Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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Appellant Spring Valley Produce, Inc. (SVP) is a creditor of Chapter 7 debtors Nathan and Marsha Forrest (the Forrests). The Forrests owe a pre-petition debt for produce which they are seeking to discharge. SVP initiated this adversary proceeding, seeking a declaration that the debt was nondischargeable under Section 523(a)(4). The bankruptcy court granted the Forrests’ motion to dismiss and held that Section 523(a)(4) does not apply to Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) related debts. At issue on appeal is whether the Bankruptcy Code’s exception to discharge in 11 U.S.C. Sections 523(a)(4) applies to debts incurred by a produce buyer who is acting as a trustee under PACA.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court’s order dismissing SVP’s claims because Section 523(a)(4) does not accept debts incurred by a PACA trustee from discharge. The court explained debts incurred by a produce buyer acting as a PACA trustee are not excepted from discharge under Section 523(a)(4). While a PACA trust does identify a trustee, beneficiary, and trust res, thus satisfying the first step of our analysis, it does not impose sufficient trust-like duties to fit the narrow definition of a technical trust under Section 523(a)(4). PACA does not impose the duties to segregate trust assets and refrain from using trust assets for a non-trust purpose, which are strong indicia of a technical trust. Instead, a PACA trust more closely resembles a constructive or resulting trust, which do not fall within Section 523(a)(4)’s exception to discharge. View "Spring Valley Produce, Inc., et al v. Nathan Aaron Forrest, et al" on Justia Law

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Vanegas, a Mexican citizen, was hired by Signet, a nationwide construction company, to work in the U.S. on an H-2A guestworker visa, which authorizes foreign workers to perform “agricultural” work in the U.S. on a temporary basis, if the proposed employer can show that there are too few domestic workers willing and able to do the work and that the use of guest-workers will not undercut local workers’ wages and working conditions, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a); 1188(a)(1). Vanegas was assigned to build livestock structures on farms in Wisconsin and Indiana. He routinely worked more than 40 hours a week, but Signet did not pay him extra for his overtime hours.He filed a complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and moved for conditional certification of a collective action on behalf of all Signet H-2A workers who were exclusively assigned to construction work. The district court dismissed, finding that Vanegas was an agricultural worker, exempt from FLSA’s overtime protections, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit reversed. Work falls within the FLSA agricultural exemption only if it is both “performed by a farmer or on a farm” and if it “does not amount to an independent business.” Regulations establish a fact-intensive, totality-of-the-circumstances test to determine whether work performed on a farm is agricultural or is an independent business. Signet did not prove that the agricultural exemption applies. View "Vanegas v. Signet Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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A nonprofit entity representing commercial fishers sued the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game, alleging that the State’s fishery management practices in Cook Inlet were unjustified and violated federal law and national standards. The nonprofit sought to depose two current Fish and Game employees but the State opposed, arguing that all material facts necessary for a decision of the case were in the administrative record. The superior court agreed with the State and quashed the nonprofit’s deposition notices. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of the State, deciding that the Cook Inlet fishery was not governed by federal standards and that none of the nonprofit’s disagreements with the State’s fishery management practices stated a violation of statute or regulation. The nonprofit appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court judgment. View "Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al." on Justia Law

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Telematch, Inc. is a commercial vendor of agricultural data. In 2018 and 2019, it submitted to USDA seven FOIA requests for records containing farm numbers, tract numbers, and customer numbers. USDA withheld the numbers under Exemptions 3 and 6. But it released or offered to release a statistical version of the files in accordance with section 8791(b)(4)(B). It also released payment information for the 2018 Conservation Reserve Program pursuant to section 8791(b)(4)(A). Telematch sued to challenge the USDA’s withholding of the farm, tract, and customer numbers. Both parties moved for summary judgment and attached statements of material facts to their motions.   The district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment. The court held that USDA properly withheld the farm and tract numbers under Exemption 3, because the numbers are “geospatial information” covered by section 8791(b)(2)(B). Telematch appealed.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that farm and tract numbers identify a specific area of farmland in a specific location. They serve as a shorthand reference to individual plots of land. In this respect, they are analogous to a street address or latitude and longitude coordinates. They are, therefore “geospatial information” properly withheld under section 8791(b)(2)(B). Further, the court explained it need not definitively resolve whether farm and tract numbers meet these two statutory definitions. Neither of them applies to section 8791. Thus, the court held that the USDA permissibly withheld the requested farm, tract, and customer numbers. View "Telematch, Inc. v. AGRI" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court denying the motion filed by Protect the Peninsula, Inc. to intervene as a matter of right in an action brought by a group of wineries and an association representing their interests (collectively, the Wineries) against a Michigan municipality over several zoning ordinances that regulate vineyards, holding that the district court erred.Protect the Peninsula, Inc., a local advocacy group, moved to intervene in this action brought against Peninsula Township challenging the zoning ordinances regulating the vineyards' activities as unconstitutional and in violation of state laws. Protect the Peninsula moved to intervene under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a)(2), but the district court denied the motion. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that Protect the Peninsula satisfied each of Rule 24(a)(2)'s requirements. View "Wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula Ass'n v. Township of Peninsula, Michigan" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from mass litigation between thousands of corn producers and an agricultural company (Syngenta). On one track, corn producers filed individual suits against Syngenta; on the second, other corn producers sued through class actions. The appellants were some of the corn producers who took the first track, filing individual actions. (the “Kellogg farmers.”) The Kellogg farmers alleged that their former attorneys had failed to disclose the benefits of participating as class members, resulting in excessive legal fees and exclusion from class proceedings. These allegations led the Kellogg farmers to sue the attorneys who had provided representation or otherwise assisted in these cases. The suit against the attorneys included claims of common-law fraud, violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO) and Minnesota’s consumer-protection statutes, and breach of fiduciary duty. While this suit was pending in district court, Syngenta settled the class actions and thousands of individual suits, including those brought by the Kellogg farmers. The settlement led to the creation of two pools of payment by Syngenta: one pool for a newly created class consisting of all claimants, the other pool for those claimants’ attorneys. For this settlement, the district court allowed the Kellogg farmers to participate in the new class and to recover on an equal basis with all other claimants. The settlement eliminated any economic injury to the Kellogg farmers, so the district court dismissed the RICO and common-law fraud claims. The court not only dismissed these claims but also assessed monetary sanctions against the Kellogg farmers. The farmers appealed certain district court decisions, but finding that there was no reversible error or that it lacked jurisdiction to review certain decisions, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Kellogg, et al. v. Watts Guerra, et al." on Justia Law

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At the culmination of a five-month rulemaking, the Department of Agriculture announced a final rule designed to protect show horses from abuse. As required by the Federal Register Act, the agency transmitted the signed rule to the Office of the Federal Register, which made it available for public inspection. But on the day President Trump took the oath of office, his Chief of Staff directed executive agencies to withdraw all pending rules.    The Humane Society filed suit along with four of its members challenging the rule’s withdrawal. It principally claims that the Department unlawfully repealed the rule without notice and comment or the reasoned decision-making that the Administrative Procedure Act requires. The district court dismissed, agreeing with the government that a rule becomes final only upon Federal Register publication. The question, in this case, is whether an agency must provide notice and an opportunity for comment when withdrawing a rule that has been filed for public inspection but not yet published in the Federal Register.   The DC Circuit reversed the district court's order dismissing The Humane Society’s suit against the United States Department of Agriculture. The court held that because a rule made available for public inspection prescribes law with legal consequences for regulated parties, the APA requires the agency to undertake notice and comment before repealing it. View "Humane Society of the United States v. AGRI" on Justia Law

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Produce Pay holds a Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act ("PACA") license issued by the United States Department of Agriculture. Produce Pay and Izguerra agreed that Izguerra, through Produce Pay’s online platform, would receive and accept produce from a grower and sell the produce to retailers on Produce Pay's behalf. Izguerra bought 1,600 cartons of avocados from Produce Pay through its online platform and, pursuant to the parties’ agreement, received the avocados directly from the Mexican grower. Produce Pay issued Izguerra an invoice representing the net proceeds from the avocados, but Izguerra did not fully pay. The district court dismissed Produce Pay’s PACA claims on the ground that, as a matter of law, Produce Pay was not a seller of wholesale produce, and thus not entitled to PACA protections, because the transaction between Produce Pay and Izguerra was a secured loan rather than a true sale.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6) dismissal. The court held that Produce Pay alleged the five preliminary elements of a PACA claim by alleging that the avocados were perishable, Izguerra was a dealer of avocados, the transaction occurred in contemplation of interstate or foreign commerce, Produce Pay did not receive full payment, and the invoice for the avocados stated that they were sold subject to a PACA statutory trust. Further, Produce Pay plausibly alleged that it was a seller or supplier under PACA, rather than only a lender, because Produce Pay alleged facts that resembled a consignment transaction between it and Izguerra and suggested that Produce Pay functioned as a seller. View "PRODUCE PAY, INC. V. IZGUERRA PRODUCE, INC." on Justia Law

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The Hopkinses kept cattle on their Marshall County, Tennessee farm. Detective Nichols received a complaint about the treatment of those cattle, drove by, and observed one dead cow and others that did not appear to be in good health. Nichols returned with Tennessee Department of Agriculture Veterinarian Johnson. Wearing his gun and badge, Nichols knocked and. according to Mrs. Hopkins, “demanded that [she] escort them to see the cattle,” refusing to wait until Mr. Hopkins returned or until she fed her children. Johnson completed a Livestock Welfare Examination, as required by law, noting that the cattle were not in reasonable health, that they lacked access to appropriate water, food, or shelter, and that major disease issues were present; she determined that probable cause for animal cruelty existed. Nichols returned to the Hopkins’s farm several times and discovered a sinkhole containing the remains of multiple cattle. Nichols and Sheriff Lamb eventually seized the cattle without a warrant and initiated criminal proceedings. The cattle were sold.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion for qualified immunity in a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Forced compliance with orders is a Fourth Amendment seizure; words that compel compliance with orders to exit a house constitute a seizure. While the open fields doctrine allowed the officers to lawfully search the farm, it did not give them lawful access to seize the cattle; they lacked exigent circumstances when they seized the cattle. View "Hopkins v. Nichols" on Justia Law

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A dairy farmer looking to expand the market to which he could sell butter challenged the Food and Drug Administration's ("FDA") decades-old rule barring the interstate sale of raw butter. The farmer proposed a new rule that would allow such sales, claiming that by including raw butter in the definition of "butter" under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the FDA unlawfully changed the statutory definition of butter. The FDA rejected the farmer's proposal and the district court granted summary judgment to the FDA.The D.C. Circuit affirmed. As a preliminary matter, the court found all but one of the farmer's claims were waived on appeal. His remaining claim--that the FDA's regulation banning interstate sale of raw butter violates the FDCA’s definition of butter--failed because the FDA reasonably concluded that raw butter was too dangerous to be sold interstate. View "Mark McAfee v. FDA" on Justia Law