STIVERS v. DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT OF THE STATE

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District Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 3, California.

STIVERS et al. v. DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT OF THE STATE et al.*

Civ. 19308.

Decided: April 14, 1953

Ivan G. McDaniel, Kenneth N. Dellamater, Los Angeles, for appellants. Edmund G. Brown, Atty. Gen., Irving H. Perluss, Asst. Atty. Gen., William L. Shaw and Vincent P. Lafferty, Deputy Attys. Gen., for respondents.

Plaintiff sued to recover employer's taxes paid under protest under assessments levied under section 45.11(d) of the California Unemployment Insurance Act, Deering's Gen.Laws, Act 8780d. The demurrer of James G. Bryant as Director of Employment and other defendants was sustained without leave to amend and plaintiffs appeal from the ensuing judgment. The assessments were for the period January 1, 1944, through September 30, 1947, and amounted to $5,348.20. Plaintiffs pursued all necessary administrative proceedings prerequisite to court action.

The labor for which the assessments were levied was performed in a packing house and the question is whether it was agricultural labor and hence exempt under the Act. It was alleged in the complaint that plaintiffs Morgan A. Stivers, Glenn Stivers, Howard Stivers and Archie Stivers were, during the period in question, members of a partnership which owns, with numerous other assets, 357 acres of citrus groves. Subsequently, Archie Stivers died and J. B. Stivers, as executor of his estate, joins with the others as a plaintiff. Raymond K. Stivers owned separately an additional 70 acres of groves. All the property stood in the name of Morgan A. Stivers or of himself and his wife and he had the management of all the properties of the partnership. The same four parties owned a packing house and this was managed by Raymond K. Stivers. Eighty per cent of the products handled in the packing house came from Stivers' groves and not over 20 per cent from the groves of others. The packing house operations were conducted by a partnership consisting of the four owners of the groves, Raymond K. Stivers having a one-third interest in this partnership and the other members a two-thirds interest. All the cost of operating the groves was paid by the packing house partnership. The several groves were charged with this expense, and were credited with all the receipts from products sold, against which was a charge per box for packing, plus an additional charge for the operation and maintenance of the groves owned by Raymond K. Stivers and those owned by the owning partnership. The packing house partnership did not operate, maintain or manage any non-citrus groves; the primary and sole purpose of the packing house partnership was to produce, harvest, pick, sell and ship citrus fruits from the Stivers' groves. It was alleged that two-thirds of the (Stivers) citrus fruits packed were produced in the groves of the owning partners and one-third in the groves owned by Raymond K. Stivers.

Our discussion will be devoted to the following propositions: If the packing house partnership, as distinguished from its individual members, is to be regarded as a separate entity, and the employing unit of the packing house workers, or if the principal packing house operation was not merely incidental to the farming operation, the labor would not be agricultural labor under the terms of the Act and the regulations of the Department of Employment, whereas, if the packing house partnership was merely an agency of the owners of the groves and the individuals who compose both partnerships were, in reality, the employers, and if the principal packing house operation was merely incidental to the farming operation, all the labor in the packing house would be regarded for unemployment tax purposes as agricultural labor and hence exempt. We are of the opinion that the latter is the case.

Section 7(a) of the Act provided that the term ‘employment’ does not include ‘agricultural labor.’ The Act did not define agricultural labor. During the year 1944 and until January 1, 1945, there was in force Rule 7.1 of the department defining agricultural labor and which read as set out below.1

As of April 1, 1945, without material change, Rule 7.1 became § 43 of Title 22 of the Administrative Code, which was amended June 1, 1945, to read as set out below.2

In California Employment Commission v. Kovacevich, 27 Cal.2d 546, 165 P.2d 917, former Rule 7.1 was interpreted to mean that packing house labor, in order to be classed as agricultural, must be performed by an employee of the owner or tenant of the farm on which the materials are produced, and the services must be carried on as an incident to ordinary farming operations as distinguished from manufacturing or commercial operations. With somewhat different arrangement, § 43 of Title 22 of the Administrative Code imposed the same conditions.

Inasmuch as 80 per cent of the packing services were performed on Stivers' fruit and 20 per cent on other fruit, certain other enactments are to be considered.

By Stats.1939, pp. 2850–2853, § 7 of the Unemployment Reserves Act, Stats.1935, p. 1226, was amended to read as set out below.3 The same provision is found in § 7.1 of the Act, Stats.1945, pp. 1486 and 2230; Deering's Gen.Laws, Act 8780d. It also appears as § 42(b) of Title 22 of the Administrative Code, effective April 1, 1945, which contains the additional provision set out below.4

We may inquire first whether it appeared from the allegations of the complaint as a matter of law that the packing services were incidental to a commercial operation as distinguished from the farming operation. It was alleged that they were merely incidental to the latter and we think it may not be questioned that the facts pleaded would have justified a finding that this allegation was true. We can conceive of no reason to doubt that the principal purpose of the packing house operation was to facilitate the marketing of the crops from the Stivers' groves.

Plaintiffs contend that the share of the services amounting to 20 per cent rendered to the public was likewise incidental to the farming operation. We deem it unnecessary to decide this question. Even if it be assumed that the labor performed in packing nonStivers fruit, if considered by itself, would be subject to tax, it should be deemed tax exempt under former § 7 of the Act, which became § 7.1 under the 1945 amendment, for the reason that more than 50 per cent of the entire service was agricultural. It is therefore immaterial whether the 20 per cent of services on nonStivers fruit were agricultural and tax exempt, or nonagricultural and tax subject, inasmuch as the entire service was rendered to the same employer.

Exemption from tax liability rests upon the further condition that the packing house laborers were working for the owners of the groves. We are satisfied that they were.

Any type of organization, including a partnership, may become an employing unit, § 9. So may a partnership be an owner or a tenant. Granting that the packing house partnership was nominally the employing unit with respect to the packing house labor, and recognizing that title to the groves was not vested in the partnership as an entity distinct from its members, we cannot fail to recognize the fact that the groves belonged to the individuals who composed the packing house partnership. This fact establishes that the individuals were in a real sense the employers of the workers.

Defendants say that the decision in Cal. Employment Commission v. Butte County, Etc., Ass'n, 25 Cal.2d 624, 154 P.2d 892, 897, ‘is viewed to be determinative of the present controversy.’ We believe otherwise. The defendant was a cooperative association, incorporated as a nonprofit farmers organization under civil code sections. It had 48 members, paying $300 each, and 23 applicants for memberships who had paid $10 each. All were entitled to the handling and marketing services. The association conducted a warehouse business in which it was obliged to receive and store products offered to it by the general public without discrimination; it also purchased and sold to its members and applicants, and might also sell to the public, merchandise commonly used in farming operations; it also maintained a public scale for the use of the public. Any profits made in its operations were distributed ratably among the regular members. Applicants for membership received nothing. The association was not the owner, tenant or operator of any farm. The court said: ‘Upon this record the conclusion seems inescapable that the defendant association is in essence a commercial enterprise’. It was claimed for the association that it was a mere agency through which the members and applicants processed and marketed their products. The court rejected this claim, stating 25 Cal.2d at page 636, 154 P.2d at page 898: ‘Such observation is not only squarely at variance with the facts of this case—demonstrating that the defendant association in all its services functions as a unit wholly independent of the farmers comprising its membership—but is likewise contrary to the elementary legal principle that a corporation is a complete legal entity separate and apart from the individuals who own it.’ It was therefore held that the operation of the various enterprises, while helpful, were ‘not an incident to ordinary farming operations as distinguished from * * * commercial operations', and that the labor employed therein was not tax exempt. The features of the operations in that case which the court deemed to be controlling are absent from the present case. The factual features of the present case from which we conclude that the major part of the services here in question was incidental to a farming operation, were absent from the former case. The court in that case did not hold, as respondents contend, that any service rendered to the public would make the running of a packing house a commercial operation. It did hold that the commercial operations of the Rice Growers Association were not incidental to a farming operation.

Respondents contend that the Stivers partnership was an entity separate from the members thereof, just as the Rice Growers Association was an entity separate from its members. The distinctions are obvious. The principal differences are that the individuals who composed the two Stivers partnerships were the sole owners of the groves and the packing house, operated both the farming and the packing operations through their respective managers, that all the acts of their managers were the acts of the partners, and all the duties and obligations of the partnerships the duties and obligations of the individual members. Certainly it could not be contended that the groves were in an ownership distinct and separate from that of the individual partners.

A partnership may be regarded as a legal entity for some purposes and not for others. It may in its partnership name become an employer of labor so as to effectively bind its members, but in doing so it acts on their behalf and not as a separate entity. The theory that a workman employed by a partnership is not the employee of each member of the partnership was expressly rejected in Reed v. Industrial Acc. Com., 10 Cal.2d 191, 73 P.2d 1212, 1213, 114 A.L.R. 720. Reed was employed by a partnership, Gordon and Mellott. Mellott became insured before he formed a partnership with Gordon. Reed was denied a compensation award against the insurer on the theory that he was an employee of the partnership, which was not insured. The award was annulled. The court held that Reed was the employee of the individuals who composed the partnership and was therefore insured. We quote from the opinion a passage which we regard as conclusive on the point: ‘The underlying fallacy in respondent's argument is the assumption that the partnership is a distinct unit, separate from the members thereof. Occasional suggestions of this ‘entity’ theory of partnership are found in statutes or decisions, but, apart from exceptional situations, a partnership is not considered an entity, but an association of individuals. See First Nat. Trust & Savings Bank v. Industrial Accident Commission, 213 Cal. 322, 331, 2 P.2d 347, 78 A.L.R. 1324; 9 Cal.L.Rev. 119. In consonance with this view, an employee of a partnership is an employee of each of the partners, and no individual partner may escape liability to such employee on the ground that only the partnership and not the individuals composing it can be held. It is immaterial whether the liability of the partners in this situation is joint and several, or joint, for even in the case of joint liability, a several judgment may be had against an individual partner by proper joinder and pleading. See Palle v. Industrial Commission, 79 Utah 47, 7 P.2d 284, 81 A.L.R. 1222; Merchants' Nat. Bank [of Los Angeles] v. Clark-Parker Co., 215 Cal. 296, 9 P.2d 826, 81 A.L.R. 778. The result is that W. B. Mellott, a partner in the firm of Gordon & Mellott, was an employer of petitioner Reed, and was undoubtedly liable to Reed for workmen's compensation. Since W. B. Mellott procured insurance with respondent company to cover such liability, and paid the required premium therefor, the company must perform its obligation by paying the award.'

The principle stated is supported by numerous authorities cited by the court and by many others. This entire line of authority is ignored in the brief of the respondents, although it directly supports the contention of the appellants that they, as individuals, were the real employers of the packing house workers. Respondents say that the packing house workers are as much in need of unemployment insurance as other workers, and apparently contend that this fact should influence the interpretation of the law by the courts. The same could be said of all agricultural workers and many others whose wages are tax exempt. We have only to apply the law as it is written. The argument of the respondents has an answer in the Kovacevich case, 27 Cal.2d at pages 549, 550, 165 P.2d at page 919, where it is said: ‘While it is true that such legislation should be liberally construed so as to afford all the relief which the language of the act indicates that the Legislature intended to grant (California Employment Commission v. Butte County Rice Growers Ass'n, 25 Cal.2d 624, 630, 154 P.2d 892), the interpretation should not exceed the limits of the statutory intent. * * * In view of the express statutory intent to except ‘agricultural labor,’ any labor which is essentially agricultural in nature, and which cannot be otherwise regarded by reason of any change in the custom of doing it, should not be included within the operation of the act by administrative or judicial legislation under the guise of liberal interpretation.'

The requirement that the employer of both exempt and nonexempt labor must keep the account of each employee so as to record the time spent in each type of employment in each pay period, § 42, Title 22, note 4 above, was met by the allegations of the complaint that such records were kept.

We hold that upon proof of the facts pleaded by plaintiffs the court could properly find that plaintiffs were the employers of the packing house labor; that not less than 80 per cent of the packing house services were incidental to ordinary farming operations as distinguished from commercial operations, and hence were agricultural, and could properly conclude therefrom that all the wages paid were tax exempt.

The judgment is reversed; defendants to be permitted to answer.

FOOTNOTES

1.  ‘Agricultural Labor Defined—The term ‘Agricultural Labor’ includes all services performed:‘(1) By an employee on a farm, in connection with the cultivation of the soil, the raising and harvesting of crops, the raising, feeding, management of livestock, poultry and bees; which includes among others, the spraying, pruning, fumigating, fertilizing, irrigating and heating which may be necessary and incident thereto;‘(2) By an employee in connection with the drying, proceeding, packing, packaging, transporting, and marketing of materials which are produced on the farm or articles produced from such materials, providing such drying, processing, packing, packaging, transporting, or marketing is carried on as an incident to ordinary farming operations as distinguished from manufacturing or commercial operations.‘The services hereinabove set forth do not constitute agricultural labor unless they are performed by an employee of the owner or tenant of the farm on which the materials in their raw or natural state were produced. Nor do such services constitute agricultural labor if they are carried on as an incident to manufacturing or commercial operations.’

2.  ‘Agricultural labor exempted from ‘employment’ by Section 7(a) of the Act includes all services performed:‘(a) On a farm, in the employ of any person, in connection with cultivating the soil, or in connection with raising or harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodity; the raising, feeding, and management of livestock, poultry and bees; which includes among others, the spraying, pruning, fumigating, fertilizing, irrigating and heating which may be necessary and incident thereto.‘(b) In the employ of the owner or tenant of a farm on which the materials in their raw or natural state were produced, in connection with the drying, processing, packing, packaging, transporting, and marketing of such materials.‘(c) In the employ of the owner or tenant of a farm with respect to ordinary farming operations in connection with the operation, management, conservation, improvement, or maintenance of such farm and its tools and equipment, if substantially all of such services are performed on a farm.‘(d) The provisions of subsections (b) and (c) are not applicable with respect to the services referred to unless such services are carried on as an incident to ordinary farming operations as distinguished from manufacturing or commercial operations. Nor are the provisions of said subsections applicable to services performed in commercial canning or commercial freezing.’

3.  (b) ‘If the services performed during one-half or more of any pay period by an employee for the person employing him constitute employment, all the services of such employee for such period shall be deemed to be employment; but if the services performed during more than one-half of any such pay period by an employee for the person employing him do not constitute employment, then none of the services of such employee for such period shall be deemed to be employment. As used in this paragraph the term ‘pay period’ means a period (of not more than thirty-one consecutive days) for which a payment of remuneration is ordinarily made to the employee by the person employing him.'

4.  (a) ‘Where employees perform services for an employer in both exempt and nonexempt employments, such employer shall maintain accurate records showing the hours worked by and the wages paid to employees in each of said employments. Such segregation must be made with respect to each individual employee rather than on the basis of the employer's operations as a whole and may be made on a percentage or other basis found by the Department to be reasonable.’

SHINN, Presiding Justice.

WOOD and VALLÉE, JJ., concur.