Justia Agriculture Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Agriculture Law
Winn Dixie Stores v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative Inc
Winn-Dixie sued EMMC, its individual farmer members, and certain downstream distributors claiming their price-fixing agreement violated the Sherman Act. 15 U.S.C. 1. EMMC, a cooperative of mushroom growers, targets the Eastern United States. Initially, EMMC controlled over 90 percent of the supply of fresh Agaricus mushrooms in the relevant market. That share fell to 58% percent by 2005, and 17% percent by 2010. EMMC’s 20-plus initial members shrunk to fewer than five. EMMC’s stated purpose was to establish a “Minimum Pricing Policy,” under which it would “circulat[e] minimum price lists” along with rules requiring the member companies to uniformly charge those prices to all customers. Those minimums were not the price at which growers sold the product, but the price at which EMMC members hoped to coerce downstream distributors to go to market. Certain members were grower-only entities, lacking an exclusive relationship with any distributor. Many members partnered with specific, often legally-related downstream distributors. The precise nature of these relationships varied widely but downstream distributors were prohibited from joining EMMC.The district court instructed the jury to apply the “rule-of-reason” test. The Third Circuit affirmed a verdict in EMMC’s favor. Winn-Dixie argued that the judge should have instructed the jury to presume anticompetitive effects. Because this hybrid scheme involved myriad organizational structures with varying degrees of vertical integration, the court correctly applied the rule of reason. Under that more searching inquiry, the evidence was sufficient to sustain the verdict. View "Winn Dixie Stores v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative Inc" on Justia Law
Barrick v. Parker-Migliorini International
In April 2012, Plaintiff-Appellee Brandon Barrick filed a qui tam action against his then-employer, Defendant-Appellant Parker-Migliorini International LLC (PMI). Barrick alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) and amended his complaint to include a claim that PMI unlawfully retaliated against him under the FCA. PMI was a meat exporting company based in Utah. While working for PMI, Barrick noticed two practices he believed were illegal. The first was the “Japan Triangle”: PMI exported beef to Costa Rica to a company which repackaged it, then sent it to Japan (Japan had been concerned about mad cow disease from U.S. beef). The second was the “LSW Channel”: PMI informed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) it was shipping beef to Moldova on a shipping certificate, but sent it to Hong Kong. Then, according to Barrick, PMI smuggled the beef into China (China was not then accepting U.S. beef). Barrick brought his concerns to Steve Johnson, PMI’s CFO, at least three times, telling Johnson that he was not comfortable with the practices. By October, the FBI raided PMI's office. Barrick was terminated from PMI in November 2012, as part of a company-wide reduction in force (RIF). PMI claimed the RIF was needed because in addition to the FBI raid, problems with exports and bank lines of credit put a financial strain on the company. Nine employees were terminated as part of the RIF. PMI claims it did not learn about Barrick’s cooperation with the FBI until October 2014, when the DOJ notified PMI of this qui tam action. A jury found that PMI retaliated against Barrick for his engagement in protected activity under the FCA when it terminated his employment. On appeal, PMI argued the district court improperly denied its motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL). In the alternative, PMI argued the Tenth Circuit court should order a new trial based on either the district court’s erroneous admission of evidence or an erroneous jury instruction. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed on all issues. View "Barrick v. Parker-Migliorini International" on Justia Law
United States v. United States Sugar Corp.
Imperial Sugar went bankrupt in 2001 and suffered a costly accident in 2008, prompting its sale to Louis Dreyfus. Imperial receives from Louis Dreyfus only minimal investment and is an “import-based, price-uncompetitive sugar refinery” that is “structurally uncompetitive” and lost roughly 10 percent of its customers from 2021-2022. Florida-based refiner U.S. Sugar agreed to purchase Imperial. The government sought an injunction (Clayton Act. 15 U.S.C. 18), arguing that the acquisition would have anticompetitive effects, leaving only two entities in control of 75% of refined sugar sales in the southeastern United States. The government applied the hypothetical monopolist test to demonstrate the validity of its proposed product and geographic markets. U.S. Sugar responded that it does not sell its own sugar but participates with other producers in a Capper-Volstead agricultural cooperative that markets and sells the firms’ output collectively but exercises no control over the quantities produced. At capacity, Imperial’s facility could produce only about seven percent of national output. U.S. Sugar argued that distributors constitute a crucial competitive check on producer-refiners that would undermine any attempt to increase prices and noted evidence of the high mobility of refined sugar throughout the country.The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of an injunction, upholding a finding that the government overlooked the pro-competitive effects of distributors in the market, erroneously lumped together heterogeneous wholesale customers, and defined the relevant geographic market without regard for the high mobility of sugar throughout the country. View "United States v. United States Sugar Corp." on Justia Law
AJ Mini Market, Inc. v. United States
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court entering summary judgment for the United States and rejecting the lawsuit brought by Appellant asking the district court to overturn the finding of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture that Appellant was disqualified from further participation in the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), holding that there was no error.FNS disqualified Appellant from further participation in SNAP after investigating evidence of unlawful trafficking in SNAP benefits. Thereafter, Appellant brought this action seeking to overturn the FNS's liability finding and asking the court to vacate the order of program disqualification as arbitrary and capricious. The district court entered summary judgment for the United States. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in entering summary judgment in favor of the United States on the liability issue; and (2) the sanction of the permanent disqualification order from the program was neither arbitrary nor capricious. View "AJ Mini Market, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law
Inguran, LLC v. ABS Global, Inc.
Using a patent directed to a method for sorting sperm cells according to specific DNA characteristics to preselect the gender of a domestic animal’s offspring, STGenetics, provided bull semen-processing services to ABS, which sells semen drawn from its own bulls, packaged in small tubes for use in artificial insemination.In 2014, ABS filed an antitrust lawsuit, alleging that ST was maintaining monopoly power for sexed semen processing. ST brought counterclaims for trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract, and patent infringement. ABS stipulated to direct infringement of three claims. A jury awarded ST $750,000 for past infringement and a royalty on future sales of sexed semen tubes sold by ABS. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the validity findings and issued a remand that did not concern the ongoing royalty.ST filed another infringement suit, which was consolidated with the remand proceedings, then learned that ABS had begun selling and licensing ST’s system to third parties. ST filed a third suit, asserting induced infringement (35 U.S.C. 271(b)). The district court dismissed the action, citing claim preclusion.The Federal Circuit reversed. An induced patent infringement claim brought at the time of the first trial would have been based on speculation; the parties stipulated to direct infringement and the question of inducement was not before the jury. The scope of ABS’s direct infringement allegations cannot reasonably be expanded to cover actions of third-party licensees using the technology to make their own tubes. View "Inguran, LLC v. ABS Global, Inc." on Justia Law
Adams Land & Cattle v. Widdowson
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court entering a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction in favor of Adams Land & Cattle, LLC (ALCC), a commercial livestock company, in this dispute regarding the meaning of a statute governing cattle brand inspection, holding that the district court erred in its interpretation of Neb. Rev. Stat. 54-1,122.ALCC and the Nebraska Brand Committee disputed whether section 54-1,122 requires direct movement from the point of origin with required paperwork to avoid a brand inspection upon entry to the registered feedlot. The district court granted declaratory relief and a permanent injunction for ALCC, and the Brand Committee appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in its interpretation of section 54-1,122 and in granting a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction in favor of ALCC.. View "Adams Land & Cattle v. Widdowson" on Justia Law
National Pork Producers Council v. Ross
California’s Proposition 12 forbids the in-state sale of whole pork meat that comes from breeding pigs (or their immediate offspring) that are “confined in a cruel manner.” Confinement is “cruel” if it prevents a pig from “lying down, standing up, fully extending [its] limbs, or turning around freely.” Opponents alleged that Proposition 12 violated the Constitution by impermissibly burdening interstate commerce, arguing that the cost of compliance with Proposition 12 will increase production costs and, because California imports almost all the pork it consumes, most of Proposition 12’s compliance costs will be borne by out-of-state firms.The Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the case, rejecting arguments under the dormant Commerce Clause. Absent purposeful discrimination, a state may exclude from its territory, or prohibit the sale therein of any articles which, in its judgment, fairly exercised, are prejudicial to the interests of its citizens. Proposition 12 imposes the same burdens on in-state pork producers that it imposes on out-of-state pork producers. Proposition 12 does not implicate the antidiscrimination principle.The Court rejected an argument that its precedents include an “almost per se” rule forbidding enforcement of state laws that have the practical effect of controlling commerce outside the state, even when those laws do not purposely discriminate against out-of-state interests. While leaving the courtroom door open to challenges premised on even nondiscriminatory burdens, the Court noted that “extreme caution is warranted.” View "National Pork Producers Council v. Ross" on Justia Law
65282 Two Bunch Palms Building LLC v. Coastal Harvest II, LLC
Plaintiff 65282 Two Bunch Palms Building LLC, (Two Bunch) orally leased an industrial building in Desert Hot Springs to Coastal Harvest II, LLC, (Coastal Harvest) for the indoor cultivation of cannabis. When, after two years of negotiations, the parties were unable to agree to a written lease and a master service agreement, Two Bunch served Coastal Harvest with a 30-day notice to quit. Coastal Harvest refused to vacate the property, so Two Bunch instituted this unlawful detainer action. After a one-day trial, the trial court entered a judgment of possession for Two Bunch and awarded it $180,000.13 in holdover damages. At trial court, Coastal Harvest unsuccessfully argued it operated a licensed cannabis operation on the property and, therefore, it could not be evicted because it was entitled to the presumption under California Civil Code section 1943 of a one-year tenancy for “agricultural . . . purposes” and the presumption of a one-year holdover tenancy for use of “agricultural lands” under Code of Civil Procedure section 1161(2). Assuming without deciding that Coastal Harvest’s cannabis operation constituted agriculture, Two Bunch rebutted the presumption under Civil Code section 1943 with evidence that the parties agreed that, unless they signed a written lease, the term of the oral lease was month-to-month. And, because this unlawful detainer action was not filed for failure to pay rent, Code of Civil Procedure section 1161(2) and its holdover presumption for “agricultural” tenants did not apply. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "65282 Two Bunch Palms Building LLC v. Coastal Harvest II, LLC" on Justia Law
MGG Investment Group LP v. Bemak N.V., Ltd.
The Supreme Court held that the federal Food Security Act of 1985 (FSA) was preemptive of Kentucky's Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and that thoroughbreds and the right to breed them are farm products within the meaning of the FSA and, as a result, any security interest in those products was extinguished when they were sold to their respective buyers.The FSA abrogated a common exception in the UCC allowing for a security interest to remain when a farm product pass from seller to buyer. At issue in this case was (1) whether the FSA applies when the product at issue was a thoroughbred horse with particularly valuable breeding rights, and (2) whether breeding rights are farm products within the FSA. The Supreme Court held (1) the FSA preempts Kentucky's farm products exception; and (2) the plain language of the FSA demonstrates that thoroughbred horses are farm products within the meaning of the FSA, and breeding rights are also farm products under the FSA. View "MGG Investment Group LP v. Bemak N.V., Ltd." on Justia Law
Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Bd.
Some of the practices that have made California's Central Valley an "agricultural powerhouse" have also adversely impacted the region’s water quality and environmental health. Respondents State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Central Valley Water Board) are responsible for regulating waste discharges from irrigated agricultural operations in the Central Valley. The State Water Board adopted order WQ 2018-0002 (Order) in February 2018. Environmental Law Foundation (Foundation), Monterey Coastkeeper (Coastkeeper), and Protectores del Agua Subterranea (Protectores) (collectively, appellants) brought petitions for writs of mandate challenging various aspects of the Order. The trial court consolidated the cases and granted a motion for leave to intervene by the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition (Coalition) and others (cumulatively, the Coalition). Following a hearing on the merits, the trial court denied the petitions. Appellants appealed, advancing numerous claims of error. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal rejected these arguments and affirmed the judgments. View "Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law