Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Indiana-based hemp sellers and wholesalers sought to enjoin the enforcement of Indiana’s “Act 516” criminal prohibition on the manufacture, delivery, or possession of smokable hemp, Ind. Code 35-48-3-10.1, arguing that Indiana’s law is preempted by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The 2018 Act expanded the definition of industrial hemp to include all parts of the cannabis plant with a low THC concentration and all low-THC cannabis derivatives; excludes industrial hemp from the federal definition of marijuana, removing it from the DEA’s schedule of controlled substances; provides that the states retain the authority to regulate the production of hemp (7 U.S.C. 1639p); and forbids the states from prohibiting the transportation of hemp products through the state. The district court issued the requested injunction. Indiana then enacted Act 335, which clarifies that Indiana’s prohibition on the delivery and possession of smokable hemp does “not apply to the shipment of smokable hemp from a licensed producer in another state in continuous transit through Indiana to a licensed handler in any state.”The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding the injunction overly broad. The part of Act 516 prohibiting the manufacture of smokable hemp does not fall under the 2018 law’s express preemption clause; it is not clear that the express preemption clause, alone, precludes a state from prohibiting the possession and sale of industrial hemp within the state. View "C.Y. Wholesale, Inc. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

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In a purported class action, egg purchasers claimed that egg producers conspired to inflate prices by early slaughtering of hens and similar supply-reducing steps; creation of an animal welfare certification program that was actually designed to reduce the egg supply; and coordinated exports of eggs, all as part of a single overarching conspiracy that was anti-competitive per se and unlawful under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1. The defendants countered that the court should look at each alleged stratagem of the conspiracy separately and determine whether to apply the per se standard for antitrust liability or the more commonly-applied rule of reason. In summary judgment briefing, the parties focused on the Certification Program, which the court evaluated under the rule of reason. The case proceeded to trial with all three stratagems being evaluated under that standard. Following the jury’s verdict, the court entered judgment for the defendants. The Third Circuit affirmed. Courts can consider the different components of an alleged conspiracy separately when determining which mode of antitrust analysis to apply. The Certification Program was not an express horizontal agreement to reduce the supply of eggs, much less to fix prices and it is not clear that the Program would “have manifestly anticompetitive effects and lack any redeeming virtue.” It was properly analyzed under the rule of reason. View "In re: Processed Egg Products Antitrust Litigation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the clean water commission approving Trenton Farms' permit to establish a twin concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), holding that House Bill No. 1713 (HB 1713) does not violate the original purpose, single subject, or clear title requirements of the Missouri Constitution and that there was sufficient evidence regarding the CAFO's protection from a 100-year flood.The clean water commission affirmed the department of natural resource's issuance of a permit to Trenton Farms to establish a CAFO. Hickory Neighbors United, Inc. appealed, arguing (1) HB 1713, which amended Mo. Rev. Stat. 644.021.1 to change the criteria for members of the commission, violated Missouri Constitution article III's original purpose requirement and single subject and clear title requirements; and (2) there was insufficient evidence that CAFO's manure containment structures would be protected from inundation or damages in the event of a 100-year flood, a requirement of 10 C.S.R. 20-8.300. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) HB 1713 is constitutionally valid; and (2) there was sufficient evidence that CAFO structures met regulatory requirements. View "In re Trenton Farms RE, LLC Permit No. MOGS10520" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals holding that the Texas Farm Animal Activity Act (the Act), Tex. Civ. Proc. & Rem. Code 87.001-87.005, does not apply to ranchers and ranch hands, holding that the court of appeals did not err.The Act limits liability for injury to "a participant in a farm animal activity or livestock show" that results from an "inherent risk" of those activities. Raul Zuniga worked full-time for Conway and Marlene Waak to work cattle on a ranch, landscape, and cut hay. Zuniga died after being trampled. Plaintiffs, Zuniga's family, sued the Waaks, on wrongful death and survival claims. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Waaks, concluding that the Act barred Plaintiffs' claims. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Zuniga was not "a participant in a farm animal activity" for whose injuries and death the Act limits liability. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Act does not cover ranchers and ranch hands and, therefore, did not shield the Waaks from liability for their negligence resulting in Zuniga's death. View "Waak v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court concluding that Regions Bank and Optimum Agriculture, LLC had lien priority to crop proceeds and that Optimum Agriculture, LLC was entitled to a statutory landlord lien, holding that the circuit court did not clearly err.On appeal, AgriFund, LLC, one of the three creditors in this intercreditor dispute over lien priority to the crop proceeds, argued that its lien was superior to those held by Regions and Optimum. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the circuit court did not clearly err in finding that AgriFund did not have priority to the proceeds and that Optimum held a landlord's lien. View "Agrifund, LLC v. Regions Bank" on Justia Law

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In 2018, the EPA approved conditional registrations for three dicamba-based herbicides for an additional two years. Petitioners sought review of the 2018 decision, alleging that it violates both the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).The Ninth Circuit held that the EPA's 2018 decision, and the conditional new-use registrations of XtendiMax, Engenia, and FeXapan for use on DT soybean and cotton that are premised on that decision, violate FIFRA. The panel explained that it need not decide whether substantial evidence supports a finding that the applicants submitted satisfactory data, because the panel held that the EPA substantially understated risks that it acknowledged and failed entirely to acknowledge other risks. In this case, among other things, the EPA substantially understated the amount of DT seed acreage that had been planted in 2018, and, correspondingly, the amount of dicamba herbicide that had been sprayed on post-emergent crops; the EPA purported to be agnostic as to whether formal complaints of dicamba damage under-reported or overreported the actual damage, when record evidence clearly showed that dicamba damage was substantially under-reported; and the EPA refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as "potential" and "alleged," when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage. Therefore, the panel vacated the EPA's 2018 decision and the three registrations premised on that decision. View "National Family Farm Coalition v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia certified three questions to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding the scope of the Georgia Dealers in Agricultural Products Act, Ga. L. 1956, p. 617 (codified as amended at OCGA sections 2-9-1 to 2-9-16) (“the Act”). At issue was the effect of the Act’s provisions upon contracts entered into by an agricultural products dealer that failed to obtain a license from the Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture: in this case, a contract entered into between San Miguel Produce, Inc. (“San Miguel”), a California corporation, and L. G. Herndon Jr. Farms, Inc. (“Herndon Farms”), a Georgia corporation. The Supreme Court concluded: (1) an entity as described by the district court did qualify as a dealer in agricultural products under the Act and was not exempt under OCGA 2-9-15 (a) (1), with the limited exception of specific transactions “in the sale of agricultural products grown by [itself];” (2) the Act’s licensing requirements were part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme in the public interest and not merely a revenue measure; and (3) if a dealer has failed to obtain a license as required by OCGA 2-9-2, it may not recover under a contract to the extent that the contract relates to business coming within the terms of the Act. View "San Miguel Produce, Inc. v. L.G. Herndon, Jr. Farms, Inc." on Justia Law