Section 56382.5. (Amended by Stats. 2000, Ch. 768, Sec. 7.)
Cite as: Cal. Food & Agric. Code §56382.5.
(a)An aggrieved grower or licensee with a complaint that is not subject to the federal Packers and Stockyards Act, 1921 (7 U.S.C. Sec. 181, et seq.) or the federal Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 1930 (7 U.S.C. Sec. 499a et seq.) may seek resolution of that complaint by filing a complaint with the department within nine months from the date a complete account of sales was due. The complaint shall be accompanied by two copies of all documents in the complainant’s possession that are relevant to establishing the complaint, a filing fee of sixty dollars ($60), and a written denial of jurisdiction from the appropriate federal agency unless the commodity involved clearly does not fall under the federal Packers and Stockyards Act, 1921 (7 U.S.C. Sec. 181, et seq.) or the federal Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 1930 (7 U.S.C. Sec. 499a et seq.). Within five business days of receipt of a signed and verified complaint, the filing fee, and the denials of federal jurisdiction, the department shall serve the verified complaint on the respondent. Service shall be by certified mail. The department, the secretary, the department’s employees, the department’s agents, the boards and commissions associated with the department, their employees or agents, and the State of California are not parties to the dispute in a proceeding brought under this section.
(b)The respondent served shall answer within 30 calendar days of service. Respondent’s response shall include two copies of all relevant documentation of the transactions referred to in the verified complaint.
(c)Within 30 calendar days of receipt of the answer, the department shall issue to both parties a written factual summary on the basis of the documents that have been filed with the department.
(d)If a settlement is not reached within 30 calendar days after the department’s summary is issued, the department, on request of the claimant or respondent and upon payment of a filing fee of three hundred dollars ($300), shall schedule alternate dispute resolution, to commence within 90 calendar days. The department shall serve both parties with a notice of hearing, which sets out the time, date, street address, room number, telephone number, and name of the hearing officer. Service of the notice of hearing shall be by certified mail.
(e)The alternate dispute resolution shall proceed as follows:
(1)The hearing shall be conducted by hearing officers in accordance with standard procedures promulgated by the American Arbitration Association or other acceptable alternative dispute resolution entities.
(2)The hearing officers shall be familiar with the type of issues presented by such claims, but need not be attorneys.
(3)The sole parties to the proceedings shall be the complainant and the respondent.
(4)The disputes, claims, and interests of the department or the State of California are not within the jurisdiction of the proceedings.
(5)The validity of a regulation of the department or order promulgated pursuant to this code is not within the jurisdiction of the proceedings.
(6)Law and motion matters shall be handled by the assigned hearing officer.
(7)The hearing officer has no authority to enter into settlement discussions except upon stipulation of the parties involved.
(8)The parties may represent themselves in propria persona or may be represented by a licensed attorney at law. A party may not be represented by a representative who is not licensed to practice law.
(9)To the extent of any conflict between any provision of Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 11400) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code and this article, this article shall prevail.
(10)The hearing officer may order a review of records or an audit of records by a certified public accountant. The review or audit shall be conducted under generally accepted auditing standards of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and upon completion of the review or audit the nature and extent of the review or audit shall be disclosed to the parties by the auditor in the audit report. The audit report shall disclose the number of transactions reviewed and the rationale for selecting those transactions. The department shall advance the costs of the audit or review of records, but the hearing officer shall apportion the costs at the conclusion of the hearing. The department shall pursue repayment in accordance with the hearing officer’s apportionment and may bring an action in a court of competent jurisdiction to recover funds advanced. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to require the department to pursue any specific remedy or to prohibit the department from accepting a reasonable repayment plan.
(f)The hearing officer shall render a written decision within 60 days of submission of the case for decision. In addition to rendering a written finding as to what is owed by whom on the substantive allegations of the complaint, the hearing officer shall decide whether or not to order the full cost of the alternative dispute resolution proceeding, and in what ratio or order the losing party is to pay the costs of the proceeding. For these purposes, the cost of the alternative dispute resolution proceeding does not include the filing fee, the parties’ attorney fees, or expert witness fees. The hearing officer may also award a sanction against a complainant for filing a frivolous complaint or against a respondent for unreasonable delay tactics, bad faith bargaining, or resistance to the claim, of either 10 percent of the amount of the award or a specific amount, up to a maximum of one thousand dollars ($1,000). Any sanction award shall not be deemed to be res judicata or collateral estoppel in any subsequent case in which either the complainant or respondent are charged with filing a frivolous complaint, unreasonable delay tactics, bad faith bargaining, or resistance to the claim. The department may consider the written decision of the hearing officer in determining any related licensing action. The written decision of the hearing officer may be introduced as evidence at a court proceeding.
(g) Nothing in this section prohibits the parties to the dispute from settling their dispute prior to, during, or after the hearing.
(h) Nothing in this section alters, precludes, or conditions the exercise, during any stage of the proceedings provided by this chapter, of any other rights to relief a party may have through petition to a court of competent jurisdiction, including, but not limited to, small claims court.