Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · July 27, 2023

ARLINGTON, Va.—Are Americans entitled to a regular court with a neutral judge when their livelihoods are on the line? The answer today from a federal court in New Jersey is “no.” Joe and Russell Marino, owners of the now-shuttered Sun Valley Orchards, teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge the U.S. Department of Labor’s administrative courts and will appeal today’s ruling.

“Today’s opinion shows what happens when the law forces real judges to defer to agency bureaucrats,” said IJ Senior Attorney Rob Johnson. “Sun Valley was fined more than half a million dollars in an agency court, where agency employees served as prosecutor, judge, and jury. Now, when Sun Valley finally had a chance to make its case before a real judge, the judge held he had no choice but to give a rubber stamp to that biased administrative proceeding.” 

The decision comes just months before the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that challenges a similar administrative court system at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jarkesy v. SEC. In that case, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the SEC’s use of in-house agency judges to impose fines and penalties violates the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury.

“The system is unfair and it has to change. Plain and simple,” said Joe Marino. “If the government is going to destroy your business with fines, at the very least you should get to defend yourself in a real court with a real jury. We’ve never had that chance.”

The Marinos closed down their fourth-generation family farm after facing more than $500,000 in penalties from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), mostly for a paperwork mistake. For almost five years, the Marinos fought the fines within DOL’s administrative law system. The Marinos’ suit is aimed at both stopping their fines and also creating a fairer system overseen by an independent federal judiciary, not agency bureaucrats.