June 27, 2017

Tenth Circuit: H-2A Sheepherders Must Primarily Tend Sheep in Pastures

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Saenz Mencia v. Allred on Monday, December 14, 2015.

German Wilmer Saenz Mencia, a citizen of Peru, came to Utah to work on the Allreds’ sheep ranch under an H-2A sheepherder visa, and was paid $750 per month plus room and board, the minimum for sheepherders. He brought claims in district court, arguing that the work he performed did not qualify as sheepherding and instead he was entitled to the hourly wage for ranch hands. Mr. Saenz asserted claims in contract and quantum meruit for the lost wages and FLSA minimum wage claims against the Allreds. The district court rejected Mr. Saenz’s claims, denied his summary judgment motion, and granted summary judgment to the Allreds. Mr. Saenz appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first analyzed the H-2A definition of sheepherding and the FLSA definition of range production of livestock. The Tenth Circuit determined that to fit the definitions, Mr. Saenz must have spent over half of his time on the range tending to the sheep and must have extremely variable hours, described as “the constant surveillance of livestock that graze and reproduce on range lands.” The Tenth Circuit found that there was no plausible reading of the definitions that would render Mr. Saenz a sheepherder. Mr. Saenz worked in the vicinity of ranch headquarters where the Allreds could see what he was doing and ask him to help with odd jobs. Mr. Saenz did work with sheep, but they did not graze; they were fed hay. The Tenth Circuit concluded that Mr. Saenz did not work on the range as contemplated by the definitions. The Tenth Circuit found further evidence in the fact that the Allreds and Mr. Saenz were easily able to approximate his hours, and that most of his jobs were incidental to sheepherding. The Tenth Circuit found that Mr. Saenz was a ranch hand, not a sheepherder.

The Tenth Circuit next examined the district court’s finding that Mr. Saenz’s claims were estopped. The district court found that because Mr. Saenz never complained of being underpayed while employed by the Allreds, he was estopped from bringing claims in court. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. The Allreds were employers of more than a dozen H-2A sheepherders, and had obtained the H-2A visas for their employers by vouching for the type of work they would do. The Tenth Circuit concluded the Allreds had both actual and constructive knowledge of the nature and location of Mr. Saenz’s work and rejected their equitable estoppel claim. The Tenth Circuit held that the Allreds had easy access to lawyers and were in the business of importing laborers, and they were therefore not entitled to equitable estoppel under Utah law.

The Tenth Circuit addressed each of the Allreds’ six alternative grounds on which they asked the court to affirm and found none convincing. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Allreds and directed it to grant summary judgment to Mr. Saenz. The Tenth Circuit remanded for a calculation of damages and any other proceedings necessary.

Tenth Circuit: Misrepresentations on Visa Applications Constituted Mail Fraud, Forced Labor, and Visa Fraud

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Kalu on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Kizzy Kalu recruited 41 foreign nurses to work in the United States under specialty H-1B visas, advising the nurses they would be nurse instructor/supervisors at Adam University. Instead, when they arrived in the United States, the nurses were placed in nursing homes, where they performed ordinary nursing duties. Kalu’s company, Advanced Training and Education for Foreign Healthcare Professionals Group, LLC (“FHPG”), placed the nurses in the nursing homes and although the nurses were typically paid $35/hour for their labor, FHPG paid the nurses only $20/hour and kept the rest of the money. If the nurses left their FHPG employment, Kalu would charge them $1,000 per month regardless of whether they were employed and would threaten them with deportation, visa revocation, and penalties if they did not pay Kalu’s monthly fee.

Kalu and the former president of AU were charged with a 132-count indictment. In Kalu’s superseding indictment, (1) Counts 1-22 charged mail fraud; (2) Counts 23-37 charged encouraging and inducing an alien; (3) Counts 38-40 charged visa fraud; (4) Counts 41-57 charged forced labor; (5) Counts 55-64 charged trafficking in forced labor; (6) Counts 65-95 charged money laundering. Kalu was eventually convicted on 89 of the 95 counts and sentenced to 130 months’ imprisonment for mail fraud, forced labor, trafficking in forced labor, and money laundering and concurrently sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment for visa fraud and encouraging and inducing aliens. Kalu was also ordered to pay $475,592.94 in forfeiture and $3,790,338.55 in restitution to compensate the nurses for their losses. Kalu appealed, contending erroneous jury instructions required reversal and the restitution award was erroneously calculated.

The Tenth Circuit first evaluated Instruction 17, which discussed the elements of mail fraud. Kalu contended the trial court plainly erred by failing to instruct the jury that specific intent to defraud is an element of mail fraud. The Tenth Circuit agreed that the trial court plainly erred, but found that the error did not substantially affect the fairness of the proceedings because there was ample record evidence that Kalu misrepresented the details of the nurses’ employment and salaries to the nurses and to immigration officials, knew the statements he was making were false, and profited from the scheme. The Tenth Circuit held Kalu failed to make a showing that the outcome of the proceeding would have been different if the jury had been properly instructed.

Turning next to Kalu’s contention that the district court’s mail fraud instruction constructively amended the superseding indictment, the Tenth Circuit found no error. Kalu’s argument failed at the first prong of plain error review.

Kalu next alleged the instructions misstated the necessary mens rea for encouraging or inducing an alien. The district court’s instructions used a knowledge and negligence standard rather than a knowledge and recklessness standard, thus lowering the burden for convicting Kalu under the statute. The Tenth Circuit agreed with Kalu that the district court plainly erred in instructing the jury on knowledge and negligence rather than recklessness. Again, though, the Tenth Circuit found that the error did not substantially affect Kalu’s rights or the fairness of the proceeding, since Kalu failed to demonstrate a reasonable probability that the outcome would have been different if the jury were properly instructed because the prosecution presented ample evidence of Kalu’s actual knowledge at trial.

Kalu also contended that the instructions misrepresented the definition of “serious harm” by changing the word “compel” to “cause.” The Tenth Circuit found no error in this change, noting that ample evidence showed Kalu compelled the nurses to continue in their forced employment.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated the restitution award. The trial court calculated the restitution award by subtracting the amount the nurses were actually paid from the amount they were promised. The district court relied on the promised three-year term of employment in its calculations. The Tenth Circuit found no error in this method of calculation. Although Kalu argued he only promised the nurses “up to $72,000 annually,” when he completed their H-1B applications, he wrote they would be paid $72,000 annually, thereby promising them that amount. The Tenth Circuit also rejected Kalu’s argument that the nurses may have left their employment before the expiration of the three-year period, finding the nurses that left did so precisely because of Kalu’s misrepresentations.

The district court’s judgment was affirmed.