Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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An elderly woman, Janice Geerdes, and her long-time friend, Albert Gomez Cruz, had a partnership raising hogs on a piece of land. Initially, Janice deeded half of her interest in the land to Albert. Over a decade later, she deeded the rest of her interest in the land to Albert, receiving nothing in return. About six months later, Janice’s adult daughters were appointed her conservator and guardian. The conservator challenged the validity of the quitclaim deed based on undue influence and lack of capacity.The district court set aside the deed, finding that there was undue influence through a confidential relationship and that Janice lacked the necessary capacity to deed her interest in the land. The court of appeals affirmed the decision on the basis of lack of capacity.The Supreme Court of Iowa, however, disagreed with the lower courts. The Supreme Court found that the conservator did not establish by clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence that there was undue influence or that Janice lacked capacity at the time of the gift. The court found that the lower courts gave too much weight to the perceived improvidence of the transaction and too little weight to the testimony of the third-party accountant who witnessed the transaction. Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals, reversed the district court judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Conservatorship of Janice Geerdes v. Cruz" on Justia Law

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Bader Farms, Inc. sued Monsanto Company and BASF Corporation, alleging that its peach orchards were damaged by dicamba drift between 2015 and 2019 due to the defendants' negligent design and failure to warn. The jury awarded $250 million in punitive damages against both Monsanto and BASF based on Monsanto’s acts in 2015-16, which the district court later reduced to $60 million. The defendants appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision except for punitive damages, holding BASF and Monsanto liable as co-conspirators in a civil conspiracy. The court remanded the case to separately assess punitive damages against Monsanto and BASF. However, before the new trial, Monsanto settled with Bader Farms. The district court did not conduct a new trial and instead ruled that BASF could not be liable for any punitive damages, dismissing all claims against BASF.Bader Farms appealed, arguing that the district court ignored the appellate court’s mandate and its holding that BASF could be assessed punitive damages for its acts in furtherance of the conspiracy. The appellate court reviewed the district court’s interpretation of its mandate de novo and found that the district court did not comply with the appellate mandate. The appellate court held that BASF is vicariously liable for Monsanto’s actions and remanded the case for a trier of fact to apportion the punitive damages award. The court reversed the judgment and remanded with instructions to hold a new trial on the single issue of punitive damages. View "Bader Farms, Inc. v. BASF Corporation" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute within the Hora family over the operation of their family farm, Hora Farms, Inc. (HFI). Two brothers, Brian and Gregg Hora, brought a derivative action as minority shareholders against their father, Keith Hora, and brother, Kurt Hora, alleging breach of fiduciary duties based on their management of the farming operation. The brothers claimed that Keith and Kurt mismanaged the farm's operations, resulting in financial losses and unaccounted-for corn inventory. They also alleged that Keith used HFI's credit card for personal expenses.The case was initially heard in the Iowa District Court, where it was determined that neither Keith nor Kurt breached fiduciary duties owed to the corporation. The court found that the brothers' concerns were primarily related to poor recordkeeping and longstanding business practices, rather than intentional wrongdoing. The court also concluded that Keith's use of the corporate credit card for personal expenses was part of his compensation and was fair to HFI.The brothers appealed the decision to the Iowa Court of Appeals, which reversed the district court's decision on two specific issues. The appellate court concluded that Keith engaged in self-dealing by using HFI's credit card for personal expenses and that he enabled Kurt to misappropriate corn from the farm. The court also found that Kurt breached his duty to HFI by misappropriating corn for his personal use.The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court of Iowa. The court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the District Court. The Supreme Court found that Kurt, as an employee and not an officer or director of HFI, did not owe fiduciary duties to the corporation. The court also concluded that Keith did not violate any fiduciary duties owed to HFI in his oversight of Kurt. The court determined that the brothers failed to prove that Keith or Kurt violated fiduciary duties owed to HFI. View "Hora v. Hora" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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During the tax years at issue, 2010–2013, the Taxpayers owned a New Jersey horse farm. Their Company employed several employees, none of whom had a budget. The Company paid the Taxpayers' personal expenses and lost more than $3.5 million during the years at issue and more than $11.4 million between 1998-2013. The Taxpayers contributed capital and made loans to the Company. In 2016, the Company sold a horse for nearly $1.2 million, enabling it to report a modest overall profit.In 2016, the IRS sent notices of income tax deficiencies. The Tax Court sustained the deficiency determinations, holding that the Taxpayers could not deduct Company losses because their horse breeding activity was not engaged in for profit under Internal Revenue Code section 183 and that the Taxpayers failed to substantiate net operating loss carryforwards that allegedly arose from Company activity. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Tax Court did not clearly err when it found that adverse market conditions did not explain the Company’s sustained unprofitability and correctly considered the Taxpayers’ substantial income from other sources. The profit generated from the 2016 horse sale was tempered by the fact that it occurred after the tax years at issue and after the notices of deficiency. The expertise of the Taxpayers and their advisors was the only factor that favored the Taxpayers. View "Skolnick v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Nodak Insurance Company (“Nodak”) appealed, and John D. Miller, Jr. d/b/a John Miller Farms, Inc. and JD Miller, Inc. (collectively, “Miller”) cross-appealed a judgment determining Miller’s insurance policy with Nodak provided coverage and awarding Miller damages. The dispute arose from Miller’s sale of seed potatoes to Johnson Farming Association, Inc. (“Johnson”). Miller operated a farm in Minto, North Dakota. During the 2015 planting season, Miller planted seed potatoes. Miller claimed a North Dakota State Seed Department representative inspected the field where the seed was being grown on July 13, July 26, and September 3, 2015, which indicated no problems with the seed crop. On or about September 3, 2015, Miller “killed the vines” in anticipation of and as required to harvest the seed crop. Miller harvested the seed crop between September 18 and September 25, 2015, and the harvested seed crop was immediately taken from the field to Miller’s storage facility south of Minto. n December 31, 2015, Miller and Johnson entered into a contract for the sale of seed potatoes. The contract for sale disclaimed any express or implied warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose and contained a limitation of consequential damages and remedies. In June or July 2016, Johnson informed Miller of problems with some of the seed potatoes he had purchased. Johnson stated an analysis definitively showed very high levels of the herbicide glyphosate, which caused the problems with the seed potatoes. The seed potatoes did not grow properly, and Johnson alleged damages as a result. It was undisputed the seed potatoes were damaged because an employee of Miller inadvertently contaminated the seed potatoes with glyphosate while they were growing on Miller’s Farm. In July 2016, Miller sought coverage for the loss from Nodak. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded a policy exclusion applied and precluded coverage, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the district court's judgment. View "Miller, et al. v. Nodak Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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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

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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