Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Plaintiffs, neighbors of Murphy-Brown's hog production facilities, filed suit against the company, seeking relief under state nuisance law from odors, pests, and noises they attribute to farming practices Murphy-Brown implemented at an industrial-scale hog feeding farm. On appeal, Murphy-Brown challenges a jury verdict against it awarding compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs.As a preliminary matter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment rejecting Murphy-Brown's argument that Kinlaw Farms was a necessary and indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. Furthermore, the district court's decision as to the applicable statute of limitations was not legal error, and refusing to give the inapplicable jury instruction on continuing nuisances was not an abuse of discretion.The court affirmed the jury's verdict as to liability for compensatory and punitive damages. The court rejected Murphy-Brown's contention that North Carolina private nuisance law bars recovery of compensatory damages of any kind pursuant to the 2017 Right to Farm Act amendment. Rather, the court concluded that the amendment represents a substantive, forward-looking change in the law, and affirmed the district court's conclusion that the issue of annoyance and discomfort damages should go to the jury based on longstanding North Carolina case law allowing such recovery in nuisance suits. The court also affirmed the district court's decisions as to the admission and exclusion of expert testimony, and the district court's jury instruction as to vicarious liability because the contested jury instruction did not prejudice Murphy-Brown. However, the court vacated the jury's judgment as to the amount of punitive damages and remanded for rehearing on the punitive damages issue without the parent company financial evidence, including executive compensation. View "McKiver v. Murphy-Brown, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the constitutionality of RCW 49.46.130(2)(g), the provision exempting agricultural workers from the overtime pay requirement set out in the Washington Minimum Wage Act, ch. 49.46 RCW. Jose Martinez-Cuevas and Patricia Aguilar worked for DeRuyter Brothers Dairy as milkers. DeRuyter milkers used mechanized equipment to milk close to 3,000 cows per shift, 24 hours a day, three shifts a day, 7 days a week. In 2016, Martinez-Cuevas and Aguilar filed the present class action suit along with about 300 fellow DeRuyter dairy workers, claiming that DeRuyter failed to pay minimum wage to dairy workers, did not provide adequate rest and meal breaks, failed to compensate pre- and post-shift duties, and failed to pay overtime. The complaint also sought a judgment declaring RCW 49.46.130(2)(g) unconstitutional. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the class, finding the exemption violated article I, section 12 of the Washington Constitution and the equal protection clause. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concurred with the trial court and affirmed that judgment. View "Martinez-Cuevas v. DeRuyter Bros. Dairy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Phytelligence, an agricultural biotechnology company that used tissue culture to grow trees, and Washington State University (WSU) contracted for the propagation of WSU's patented “WA 38” apple trees. Section 4 of the agreement was entitled “option to participate as a provider and/or seller in [WSU] licensing programs.” The parties acknowledged that WSU would need to “grant a separate license for the purpose of selling.” Phytelligence expressed concern about the “wispy forward commitment.” WSU responded that “Phytelligence and others would have a shot at securing commercial licenses.”WSU later requested proposals for commercializing WA 38. Phytelligence did not submit a proposal. WSU accepted PVM’s proposal, granting PVM an exclusive license that required PVM to subcontract exclusively with NNII, a fruit tree nursery association, to propagate and sell WA 38 trees. Phytelligence later notified WSU that it wanted to exercise its option. WSU responded that PVM was WSU’s “agent.” Phytelligence rejected PVM’s requirement to become an NNII member and two non-membership proposals for obtaining commercial rights to WA 38. WSU terminated the Propagation Agreement, alleging that Phytelligence breached the Agreement when it sold WA 38 to a third-party without a license and that such actions infringed its plant patent and its COSMIC CRISP trademark.Phytelligence sued, alleging breach of the Agreement. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of WSU. Section 4 is an unenforceable agreement to agree. WSU did not commit to any definite terms of a future license. View "Phytelligence Inc. v. Washington State University" on Justia Law