Without ruling on the validity of the agency's claims against two Oregon blueberry farmers, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin has ruled that the Department of Labor (DOL) strong armed the duo by forcing them to admit to wage and hour violations before they could ship and sell their blueberries.

The two farmers sued after the settlement, alleging "extortion" by the DOL

Wrote Judge Coffin in his ruling this past Wednesday:

“Although the government’s use of the hot-goods authority is authorized by statute to resolve wage-and-hour violations, applying such authority to perishable goods in this situation in effect prevented defendants from having their day in court.

“To avoid the potential loss of millions of dollars worth of berries, defendants had to agree to the Department of Labor’s allegations without an opportunity to present a defense or confront the DOL’s evidence in an administrative or court hearing.”

The DOL countered that the "hot goods" law had been in effect for 75 years and said it would appeal the ruling to a district court. The judge noted, however, that in the past the DOL had allowed defendants to place funds in escrow without admitting guilt to avoid the "hot goods" tactic.