Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant appealed from so much of the district court's judgment that orders him, jointly and severally with his codefendants Orel, to pay plaintiffs, suppliers of perishable goods, a total of $606,664.87, including principal amounts totaling $473,268.82, plus interest and attorneys' fees, because Orel failed to pay plaintiffs for goods purchased, and because of the dissipation of the statutory trust imposed on Orel's assets for the benefit of unpaid suppliers, in violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA). The district court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment holding defendant liable on the ground that he was a person in control of the trust assets.The Second Circuit concluded that partial summary judgment was appropriate with respect to $40,000 of PACA trust assets that were placed in defendant's personal bank account, but that whether he had the necessary degree of control over other assets could not be resolved as a matter of law. In this case, defendant was neither an owner nor an officer of Orel. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment in part and remanded for trial on the issue of defendant's control over other Orel assets. View "S. Katzman Produce Inc. v. Yadid" on Justia Law

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Two commercial fishing companies caught and processed fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Alaska coast, but outside Alaska’s territorial waters. Their vessels arrived at Alaska ports where they could transfer processed fish directly to foreign-bound cargo vessels or transfer processed fish to shore for storage and later loading on cargo vessels. Because the companies did not process fish in Alaska, they did not pay the taxes imposed on other processing vessels operating out of Alaskan ports, but their fisheries business activities were subject to a state “landing tax.” The fishing companies argued that this landing tax violated the Import-Export and Tonnage Clauses of the United States Constitution and 33 U.S.C. section 5(b). The Alaska Supreme Court found: (1) the tax was imposed before the fish product entered the stream of export commerce; (2) the tax did not constitute an “impost or duty;” and (3) the tax therefore did not violate the Import-Export Clause. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the tax was not imposed against the companies’ vessels in violation of the Tonnage Clause or 33 U.S.C. (b). View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. North Pacific Fishing, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from two cases consolidated for trial, involving a California Raisin Marketing Order (the Marketing Order) first issued in 1998 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (the Department) under the California Marketing Act of 1937 (the CMA). The first case, Lion Raisins, Inc., et al. v. Ross (case No. C086205) sought a declaration and injunctive relief filed by Lion Raisins, Inc., et al. (collectively, Lion). The Lion complaint sought a declaration that the Marketing Order was unconstitutional and invalid, and requested an injunction against future assessments, and a refund of all assessments paid since the 1999-2000 crop year. In the second case, People ex rel. Ross v. Raisin Valley Farms, LLC, et al. (case No. C086206), Raisin Valley Farms, LLC, et al. (collectively, Raisin Valley) sought to recover unpaid assessments, and a related cross-complaint against the Department for declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief. Similar to the Lion complaint, the Raisin Valley cross-complaint challenged the validity of the Marketing Order on multiple grounds. The trial court initially entered judgment against the Department on the consolidated cases, concluding the Marketing Order was invalid because there was insufficient evidence that the Marketing Order was necessary to address severe economic conditions in the raisin industry. The Department appealed and the Court of Appeal reversed, concluding the trial court’s interpretation of the CMA was too narrow. On remand, after additional briefing, the trial court entered judgments in favor of the Department, denying the challenges to the Marketing Order. Lion and Raisin Valley appealed those judgments, asserting numerous errors. With regard to the appeal in the Lion case, the Court of Appeal modified the judgment to dismiss the “varietal benefit” and “non-disparagement” claims due to appellants’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and affirmed the judgment as modified. The Court dismissed the appeal in the Raisin Valley case as premature under the one final judgment rule. View "Lion Raisins v. Ross" on Justia Law

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Statewide harvests and hauls fruit from about 1,500 fields for Florida farmers. It does not own any of the lands it harvests. In 2014-2017, Statewide employed mostly temporary foreign guest workers as its seasonal harvest workers, through the federal H-2A program, which requires a labor contractor to provide workers with housing, either three meals a day or “free and convenient cooking and kitchen facilities,” and other basic housing amenities including laundry facilities. Statewide provided its workers with cooking facilities instead of meals and with transportation from housing to a grocery store, laundromat, and bank. Statewide employed Ramirez and Santana as crew leaders during the harvest seasons; they also drove the workers to and from housing and the grocery store, laundromat, and bank. These weekly trips lasted approximately four hours. Ramirez and Santana worked up to 80 hours a week. Neither received overtime compensation.They sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201, for unpaid overtime compensation for the driving trips. Statewide argued that those activities fell under the agricultural work exemption from the overtime requirements, section 213(b)(12). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in favor of the crew leaders. Statewide is not a farmer; it “did not own, lease, or control the farms or crops harvested. To be exempt from the overtime requirements, the driving trips must have been “performed . . . on a farm.” They occurred off a farm and were not physically tied to a farm. View "Ramirez v. Statewide Harvesting & Hauling, LLC" on Justia Law

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In the spring of 2015, a severe three-day storm deluged an eastern Colorado area with over six inches of rain. Two inches of water fell within thirty minutes on the first day, “a once-in-a-half-century occurrence.” During the storm, a mixture of wastewater and rainwater overflowed from one of the wastewater containment ponds in a cattle feedlot operated by 5 Star Feedlot, Inc. (“5 Star”). That water crossed several miles of land and ultimately found its way to the South Fork of the Republican River, killing an estimated 15,000 fish and giving rise to this litigation. Pursuant to section 33-6-110(1), C.R.S. (2020), the State initiated a civil action against 5 Star seeking to recover the value of the deceased fish based on 5 Star’s alleged violation of three predicate statutory provisions (“taking statutory provisions”) which, with some exceptions not pertinent here, made it unlawful for any person to “take” (i.e., to kill or otherwise acquire possession of or control over) certain wildlife. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The district court denied 5 Star’s motion, granted the State’s motion, and, following a bench trial on damages, ordered 5 Star to pay the State $625,755. 5 Star then appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the taking statutory provisions required the State to prove that 5 Star acted knowingly or, at minimum, performed an unlawful voluntary act. To this, the Colorado Supreme Court concurred, finding the district court erred both in entering summary judgment against 5 Star and in denying 5 Star’s cross- motion. “Since the State failed to formally allege, never mind present proof, that 5 Star’s lawful, years-long operation of wastewater containment ponds killed or otherwise acquired possession of or control over the fish, it could not satisfy the voluntary act or actus reus requirement of the taking statutory provisions.” View "Dep't of Nat. Res. v. 5 Star Feedlot, Inc." on Justia Law

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Will Hughes and Chad Penn were commercial farmers who leased farmland in Madison County, Mississippi. They began using propane cannons in the summer months to deter deer from eating their crops. Because of the intentionally loud noise these devices created, neighboring property owners sought to enjoin Hughes and Penn from using the cannons. But citing the Mississippi Right to Farm Act, the chancellor found the neighbors’ nuisance claim was barred. Undisputedly, Hughes’s and Penn’s farms had been in operation for many years before the nuisance action was filed. So the chancery court ruled Miss. Code Ann. Section 95-3-29(1) was an absolute defense and dismissed the neighbors’ nuisance action. On appeal, the neighboring property owners argued the chancery court misinterpreted the statute. In their view, the chancery court erred by looking to how long the farms had been in operation instead of how long the practice of propane cannons had been in place. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found their proposed view contradicted the statute’s plain language. "The one-year time limitation in Section 95-3-29(1) does not hinge on the existence of any specific agricultural practice. Instead, it is expressly based on the existence of the agricultural operation, which 'includes, without limitation, any facility or production site for the production and processing of crops . . . .'" Applying the plain language in Section 95-3-29(2)(a), the Supreme Court found the properties being farmed were without question agricultural operations. And the propane cannons were part of those operations, because they were part of the farms’ best agricultural-management practices. Since the farms had been in operation for more than one year, the chancellor was correct to apply Section 95-3-29(1)’s bar. View "Briggs v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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An agency within the Department of Agriculture summarily approved a proposed plan for dry-bean crop insurance in Michigan based upon the mistaken belief that the terms of the proposed endorsement for the Michigan policy were identical to the terms of the endorsement for a Minnesota policy that it had approved the year before. The terms of the two endorsements were different because the Michigan endorsement contained a different pricing mechanism for determining the beans’ “harvest price” than the mechanism the agency had approved as part of the Minnesota endorsement. That difference later caused significant harm to Michigan farmers who had purchased the coverage, some of whom filed suit. In the district court, the government compounded the agency’s mistake when it mistakenly told the district court that the pricing mechanisms in the Michigan and Minnesota endorsements were the same. Based in part upon that representation, the district court granted the government summary judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed, noting that “the government’s brief unhelpfully elides both mistakes rather than acknowledge them but Plaintiffs’ counsel on appeal has made the existence of those mistakes clear enough.” The agency violated 7 C.F.R. 400.701 when it found that the Michigan proposal presented only “non-significant changes” to the Minnesota one; the mistake was apparently inadvertent. View "Ackerman v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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Humboldt County Ballot Measure S proposed a tax on commercial cultivators of marijuana and was approved by the voters. The tax became operative on January 1, 2017. Measure S allows the Board of Supervisors to amend the law or approve enforcement regulations promulgated by the administrative officer if the action “does not result in an increase in the amount of the tax or broaden the scope of the tax.” The Supervisors amended Measure S in June 2017, and again in April 2018, making the tax applicable to all persons with a cultivation permit, as opposed to just those engaged in cultivation; redefining “cultivation area”; and changing the time when the taxes start to accrue.Silva owns property in Humboldt County. No one cultivated cannabis on the property in 2017. The County sent her an invoice of $40,000 in commercial cannabis cultivation taxes under Measure S for the year 2017–2018. Silva paid the invoice. The County sent an invoice of $54,025 for the year 2018–2019. Silva again paid the invoice.A 2018 petition argued that the amendments impermissibly broadened Measure S. The court of appeal affirmed a ruling in Silva's favor. The trial court was not procedurally barred from considering the challenge to the Board’s amendments. The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies does not apply and the amendments expanded, rather than just clarifying, Measure S. View "Silva v. Humboldt County" on Justia Law

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In March 2012, Edington and his father agreed Edington would apply for a Farm Services Agency (FSA) farm operating loan and list assets belonging to his father as collateral. Edington listed as collateral many assets he did not own. In 2012, Edington also presented documents to the FSA falsely claiming he had purchased cattle from his friend. Edington defaulted on the loans; his father died. Edington did not inherit the assets listed in the security agreement. In 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed felony charges for conspiring to violate 18 U.S.C. 1014, which prohibits: “knowingly make[] a false statement or report . . . for the purpose of influencing in any way the action of the” FSA. The district court dismissed, citing the five-year statute of limitations under 18 U.S.C. 3282(a).The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded; 18 U.S.C. 3293(1) expressly provides a 10-year limitations period for certain offenses including “a violation of, or a conspiracy to violate . . . section . . . 1014.” Section 3293 extends the statute of limitations from five to 10 years for certain crimes including a violation of and conspiracy to violate section 1014. The most recent alleged overt acts listed in the information occurred in 2012; the charges were timely. View "United States v. Edington" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a tugboat pushing a barge through the coastal waters of St. Bernard Parish entered an area known as Christmas Lake. Christmas Lake was productive oyster grounds and contained several oyster leases marked by poles extending above the waterline. Down to one engine due to mechanical problems, the captain tried to navigate the tugboat to Hopedale for repairs. An oyster fisherman stopped the tugboat and instructed the captain to turn around, emphasizing the presence of oyster beds and explaining the water was too shallow to travel any further. The captain reversed course and turned southwest, entering oyster-lease grounds held by plaintiff, Marty Melerine. The tugboat crossed the middle of Melerine’s 140-acre lease until grounding on an oyster reef in the southwest corner of the lease. At high tide the next day, the captain freed the tugboat from the reef with the assistance of Melerine. Following directions from Melerine and another area oysterman, the captain piloted the tugboat along the southern boundary of the lease and exited the area. Shortly after the grounding, Melerine retained Dr. Edwin Cake Jr., an oyster biologist, to inspect the oyster beds and determine the extent of any damages caused by the incident. Based on samples and poling data, Dr. Cake concluded Melerine’s damages totaled $7,235,993.27: the cost to repair the damaged reefs ($997,314.77); and lost profits from oysters killed by the grounding incident ($6,238,678.50). Melerine and OFI sued the tugboat captain’s employer, Tom’s Marine & Salvage, LLC, and its insurer, AGCS Marine Insurance Company, seeking damages caused by the grounding. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in (1) allowing evidence of a regulatory method for determining oyster-lease damages applicable only when a pre-project biological survey was performed; and (2) admitting opinion testimony from an expert witness that is beyond his expertise and not supported by reliable methodology. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for new trial. View "Melerine v. Tom's Marine & Salvage, LLC" on Justia Law