Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Plaintiff filed suit against Foster Farms for its allegedly misleading labels and against American Humane for its allegedly negligent certification. The Court of Appeal concluded that it need not decide whether there are triable issues of fact that would defeat summary judgment. Rather, the court concluded that plaintiff has not pleaded a viable cause of action against either defendant. The court concluded that plaintiff's claims against Foster Farms are barred by federal preemption. In this case, plaintiff's direct causes of action against Foster Farms is based on the premise that its labels' inclusion of the American Humane Certified logo was itself misleading, because the chicken was not treated in a manner that an objectively reasonable consumer would consider humane. The court concluded that these causes of action are barred by the doctrine of federal preemption, based on the express preemption clause of the Poultry and Poultry Products Inspection Act. The court also concluded that the negligent certification claim against American Humane is not viable in the absence of physical injury. View "Leining v. Foster Poultry Farms, Inc." on Justia Law

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Grand Prairie Agriculture, LLP, appealed a district court order affirming a decision of the Pelican Township Board of Supervisors to deny Grand Prairie’s petition for approval of the site of a proposed animal feeding operation (“AFO”). The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Township misinterpreted and misapplied the law in applying setback requirements. The district court’s order was reversed and the matter remanded to the Township for further proceedings. View "Grand Prairie Agriculture v. Pelican Township Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Through several corporations, members of the Boersen family have farmed in Michigan for several generations. After 2016's poor crop, their corporate entities could not cover their debts. One creditor, Helena, obtained a nearly 15-million-dollar judgment against the Boersen entities and family members who ran them. Much of the farm equipment was repossessed and, unable to obtain financing, the Boersens discontinued farming until 1999, when family members Stacy and Nick formed new entities, secured financing to lease the land and remaining equipment, and resumed farming. Because the original defendants could not pay their debt, Helena sued Stacy and Nick and their new companies.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The leases do not transfer the debtors’ assets; none of the involved entities owes any money to Helena. Stacy and Nick’s use of the family farm’s production history to obtain crop insurance does not constitute a “transfer of assets.” Neither Stacy nor Nick was an owner, manager, or shareholder of any of the Boersen entities covered by the judgment; no Boersen legacy owner or guarantor serves as an officer of or is otherwise employed by, either new company. No original Boersen defendant received anything of value from the new companies other than fair market value payments on leases. Nor was either new company used to commit a wrong against Helena. View "Helena Agri-Enterprises, LLC v. Great Lakes Grain, LLC" on Justia Law

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Kent backed up a grain truck that was owned by his father, Sheldon, to an auger that was being used to move grain to a transport truck. A tractor powered the auger by means of a power take-off shaft. Kent, attempting to open the truck’s gate, wanted to get extra leverage and stepped onto the auger. The auger’s protective shield had been removed. Kent’s foot was exposed to the turning shaft. In the ensuing accident, Kent lost his leg below the knee. Kent settled a negligence action against Sheldon and received $1.9 million from insurers.Kent reserved his right to pursue additional coverage under the auto policy that covered the truck. State Farm sought a declaratory judgment that no coverage was provided because an auger is neither a “car” nor a “trailer,” as defined in the policy but fell under the policy’s “mechanical device” exclusion for damages resulting from "THE MOVEMENT OF PROPERTY BY MEANS OF A MECHANICAL DEVICE, OTHER THAN A HAND TRUCK, THAT IS NOT ATTACHED TO THE VEHICLE.” The circuit court granted State Farm summary judgment. The appellate court construed the exclusion against State Farm.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The exclusion was not ambiguous. The auger is a machine or tool designed to move grain from one place to another and is a device that was “operated by a machine or tool” (a tractor) that is not a small hand-propelled truck or wheelbarrow, and was not attached to the insured vehicle. Exclusions are permissible if they do not differentiate between named insureds and permissive users. View "State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Elmore" on Justia Law