Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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Environmental organizations challenged a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit issued by the EPA for Idaho Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) under the Clean Water Act. On CAFOs, manure is typically stored in lagoons; waste that leaks from lagoons can reach groundwater that can reach navigable waters. Since the 1970s, the EPA has regulated both CAFO production areas (animal confinement, storage, lagoons) and land-application areas (fields where manure and process wastewater are applied as fertilizer).The Ninth Circuit held that the challenge was timely, rejecting the EPA’s contention that the Permit largely relied on a 2003 Rule. The Permit lacked sufficient monitoring provisions to ensure compliance with the Permit’s “zero discharge” requirements for both production and land-application areas. EPA's discretion in crafting appropriate monitoring requirements for each NPDES permit is not unlimited. The Permit had sufficient monitoring requirements for above-ground discharges from production areas; CAFOs were required to perform daily inspections. The Permit had no monitoring provisions for underground discharges from production areas. While the Permit flatly prohibited discharges from land-application areas during dry weather it had no monitoring provisions, although the record showed that such discharges can occur during irrigation of fertilized CAFO fields. View "Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Department regulates the use of pesticides, including 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), which is used in agriculture. Only Dow produces 1,3-D for use in California As a condition of Dow’s continued registration of 1,3-D products, the Department maintains a “township cap program,” which limits the amount of the pesticide that may be used each year to reduce cancer risks to bystanders. Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandate, claiming that the township cap program was an underground regulation in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and fails to incorporate recommendations from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as required under the Food and Agriculture Code.The trial court granted summary judgment, declaring the township cap program void and directing the Department to engage in formal rulemaking to replace it. The court of appeal affirmed, agreeing that the program is an underground regulation. A regulation subject to the APA may exist even if the agency never promulgates a written policy setting forth the rule. The fact that Dow happens to be the only registrant of 1,3-D does not mean the Department can informally regulate the pesticide at will while its rules are implemented as conditions of Dow’s registration; the township cap program is a rule of general application. The program governs how 1,3-D will be used, not how the Department will register pesticides, and clearly implements and makes specific the law the Department administers. View "Vasquez v. Department of Pesticide Regulation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Iowa Code Sec. 717A.3A(1)(a)-(b), which makes it a crime for a person to gain access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses and to make false statements on an employment application to such a facility, on First Amendment grounds. The district court ruled that both provisions were unconstitutional and enjoined their enforcement.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the provisions providing that a person is guilty of agricultural production facility fraud if they obtain access to the facility by false pretenses is consistent with the First Amendment because it prohibits exclusively lies associated with a legally cognizable harm - namely trespass to private property. The court explained that the proscription of the Employment Provision does not require that false statements made as part of an employment application be material to the employment decision. Therefore, the statute is not limited to false claims that are made "to effect" an offer of employment; it allows for prosecution of those who make false statements that are not capable of influencing an offer of employment. The court concluded that, given the breadth of the Employment Provision, it proscribes speech that is protected by the First Amendment and does not satisfy strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part, vacating the injunction against enforcement of the access provision. View "Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Finberg became the Chief Operating Officer of Adams, a produce distributor. Grinstead was Adams’s CEO. In 2011, federal authorities investigated Adams for fraud against the Department of Defense. Finberg claims he was unaware of the scheme until later when suppliers and Adams’s CFO discussed the scheme in front of him. Finberg agreed to gradually end the scheme to avoid further detection. Adams hired a law firm to internally investigate its operations, which revealed that CEO Grinstead had engaged in extensive fraud. PNC Bank froze the business’s accounts; Adams was unable to promptly pay suppliers $10 million. Adams declared bankruptcy. Grinstead pled guilty to wire fraud, misprision of felony, and multiple failures to file tax returns. Finberg pled guilty to misprision of a felony. A disciplinary complaint was filed against Adams with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, alleging violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 7 U.S.C. 499b(4), by failing to promptly pay suppliers. The determination that Adams violated the Act triggered the Act’s employment bar for each person who was responsibly connected to the violation.An ALJ found that Finberg was responsibly connected. A USDA Judicial Officer affirmed, finding that Finberg exercised judgment, discretion, or control once he learned of the fraudulent scheme and failed to report. The D.C. Circuit reversed The agency lacked substantial evidence that Finberg’s activities contributed to Adam’’s violation of the Act. View "Finberg v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim of an action filed by the Council, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the ground that California's Proposition 12 violates the dormant Commerce Clause in banning the sale of whole pork meat (no matter where produced) from animals confined in a manner inconsistent with California standards.The panel concluded that, under its precedent, a state law violates the dormant Commerce Clause only in narrow circumstances. The panel explained that the complaint does not plausibly allege that such narrow circumstances apply to Proposition 12, and thus the district court did not err in dismissing the Council's complaint for failure to state a claim. In this case, even though the Council has plausibly alleged that Proposition 12 will have dramatic upstream effects and require pervasive changes to the pork production industry nationwide, the panel concluded hat it has not stated a violation of the dormant Commerce Clause under existing precedent. The panel stated that alleged cost increases to market participants and customers did not qualify as a substantial burden to interstate commerce for purposes of the dormant Commerce Clause. View "National Pork Producers Council v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 imposes a $1 assessment, or “checkoff,” on each head of cattle sold in the U.S. to fund beef consumption promotional activities. The Secretary of Agriculture oversees the program. The Montana Beef Council and other qualified state beef councils (QSBCs), receive a portion of the checkoff assessments to fund promotional activities and may direct a portion of these funds to third parties for the production of advertisements and other promotional materials. R-CALF's members include cattle producers who object to their QSBCs’ advertising campaigns. In 2016, the Secretary entered into memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with QSBCs which granted the Secretary preapproval authority over promotions and allowed the Secretary to decertify noncompliant QSBCs, terminating their access to checkoff funds. The Secretary must preapprove all contracts to third parties and any resulting plans. QSBCs can make noncontractual transfers of checkoff funds to third parties for promotional materials which do not need to be pre-approved. Plaintiffs contend that the distribution of funds under these arrangements is an unconstitutional compelled subsidy of private speech.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the federal defendants after holding that R-CALF had associational standing and direct standing to sue QSBCs. The speech generated by the third parties for promotional materials was government speech, exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Given the breadth of the Secretary's authority, third-party speech not subject to pre-approval was effectively controlled by the government. View "Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America v. Vilsack" on Justia Law

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A member of the Metlakatla Indian Community was convicted of several commercial fishing violations in State waters and fined $20,000. He appealed his conviction and sentence to the court of appeals, which asked the Alaska Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of the appeal because of the importance of the primary issue involved: whether the defendant’s aboriginal and treaty-based fishing rights exempted him from State commercial fishing regulations. The defendant also challenged several evidentiary rulings and the fairness of his sentence. Because the Supreme Court held the State had authority to regulate fishing in State waters in the interests of conservation regardless of the defendant’s claimed fishing rights, and because the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its procedural rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The Court also affirmed the sentence as not clearly mistaken, except for one detail on which the parties agreed: the district court was mistaken to include a probationary term in the sentence. The case was remanded for modification of the judgments to correct that mistake. View "Scudero Jr. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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SFC, an equestrian center hosted off‐site trail‐riding events. SFC and American entered into a “farm-owner” insurance policy that described the insured premises as the farm’s address. The policy provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage caused by an “occurrence” that arises out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the “insured premises” or operations that are necessary or incidental to the “insured premises.” There is no coverage for the use of a motorized vehicle except a “motorized vehicle” which is designed only for use off public roads and which is used to service the “insured premises.” Ratay, an SFC employee, transported horses, equipment, and a golf cart from the farm to a riding center approximately 15 miles from SFC’s property, and supervised those riding SFC horses while driving the SFC golf cart. Shockley was a passenger in the cart when Ratay chased a horse through a field. Shockley flew out of the vehicle. The cart ran over his leg. Shockley filed suit.The district court entered a declaratory judgment that American has no duty to defend or indemnify SFC. The Seventh Circuit reversed. In Illinois, the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify. The court noted ambiguities caused by the policy’s competing characteristics as a farm-owner policy and as a commercial general liability policy. The complaint’s allegations sufficiently invoke the policy’s coverage; the golf cart was being used for business purposes. View "American Bankers Insurance Co v. Shockley" on Justia Law

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A California regulation mandates that agricultural employers allow union organizers onto their property for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year. Union organizers sought access to property owned by two California growers, who sought to enjoin enforcement of the access regulation. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit.The Supreme Court reversed. California’s access regulation constitutes a per se physical taking and the growers’ complaint states a claim for an uncompensated taking in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. When the government, rather than appropriating private property for itself or a third party, imposes regulations restricting an owner’s ability to use his own property, courts generally determine whether a taking has occurred by applying the “Penn Central” factors. When the government physically appropriates property, the flexible Penn Central analysis has no place. California’s access regulation appropriates a right to invade the growers’ property and therefore constitutes a per se physical taking. Rather than restraining the growers’ use of their own property, the regulation appropriates for the enjoyment of third parties (union organizers) the owners’ right to exclude. The right to exclude is “a fundamental element of the property right.” The duration of a physical appropriation bears only on the amount of compensation due. The California regulation is not transformed from a physical taking into a use restriction just because the access granted is restricted to union organizers, for a narrow purpose, and for a limited time.The Court distinguished restrictions on how a business generally open to the public may treat individuals on the premises; isolated physical invasions, not undertaken pursuant to a granted right of access; and requirements that property owners cede a right of access as a condition of receiving certain benefits. Government inspection regimes will generally not constitute takings. View "Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid" on Justia Law

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A prospective farmer sought loans for a poultry farm to be built in Caroline County, Maryland. The lender applied for a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan guarantee. Regulations interpreting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321, then required FSA to conduct an environmental assessment. FSA consulted with local, state, and federal agencies; published drafts of an environmental assessment for public comment; and considered a private environmental consulting firm's recommendations. FSA issued a “finding of no significant impact” rather than a more detailed environmental impact statement. FSA provided the loan guarantee. The farm has been operating since 2016 and houses 192,000 birds. Two years after the loan was approved, FWW, an environmental group, filed suit, alleging that the failure to prepare an environmental impact statement violated NEPA, purportedly injuring thousands of FWW members, including one who lived adjoining the farm and was subjected to loud noises, bright lights, foul odors, and flies. Another FWW member, who fishes nearby, asserted concerns about pollution and aesthetic and recreational impacts. The district court granted FSA summary judgment on the merits.The D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal. FWW lacks standing; it failed to establish that its claims are redressable by favorable judicial action. It is not “likely, as opposed to merely speculative,” that vacatur of the loan guarantee would redress its members’ alleged injuries. The loan guarantee might have been a “substantial contributing factor” to the farm’s construction, but a new status quo existed when FWW filed suit. View "Food & Water Watch v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law