Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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Until 2000, Sonoma County grape growers could plant or replant a vineyard “as a matter of right” without governmental approval. A 2000 ordinance, governing “grading, drainage improvement, and vineyard and orchard site development within the unincorporated area of the county” requires growers, other than hobbyists, to obtain an erosion-control permit from the Agricultural Commissioner before establishing or replanting a vineyard. An applicant must submit plans demonstrating compliance with certain directives and must accept certain ongoing agricultural practices. The Commissioner issued the Ohlsons a permit to establish a vineyard on land they own that was being used for grazing, finding that issuing the permit was a ministerial act, exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code 21000 (CEQA). The trial court agreed. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the ordinance may allow the Commissioner to exercise discretion when issuing erosion-control permits in some circumstances, the objectors did not show that the Commissioner improperly determined that issuing the Ohlsons’ permit was ministerial. Most of the ordinance’s provisions that potentially confer discretion did not apply to their project, and the objectors failed to show that the few that might apply conferred the ability to mitigate potential environmental impacts to any meaningful degree. View "Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9603, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), 42 U.S.C. 11004, require parties to notify authorities when large quantities of hazardous materials are released into the environment. In 2008, the EPA issued a final rule that generally exempts farms from CERCLA and EPCRA reporting requirements for air released from animal waste. The EPA reasoned that the reports were unnecessary because, in most cases, federal response was impractical and unlikely. The court concluded that petitioners have informational standing and proceeded to the merits. The court granted the petition for review and vacated the Final Rule, concluding that the EPA's action cannot be justified either as a reasonable interpretation of any statutory ambiguity or implementation of a de minimis exception. The Pork Producers' challenge was moot and the court dismissed their petition. View "Waterkeeper Alliance v. EPA" on Justia Law

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The Creamery filed suit against the State, contending that the State's refusal to allow it to call its product "skim milk" amounted to censorship in violation of the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment for the State, determining that the State's refusal to allow the Creamery to use the term "skim milk" withstood scrutiny under the threshold inquiry of the Central Hudson test for commercial speech regulations. The court held that the State's actions prohibiting the Creamery's truthful use of the term "skim milk" violated the First Amendment. Under the threshold question of Central Hudson, the court concluded that the speech at issue neither concerned unlawful activity nor was inherently misleading. Therefore, the speech merits First Amendment protection and the State's restriction was subject to intermediate scrutiny under Central Hudson. The court concluded that the State's mandate was clearly more extensive than necessary to serve its interest in preventing deception and ensuring adequate nutritional standards. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Ocheesee Creamery LLC v. Putnam" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs submitted rulemaking petitions to the FDA, FTC, AMS, and FSIS, requesting that each agency promulgate regulations that would require all egg cartons to identify the conditions in which the egglaying hens were kept during production. Plaintiffs subsequently filed suit claiming that each agency had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in dismissing their rulemaking petitions. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants. The court concluded that the FSIS did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in denying plaintiffs' rulemaking petition where plaintiffs' proposed labeling regulations concern only shell eggs and thus fall outside of the FSIS's labeling jurisdiction under the Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA), 21 U.S.C. 1031–56; the AMS also did not act arbitrarily or capriciously because the agency correctly concluded that it lacks the authority to promulgate mandatory labeling requirements for shell eggs; the FTC did not act arbitrarily or capriciously where the agency could not conclude that the potentially unfair or deceptive labeling practices plaintiffs challenge were "prevalent" as that term was used in the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA), 15 U.S.C. 41-58, and the agency reasonably denied the petition based on its discretion to combat any potentially misleading egg labeling through ad hoc enforcement proceedings; and the FDA's explanation for denying plaintiffs' petition barely met its low burden of demonstrating that it considered the potential problem and providing a reasonable explanation of its decision. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Compassion Over Killing v. FDA" on Justia Law

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Growers sold their perishable agricultural products on credit to a distributor, Tanimura, which made Tanimura trustee over a Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA), 7 U.S.C. 499a-499t, trust holding the perishable products and any resulting proceeds for the Growers as PACA-trust beneficiaries. Tanimura then sold the products on credit to third parties and transferred its own resulting accounts receivable to Agricap through a Factoring Agreement or sale of accounts. In this suit against Agricap, Growers alleged that the Factoring Agreement was merely a secured lending arrangement structured to look like a sale but transferring no substantial risk of nonpayment on the accounts; the accounts receivable and proceeds remained trust property under PACA; because the accounts receivable remained trust property, Tanimura breached the PACA trust and Agricap was complicit in the breach; and PACA-trust beneficiaries such as Growers held an interest superior to Agricap, and Agricap was liable to Growers. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that Boulder Fruit Express & Heger Organic Farm Sales v. Transportation Factoring, Inc., controls the outcome of the case. The district court noted that the Ninth Circuit in Boulder Fruit expressly addressed the commercial reasonableness of a factoring agreement but implicitly rejected a separate, transfer-of-risk test. The district court further noted that the factoring agreement in Boulder Fruit transferred even less risk than the Factoring Agreement in the present case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "G.W. Palmer & Co. v. Agricap Financial" on Justia Law

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La Verne Koenig appealed after a jury found no fault in his personal injury lawsuit against Kenneth Schuh and Jason Schuh. Koenig was injured on a farm owned by Patricia Schuh. Koenig bought hay bales located on the Schuh farm. While tightening a strap securing the hay bales to a trailer, Koenig fell resulting in injury. Koenig sued Kenneth, Jason, Patricia and Mary Schuh alleging their fault in strapping the bales to the trailer. Koenig specifically alleged Jason was negligent in assisting him strapping a bale to the trailer and was acting under the direction of Kenneth and Mary Schuh. He alleged Patricia was liable because she owned the land and had a business relationship with the other Schuh defendants. The district court granted summary judgment to Patricia and Mary Schuh before trial. A jury found no fault on the part of Kenneth and Jason Schuh. Koenig argued on appeal: (1) that the district court erred in granting partial summary judgment to Patricia and Mary; (2) the lack of a trial transcript denied him a fair and full review on appeal; and (3) he did not receive a fair and full jury trial. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Koenig v. Schuh" on Justia Law

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Seaside filed suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 1346(b), 2671-2680, alleging that the FDA negligently issued a contamination warning in response to an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul that devalued Seaside’s tomato crop by $15,036,293.95. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the FDA was exercising a discretionary function in connection with the contamination warning. The court explained that the ruling was essential to protect the FDA’s vital role in safeguarding the public food supply. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Seaside Farm, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was a contract dispute between Silver Creek Seed, LLC and Sunrain Varieties, LLC, arising from the development of Bacterial Ring Rot (“BRR”) in two of the potato varieties grown by Silver Creek for Sunrain. After a four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict awarding damages to Silver Creek. Sunrain appealed: (1) the district court’s denial of a motion to reconsider an order granting partial summary judgment to Silver Creek; (2) the exclusion of the back side of the Idaho Crop Improvement Association (“ICIA”) blue tag from evidence; (3) the admission of testimony relating to the source of the BRR; (4) alleged errors in jury instructions; (5) the award of prejudgment interest to Silver Creek and (6) the award of attorney fees and costs to Silver Creek. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Silver Creek Seed v. Sunrain Varieties" on Justia Law

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In November 2014, the Voters of Maui County passed a ballot initiative banning the cultivation and testing of genetically engineered (GE) plants. The district court granted the GE Parties’ motion for summary judgment filed in the Robert Ito Farm action and granted the County’s motion to dismiss filed in the Atay action. The district court found the Ordinance unenforceable because it was expressly and impliedly preempted by federal law, impliedly preempted by state law, and in excess of the County’s authority under the Maui County Charter. SHAKA appealed the district court’s judgment in both cases. The court concluded that SHAKA and other appellants have Article III standing based on the allegations of five individual appellants who allege that GE farming operations on Maui threaten economic harm to their organic, non-GE farms. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in denying SHAKA’s motion to remand to state court, and in denying SHAKA’s request for Rule 56(d) discovery. The court held that the Ordinance is expressly preempted by the Plant Protection Act, 7 U.S.C. 7756(b), to the extent that it bans GE plants that the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates as plant pests. The court held that the ban is not impliedly preempted by the Plant Protection Act in its application to GE crops that APHIS has deregulated, but is impliedly preempted in this application by Hawaii’s comprehensive state statutory scheme for the regulation of potentially harmful plants. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment and its dismissal in two related actions related to the ordinance. View "Atay v. County of Maui" on Justia Law

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After the County approved a county ordinance prohibiting the growth, testing, and cultivation of genetically engineered crops, plaintiffs filed suit to enjoin and invalidate the Ordinance. Two public-interest citizens’ groups, Shaka and MOM Hui, filed motions to intervene. The magistrate judge granted Shaka’s motion to intervene but denied MOM Hui’s, finding that Shaka would adequately represent MOM Hui’s interests. The district court held that the magistrate judge had jurisdiction to rule on MOM Hui’s motion to intervene; any appeal from the magistrate judge’s order needed to be taken to the Ninth Circuit because the magistrate judge, having obtained the consent of the parties, had authority to enter a final decision under 28 U.S.C. 636(c)(1); and thus the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear MOM Hui’s appeal. The court agreed with the Seventh Circuit that a prospective intervenor is not a "party" as the term is used in section 636(c)(1). The court concluded that, because the magistrate judge had the consent of the parties and did not need the consent of MOM Hui, the magistrate judge had jurisdiction to rule on MOM Hui’s motion to intervene. Effectively presiding as a district judge over the suit, the court explained that the magistrate judge’s intervention order became immediately appealable to this court. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Roberto Ito Farm, Inc. v. County of Maui" on Justia Law