Justia Agriculture Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Kellogg, et al. v. Watts Guerra, et al.
This appeal stemmed from mass litigation between thousands of corn producers and an agricultural company (Syngenta). On one track, corn producers filed individual suits against Syngenta; on the second, other corn producers sued through class actions. The appellants were some of the corn producers who took the first track, filing individual actions. (the “Kellogg farmers.”) The Kellogg farmers alleged that their former attorneys had failed to disclose the benefits of participating as class members, resulting in excessive legal fees and exclusion from class proceedings. These allegations led the Kellogg farmers to sue the attorneys who had provided representation or otherwise assisted in these cases. The suit against the attorneys included claims of common-law fraud, violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO) and Minnesota’s consumer-protection statutes, and breach of fiduciary duty. While this suit was pending in district court, Syngenta settled the class actions and thousands of individual suits, including those brought by the Kellogg farmers. The settlement led to the creation of two pools of payment by Syngenta: one pool for a newly created class consisting of all claimants, the other pool for those claimants’ attorneys. For this settlement, the district court allowed the Kellogg farmers to participate in the new class and to recover on an equal basis with all other claimants. The settlement eliminated any economic injury to the Kellogg farmers, so the district court dismissed the RICO and common-law fraud claims. The court not only dismissed these claims but also assessed monetary sanctions against the Kellogg farmers. The farmers appealed certain district court decisions, but finding that there was no reversible error or that it lacked jurisdiction to review certain decisions, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Kellogg, et al. v. Watts Guerra, et al." on Justia Law
Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass’n
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether the penalty for intentionally concealing the source of political contributions could be based on the amount concealed. Washington voters proposed and passed Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA or act), ch. 42.17A RCW. The FCPA compels disclosure and “compelled disclosure may encroach on First Amendment rights by infringing on the privacy of association and belief.” In 2012, California voters were presented with Proposition 37, which would have required some manufacturers to disclose whether packaged food contained genetically modified organisms (GMO). The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) and many of its member companies successfully campaigned against Proposition 37, and some received negative responses from the public for doing so. In the wake of the Proposition 37 campaign, Washington sponsors filed Initiative 522, which also would have required GMO labels on packaged food. And like Proposition 37, GMA opposed it. GMA raised more than $14 million to oppose GMO labeling efforts. GMA in turn contributed $11 million to the “No on 522” campaign from the Defense of Brands strategic account. Despite its political activities in Washington, GMA did not register as a political committee with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) and did not make any PDC reports until after this lawsuit was filed. In response to the suit, GMA registered “under duress” but, as of the time of trial, still had not filed all of the required reports. The State sued, contending that GMA intentionally, flagrantly, and repeatedly violated the FCPA. The trial court specifically rejected testimony from GMA officers that they had not intended to violate the law, finding “it is not credible that GMA executives believed that shielding GMA’s members as the true source of contributions to GMA’s Defense of Brands Account was legal.” A majority of the Washington Supreme Court concluded GMA did not show that the trial court erred in imposing a punitive sanction under the FCPA based on the amount intentionally concealed. The Court thus affirmed the courts below and remanded for any further proceedings necessary. View "Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n" on Justia Law
Finberg v. United States Department of Agriculture
In 2009, Finberg became the Chief Operating Officer of Adams, a produce distributor. Grinstead was Adams’s CEO. In 2011, federal authorities investigated Adams for fraud against the Department of Defense. Finberg claims he was unaware of the scheme until later when suppliers and Adams’s CFO discussed the scheme in front of him. Finberg agreed to gradually end the scheme to avoid further detection. Adams hired a law firm to internally investigate its operations, which revealed that CEO Grinstead had engaged in extensive fraud. PNC Bank froze the business’s accounts; Adams was unable to promptly pay suppliers $10 million. Adams declared bankruptcy. Grinstead pled guilty to wire fraud, misprision of felony, and multiple failures to file tax returns. Finberg pled guilty to misprision of a felony. A disciplinary complaint was filed against Adams with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, alleging violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 7 U.S.C. 499b(4), by failing to promptly pay suppliers. The determination that Adams violated the Act triggered the Act’s employment bar for each person who was responsibly connected to the violation.An ALJ found that Finberg was responsibly connected. A USDA Judicial Officer affirmed, finding that Finberg exercised judgment, discretion, or control once he learned of the fraudulent scheme and failed to report. The D.C. Circuit reversed The agency lacked substantial evidence that Finberg’s activities contributed to Adam’’s violation of the Act. View "Finberg v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law
Helena Agri-Enterprises, LLC v. Great Lakes Grain, LLC
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
San Miguel Produce, Inc. v. L.G. Herndon, Jr. Farms, Inc.
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
Good v. Harry’s Dairy
Jeff Good and Harry’s Dairy entered into a contract providing that Harry’s Dairy would purchase 3,000 tons of Good’s hay. Harry’s Dairy paid for and hauled approximately 1,000 tons of hay over a period of approximately eight weeks, but did not always pay for the hay before hauling it and at one point went several weeks without hauling hay. After Harry’s Dairy went a month without hauling additional hay, Good demanded that Harry’s Dairy begin paying for and hauling the remaining hay. Harry’s Dairy responded that it had encountered mold in some of the hay, but would be willing to pay for and haul non-moldy hay at the contract price. Good then sold the remaining hay for a substantially lower price than he would have received under the contract and filed a complaint against Harry’s Dairy alleging breach of contract. Harry’s Dairy counterclaimed for violation of implied and express warranties and breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Good on all claims, and a jury ultimately awarded Good $144,000 in damages. Harry’s Dairy appealed, arguing that there were several genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment, that the jury verdict was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, and that the district court erred in awarding attorney fees, costs, and prejudgment interest to Good. Finding only that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the implied warranty of merchantability counterclaim, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed as to that issue, affirmed as to all others, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Good v. Harry's Dairy" on Justia Law
Good v. Harry’s Dairy
Jeff Good and Harry’s Dairy entered into a contract providing that Harry’s Dairy would purchase 3,000 tons of Good’s hay. Harry’s Dairy paid for and hauled approximately 1,000 tons of hay over a period of approximately eight weeks, but did not always pay for the hay before hauling it and at one point went several weeks without hauling hay. After Harry’s Dairy went a month without hauling additional hay, Good demanded that Harry’s Dairy begin paying for and hauling the remaining hay. Harry’s Dairy responded that it had encountered mold in some of the hay, but would be willing to pay for and haul non-moldy hay at the contract price. Good then sold the remaining hay for a substantially lower price than he would have received under the contract, and filed a complaint against Harry’s Dairy alleging breach of contract. Harry’s Dairy counterclaimed for violation of implied and express warranties and breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Good on all claims, and a jury ultimately awarded Good $144,000 in damages. Harry’s Dairy appealed, arguing that there were several genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment, that the jury verdict was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, and that the district court erred in awarding attorney fees, costs, and prejudgment interest to Good. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court erred only in its decision with respect to Good’s breach of contract claim and Harry’s Dairy’s breach of the implied warranty of merchantability claims. Judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Good v. Harry's Dairy" on Justia Law
Gomez v. Crookham
Francisca Gomez died as the result of a horrific industrial accident while she was cleaning a seed sorting machine as part of her employment with the Crookham Company (“Crookham”). Her family (the Gomezes) received worker’s compensation benefits and also brought a wrongful death action. The Gomezes appealed the district court's decision to grant Crookham’s motion for summary judgment on all claims relating to Mrs. Gomez’s death. The district court held that Mrs. Gomez was working within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that all of the Gomezes’ claims were barred by the exclusive remedy rule of Idaho worker’s compensation law, that the exception to the exclusive remedy rule provided by Idaho Code section 72-209(3) did not apply, and that the Gomezes’ product liability claims failed as a matter of law because Crookham was not a “manufacturer.” In affirming in part and reversing in part, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it failed to consider whether Crookham committed an act of unprovoked physical aggression upon Mrs. Gomez by consciously disregarding knowledge that an injury would result. As such, the matter was remanded to the district court for further proceedings. View "Gomez v. Crookham" on Justia Law
Greer v. Global Industries
Jacob Greer, doing business as Greer Farm, appealed from a judgment dismissing his claims against Global Industries, Inc. and Nebraska Engineering Co. ("NECO"), an unincorporated division of Global Industries (collectively "Global"). Greer argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment dismissal of his claims against Global because there were genuine issues of material fact about whether Advanced Ag Construction Incorporation, also a party to this action, was Global's agent when Advanced Ag sold a grain dryer to Greer. The North Dakota Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, concluding certification under N.D.R.Civ.P. 54(b) was improvidently granted. View "Greer v. Global Industries" on Justia Law
Eli Lilly and Co. v. Arla Foods USA, Inc.
Arla, a Denmark-based global dairy conglomerate, launched a $30 million advertising campaign aimed at expanding its U.S. cheese sales, branded “Live Unprocessed.” The ads assure consumers that Arla cheese contains no “weird stuff” or “ingredients that you can’t pronounce,” particularly, no milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (“rbST”), an artificial growth hormone. The flagship ad implies that milk from rbST-treated cows is unwholesome. Narrated by a seven-year-old girl, the ad depicts rbST as a cartoon monster with razor-sharp horns. Elanco makes the only FDA-approved rbST supplement. Elanco sued, alleging that the ads contain false and misleading statements in violation of the Lanham Act. Elanco provided scientific literature documenting rbST’s safety, and evidence that a major cheese producer had decreased its demand for rbST in response to the ads. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the issuance of a preliminary injunction, rejecting arguments that Elanco failed to produce consumer surveys or other reliable evidence of actual consumer confusion and did not submit adequate evidence linking the ad campaign to decreased demand for its rbST. Consumer surveys or other “hard” evidence of actual consumer confusion are unnecessary at the preliminary-injunction stage. The evidence of causation is sufficient at this stage: the harm is easily traced because Elanco manufactures the only FDA-approved rbST. The injunction is sufficiently definite and adequately supported by the record and the judge’s findings. View "Eli Lilly and Co. v. Arla Foods USA, Inc." on Justia Law