Hamilton v. Whole Foods: PAGA is Constitutional

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Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Buckley has ruled that PAGA (the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004) is constitutional.  The ruling came in response to a demurrer filed by defendant Whole Foods, in which the company claimed that PAGA is void on separation-of-powers grounds.  See Hamilton v. Whole Foods, No. BC461746 (L.A. Super. Ct. Dec. 22, 2011) (order denying demurrer) at 1 (available here). 

Rejecting Whole Foods’ arguments, the Court ruled that “the PAGA statute does not significantly impair judges’ functions, or contain anything unique to necessitate prosecution only by neutral government lawyers.  The absence of any real interference with the separation of powers knocks out the critical leg of defendant’s arguments.”  Id. at 5-6. 

Judge Buckley also emphasized that courts have consistently approved of private attorneys general enforcing Labor Code provisions under PAGA, most notably in Brown v. Ralphs, 197 Cal. App. 4th 489 (2011).  Id. at 6-7.  Moreover, the role of private attorneys general in enforcement of statutes beyond PAGA has long been recognized.  Id. at 7.  This further underscores the constitutionality finding. 

The Hamilton lawsuit challenges Whole Food’s alleged failure to provide adequate seating to employees pursuant to Labor Code Section 1198.