Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Agriculture Law
by
A nuisance lawsuit was brought by neighbors against two poultry farms located on a single tract of rural land in Henderson County, southeast of Dallas. The neighbors claimed that the odors from the farms were a nuisance, causing them discomfort and annoyance. A jury found that the odors were a temporary nuisance and the trial court granted permanent injunctive relief that effectively shut down the farms. The farm owners and operators appealed, challenging the injunction on three grounds: whether the trial court abused its discretion in finding imminent harm; whether equitable relief was unavailable because damages provide an adequate remedy; and whether the scope of the injunction is overly broad.The Supreme Court of Texas upheld the trial court’s authority to grant an injunction, rejecting the first two challenges. However, the court concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in crafting the scope of the injunction, which was broader than necessary to abate the nuisance. The court therefore reversed in part and remanded for the trial court to modify the scope of injunctive relief. View "HUYNH v. BLANCHARD" on Justia Law

by
The case involves a dispute between Mary Roth and Gary Meyer, who were in a long-term relationship but never married. They cohabitated and ran a cattle operation together on a property that had a complex ownership history involving various members of Meyer's family. The couple's relationship ended, and Roth sued Meyer, alleging that he had converted some of her cattle and failed to repay loans she had given him.The District Court of Grant County, South Central Judicial District, found in favor of Roth. It ruled that Meyer had gained title to the disputed property through adverse possession and had transferred it to Roth in 2010. The court also found that Meyer had converted 13 of Roth's cattle and breached oral loan agreements with her, ordering him to pay her $52,500.On appeal, the Supreme Court of North Dakota reversed the lower court's decision. It found that the lower court had erred in its findings on adverse possession, the admissibility of certain evidence, the timing of the alleged conversion of cattle, the valuation of the converted cattle, and the enforceability of the loan contracts. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings, instructing it to make new findings based on the existing record. View "Roth v. Meyer" on Justia Law

by
The case involves M&T Farms, a California general partnership between two farmers, who purchased crop insurance under the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection Pilot Policy (the “WFRP Policy”) from Producers Agriculture Insurance Company (“ProAg”), an insurer approved and reinsured by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC). M&T Farms and a third farmer sell farm commodities through a storefront, B&T Farms, which owns their business name and goodwill and is also a California general partnership. M&T Farms filed a claim seeking the full policy amount, which ProAg denied. The FCIC concluded that the WFRP Policy does not allow a partner who files taxes on a fractional share of farming activity conducted by a partnership to be eligible for WFRP coverage for the fractional share of that farming activity.The United States District Court for the Northern District of California granted summary judgment in favor of the FCIC. M&T Farms challenged the FCIC’s decision that a partnership “holding the business name and good will of [others] (i.e., marketing and selling the commodities produced)” is engaged in “farming activity” under section 3(a)(4) of the WFRP Policy, and that therefore, any entity reporting a fractional share of the partnership’s activity on its tax returns is ineligible for WFRP Policy coverage.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The court held that the WFRP Policy contained an ambiguity regarding the definition of “farming activity.” The FCIC’s conclusion that a partnership selling its partners’ products and holding their goodwill and business name was engaged in “farming activity” under section 3(a)(4) of the policy had a reasonable basis and was also reasonable as a matter of policy. Because the FCIC’s interpretation of “farming activity” in the WFRP Policy was reasonable, it survived APA arbitrary and capricious review. The court also held that the term “farming activity” in the WFRP policy was genuinely ambiguous, the FCIC’s conclusion had a reasonable basis, and the FCIC’s conclusion was entitled to controlling weight. View "M & T FARMS V. FEDERAL CROP INSURANCE CORPORATION" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around a dispute between Dirt Road Development LLC (DRD) and Robert and Kathryn Hirschman over the construction and operation of a new feedlot in Howard County, Nebraska. The Hirschmans own several properties in the county where they operate feedlot facilities. They planned to construct and operate a new feedlot on a property that is separated from their existing feedlots by a quarter section of land owned by a third party. DRD, which owns a property near the proposed new feedlot, filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the Hirschmans from constructing and operating the new feedlot without obtaining a conditional use permit from the Howard County Board of Commissioners.The District Court for Howard County heard the case initially. The court had to determine whether, under Howard County’s zoning regulations, the Hirschmans' new feedlot was “adjacent” to their existing livestock operations. If so, the regulations required the Hirschmans to obtain a conditional use permit before constructing and operating the new feedlot. The district court concluded that the new feedlot was adjacent to the Hirschmans’ other feedlots and that therefore, the Hirschmans were required to obtain a conditional use permit to build and operate the new feedlot. The court granted DRD’s motion for summary judgment and denied the Hirschmans’ motion.The Hirschmans appealed the decision to the Nebraska Supreme Court. They argued that the district court erred in holding that under the Howard County zoning regulations, their new feedlot was adjacent to their other feedlots and constituted a single commercial livestock operation rather than a separate feedlot. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision, agreeing that the term "adjacent" as used within the zoning regulations is unambiguous and that the Hirschmans were required to obtain a conditional use permit for their new feedlot. View "Dirt Road Development v. Hirschman" on Justia Law

by
James and Levi Garrett, a father and son farming duo in South Dakota, were found guilty by a jury of making false statements in connection with federal crop insurance. The Garretts had participated in a federal crop insurance program, administrated by Crop Risk Services (CRS) and backed by the Risk Management Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They had obtained insurance for sunflower crops in 2018, and James had obtained insurance for a corn crop in 2019. The Garretts were accused of falsely certifying the number of acres of sunflowers and corn they planted in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and subsequently reporting harvest losses to CRS.The case went to trial in October 2022. The jury heard from several witnesses and examined dozens of exhibits. At the conclusion of the trial, James was convicted on two counts of making a false statement in connection with insurance for sunflower and corn crops, and Levi was convicted on one count of making a false statement in connection with insurance for a sunflower crop. The Garretts moved for judgment of acquittal, and in the alternative, a new trial, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. The district court denied their motion.The Garretts appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, challenging the district court’s evidentiary rulings and its denial of their post-trial motions. They argued that the district court erred in admitting certain evidence and excluding others, and that there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding that the trial record supported the jury verdict and that the district court did not err in its evidentiary rulings or in denying the Garretts' post-trial motions. View "United States v. Garrett" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Aerie Point Holdings, LLC (Aerie Point) and Vorsteveld Farm, LLC (Vorsteveld). Aerie Point owns a property in Panton, Vermont, which is located downhill from Vorsteveld's dairy farm. In 2017, Vorsteveld began installing tile drains in its fields to improve soil quality. The excess water drained from these tiles was discharged into public ditches, then through culverts, and finally towards Lake Champlain over Aerie Point’s property. This led to increased water flow, sediment, and contaminants on Aerie Point's land, causing shoreline erosion and algae blooms in Lake Champlain. In April 2020, Aerie Point filed a lawsuit against Vorsteveld for trespass and nuisance.The civil division found in favor of Aerie Point in March 2022, concluding that Vorsteveld's actions constituted trespass and nuisance. The court issued an injunction in August 2022, preventing Vorsteveld from allowing water from its drain tile system to flow into the public ditches and culverts on Arnold Bay Road. Vorsteveld did not appeal this judgment.In August 2023, Vorsteveld moved for relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b)(5) and (6), arguing that postjudgment changes in fact and law justified relief from the injunction. Vorsteveld claimed that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation regarding filled wetlands on the farm prevented it from complying with the injunction, and that the federal investigation/enforcement action preempted the state injunction. Vorsteveld also argued that changes to Vermont’s Right-to-Farm law justified relief from the injunction. The court denied the motion and the request for an evidentiary hearing.On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Vorsteveld's arguments were attempts to relitigate issues that had been resolved by the judgment. The court also found that Vorsteveld had not demonstrated that there were significant postjudgment changes in factual circumstances or the law that made prospective application of the injunction inequitable. The court concluded that Vorsteveld's arguments relating to the EPA investigation and changes to the Right-to-Farm law were insufficient to merit relief under Rule 60(b). The court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Vorsteveld's request for an evidentiary hearing. View "Aerie Point Holdings, LLC v. Vorsteveld Farm, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Patricia Lee, a debtor, defaulted on her mortgage held by U.S. Bank on a 43-acre property in Georgia, which she used as her principal residence and also leased to a farming company. In an attempt to restructure her debts, Lee filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. She proposed a reorganization plan that included payments to U.S. Bank. However, U.S. Bank moved for relief from the automatic stay that had been triggered by Lee's bankruptcy filing, arguing that the anti-modification provision in Chapter 11 prevented the bankruptcy court from approving a plan that modified U.S. Bank's claim.The bankruptcy court agreed with U.S. Bank, concluding that the anti-modification provision applied because the property was Lee's principal residence, regardless of its additional use as farmland. The court granted U.S. Bank's motion for relief from the automatic stay, effectively allowing the bank to foreclose on Lee's property. Lee appealed this decision to the district court, which affirmed the bankruptcy court's order.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The appellate court held that the anti-modification provision in Chapter 11 has three requirements: the security interest must be in real property; the real property must be the only security for the debt; and the real property must be the debtor's principal residence. The court found that all three requirements were met in this case, as U.S. Bank's claim was secured by Lee's real property, which was the only security for the debt and was used by Lee as her principal residence. The court rejected Lee's argument that the property's additional use as farmland should exempt it from the anti-modification provision. View "Lee v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

by
This case involves a dispute between Simple Avo Paradise Ranch, LLC (Simple Avo), an avocado farm, and Southern California Edison Company (SCE), a utility company. Simple Avo claimed that SCE was responsible for damages caused by the 2017 Thomas Fire in Southern California due to SCE's alleged negligence in maintaining its electrical infrastructure. The case was part of a larger coordinated proceeding involving hundreds of similar lawsuits against SCE.Before Simple Avo filed its lawsuit, the trial court had overruled SCE's demurrer to the cause of action for inverse condemnation in the master complaints filed by each of the plaintiff groups. Simple Avo did not participate in the briefing or argument on SCE’s demurrer before the trial court. Instead, Simple Avo and SCE settled for an undisclosed amount and entered into a stipulated judgment whereby SCE would pay $1.75 million to Simple Avo on the inverse condemnation claim, subject to SCE’s appeal of the demurrer ruling.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven, affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that the stipulated judgment was appealable and justiciable, and that the trial court correctly overruled the demurrer. The court found that SCE could be liable for inverse condemnation as a public entity, and that the master complaint sufficiently alleged a cause of action for inverse condemnation. View "Simple Avo Paradise Ranch, LLC v. Southern Cal. Edison Co." on Justia Law

by
The case involves MRose Development Co., LLC and Jason Schumacher (MRose) who sought to develop farmland located along Swan Lake in Turner County into 15 lakefront lots. The land was currently included in an agricultural zoning district, and due to residential density restrictions, MRose applied to rezone the land into a lake residential district. The Turner County Board of County Commissioners (the County) denied the application, and MRose appealed to the circuit court.The circuit court reversed the County's decision, interpreting Turner County's zoning ordinance to require approval of the rezoning application as a purely ministerial act because the land was situated along Swan Lake. The County appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota reversed the circuit court's decision. The court found that the circuit court erred in its interpretation of the 2008 Zoning Ordinance, which it believed required the County to approve MRose's rezoning application. The Supreme Court held that no provision in the entire 2008 Zoning Ordinance stated that lakefront property must be zoned Lake Residential simply by virtue of its location. The court also held that the County's decision to deny MRose's rezoning application was not arbitrary, as MRose failed to meet its burden of proof that the County acted arbitrarily. View "Mrose Development Co. v. Turner County Bd. Of Commissioners" on Justia Law

by
The case involves J and L Farms, Inc. (J&L), a South Dakota company, and First Bank, a Florida banking corporation. J&L had an ongoing business relationship with Jackman Wagyu Beef, LLC (Jackman), a Florida-registered company, where Jackman would purchase cattle from J&L. In 2018, Jackman proposed a change in their payment terms, offering to pay for the cattle within 30 days of placing an order, instead of paying prior to the cattle being shipped. To secure each payment, Jackman proposed that J&L would be given a bank guarantee from First Bank. First Bank issued three separate guaranty letters to J&L to secure payment for the sale of cattle. However, Jackman failed to provide full payment for two orders, and First Bank refused to satisfy the outstanding balance.The circuit court of the Fifth Judicial Circuit in Brown County, South Dakota, entered a default judgment against Jackman after it failed to plead or defend against J&L’s complaint. First Bank filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that it did not have sufficient minimum contacts for a South Dakota court to exercise personal jurisdiction over it. The circuit court denied the motion.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota affirmed the circuit court's decision. The Supreme Court found that First Bank had sufficient minimum contacts with South Dakota to establish personal jurisdiction. The court reasoned that First Bank purposefully availed itself of the privileges of acting in South Dakota by issuing three guaranty letters to J&L, a South Dakota company, to facilitate the purchase of South Dakota cattle. The court also found that the cause of action against First Bank arose from its activities directed at South Dakota, and that the acts of First Bank had a substantial connection with South Dakota, making the exercise of jurisdiction over First Bank reasonable. View "J&l Farms" on Justia Law