Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) has found Four Seasons Earthworks
Inc. (Four Seasons) violated the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) but reduced its proposed fine from $15, 361.50 to $9,000.

In United States v. Four Seasons Earthworks, 10 OCAHO No. 1150 (2012), Four Seasons was charged with 19 violations of IRCA for its failure to ensure the completion of Section 1 and failed to complete Section 2 and 3. Four Seasons, a family-owned building contractor, based in Wilmington, North Carolina, was audited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in November 2009. Interestingly, ICE only requested the I-9s of the 22 current employees and 21 former employees, whose employment ended after January 1, 1999. Normally, ICE goes back at least two years for terminated employees.

The violations concerned its failure to ensure completion of Section 1 and/or failure to properly complete Section 2 or 3. Essentially, Four Seasons only entered data in List B even though IRCA requires you to complete both List B and C or List A. Four Seasons argued the above violations were technical, not substantive, because the I-9s provided the social security numbers in Section 1 and the employees' personnel files contained social security cards and birth certificates - both List C
documents. Furthermore, Four Seasons produced some of these documents for ICE after the initial audit.

OCAHO dismissed Four Season's arguments as contrary to established law, citing 8 C.F.R. section 274a2(b)(3) which states: "the copying or electronic image (of identity documents) does not relieve the employer from the requirement to fully complete section 2 of the form I-9." Furthermore, OCAHO stated that Four Seasons late production of copies of supporting documents does not excuse the company's failure to enter the necessary information on the I-9. It would not even have excused Four Seasons' violations even if timely produced.

Concerning the fine, the range is from $110 to $1,100 per violations. Thus, based on 19 violations, the range is from $2,090 to $20,900. ICE determined there were 19 violations which was divided by 43 - the total number of employees/former employees, equaling about 44%. According to ICE's grid, a percentage between 40 and 49% equals a base fine of $770 per violation.

After the base fine is determined, the following five factors must be assessed: 1) the size of the business of the employer, 2) the good faith of the employer, 3) the seriousness of the violation(s), 4) whether or not the individuals involved were unauthorized aliens, and 5) any history of previous violations by the employer.  ICE found a 5% aggravation for the seriousness of the violations but did not increase/decrease the base fine on the other four factors. Thus, $770 + $5% = $808.50.

Four Seasons argued it should be treated as a small company, and was entitled to a 5% reduction in the base fine. OCAHO agreed based upon its gross receipts of $1.9 million in 2010 and its current workforce consistently of only 22 employees. OCAHO did not concur with Four Seasons' argument that it should be found to have committed serious violations.       

OCAHO concluded the base fine should be reduced to $500 per violation or a total of $9,500. In so doing, OCAHO found: "Given the downward trend in construction and the subsequent bankruptcy of a separate family-owned company it is reasonably clear that there have been significant financial setbacks for this small company over the last few years. Considering the record as a whole and the statutory factors in particular, the penalties will be adjusted as a matter of discretion to an amount closer to the midrange of permissible penalties.

This decision continues a trend that companies who contest their ICE fines for substantive I-9 violations will have the amount of their fine substantially reduced.