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Garcia-Brower v. Nor-Cal Venture Group (CA3 C089148 3/9/23) Labor Commissioner Subpoena

During an investigation into possible violations of California overtime laws by appellant Nor-Cal Venture Group, Inc. (Nor-Cal), a company that operates fast food restaurants in the Sacramento area, respondent Labor Commissioner for the State of California (Commissioner) subpoenaed business records from Nor-Cal. Later, Commissioner issued a wage citation to Nor-Cal, seeking over $900,000 in penalties and unpaid wages for alleged misclassification of about 40 restaurant managers. Nor-Cal challenged the wage citation in an “informal” adjudicatory hearing, and while that adjudication was pending, Commissioner issued a subpoena directing Nor-Cal’s “Person(s) Most Knowledgeable” on certain topics to testify at a deposition. When Nor-Cal refused, Commissioner filed a petition in the trial court to compel Nor-Cal to comply. The trial court agreed with Commissioner and ordered Nor-Cal to comply with the deposition subpoena.

On appeal, Nor-Cal challenges the trial court’s order, arguing (1) the Government Code does not contemplate parties to adjudicatory informal hearings taking depositions for the purpose of discovery; and (2) because, under the trial court’s reasoning, only Commissioner may issue deposition subpoenas during the pendency of an informal adjudication, the trial court’s order permitting non-reciprocal discovery violates due process principles.

California’s overall statutory scheme regarding administrative proceedings provides for only limited discovery in connection with informal agency adjudications. So while Commissioner has broad power to issue investigative subpoenas to a company for suspected violations of the law, that broad power ends upon initiation of adjudicative proceedings against the company. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s order compelling Nor-Cal to comply with Commissioner’s deposition subpoena.