employee will rarely constitute irreparable harm, courts routinely make exceptions when an employee is so poor that if she stopped working, the consequences would be severe. For instance, in Hamlyn v. Rock Island County Metro. Mass Transit Dist., the court held that:

The rule is clear: monetary loss does not constitute an irreparable injury because a successful plaintiff can be adequately compensated at the conclusion of the litigation.

There are four possible exceptions to this rule: (1) the plaintiff is so poor that he would be harmed in the interim by the loss of the monetary benefits; (2) the plaintiff would be unable to finance his lawsuit without the money he wishes to recover; (3) the damages would be unobtainable from the defendant because it will be insolvent prior to the final judgment; and (4) the nature of the plaintiffs' loss may make damages very difficult to calculate. 960 F. Supp. 160, 162 (C.D. Ill. 1997) (citing Roland Mach. Co. v. Dresser Indus., Inc., 749 F.2d 380, 386 (7th Cir. 1994)) (internal citations omitted); see also Chapman v. South Buffalo Ry. Co., 43 F. Supp. 2d 312, 318 (W.D.N.Y. 1999); Williams v. State Univ. of N.Y., 635 F. Supp. 1243, 1248 (E.D.N.Y. 1986) (explaining that "the plaintiff must quite literally find himself being forced into the streets or facing the spectre of bankruptcy before a court can enter a finding of irreparable harm").

Provided the plaintiff demonstrates a likelihood of success on the merits and of irreparable injury, the court "must balance the competing claims of injury and must consider the effect on each party of the granting or withholding of the requested relief." Amoco Prod. Co. v. Gambell, 480 U.S. 531, 542 (1987). Finally, "courts of equity should pay particular regard for the public consequences in ...

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