Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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A nonprofit entity representing commercial fishers sued the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the Department of Fish and Game, alleging that the State’s fishery management practices in Cook Inlet were unjustified and violated federal law and national standards. The nonprofit sought to depose two current Fish and Game employees but the State opposed, arguing that all material facts necessary for a decision of the case were in the administrative record. The superior court agreed with the State and quashed the nonprofit’s deposition notices. The court also granted summary judgment in favor of the State, deciding that the Cook Inlet fishery was not governed by federal standards and that none of the nonprofit’s disagreements with the State’s fishery management practices stated a violation of statute or regulation. The nonprofit appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the superior court judgment. View "Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al." 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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Plaintiffs Robin Thornton and Michael Lucero alleged defendants Tyson Foods, Inc., Cargill Meat Solutions, Corp., JBS USA Food Company, and National Beef Packing Company, LLC, used deceptive and misleading labels on their beef products. In particular, plaintiffs contended the “Product of the U.S.A.” label on defendants’ beef products was misleading and deceptive in violation of New Mexico law because the beef products did not originate from cattle born and raised in the United States. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the federal agency tasked with ensuring the labels were not misleading or deceptive preapproved the labels at issue here. In seeking to establish that defendants’ federally approved labels were nevertheless misleading and deceptive under state law, plaintiffs sought to impose labeling requirements that were different than or in addition to the federal requirements. The Tenth Circuit concluded plaintiffs’ deceptive-labeling claims were expressly preempted by federal law. Further, the Court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for false advertising. View "Thornton, et al. v. Tyson Foods, 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

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The State of Alaska and numerous intervenors filed suit challenging the Forest Service's issuance of the Roadless Rule, which prohibits (with some exceptions) all road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvesting in inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. After the district court dismissed the case on statute-of-limitations grounds, the DC Circuit reversed and remanded. On remand, the district court granted the summary-judgment motions of the Agriculture Department and its intervenor supporters. After briefing but before oral argument, the Agriculture Department granted Alaska's request to conduct a rulemaking to redetermine whether to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule. The DC Circuit ordered the appeals stayed pending completion of the rulemaking, and on October 29, 2020, the Agriculture Department issued a final rule exempting the Tongass from the Roadless Rule.The DC Circuit concluded that Alaska's claims regarding application of the Roadless Rule to the Tongass National Forest are moot, and dismissed these claims and vacated those portions of the district court's decision regarding the Tongass. The court dismissed the remaining claims on appeal for lack of standing. View "Alaska v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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A prospective farmer sought loans for a poultry farm to be built in Caroline County, Maryland. The lender applied for a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan guarantee. Regulations interpreting the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321, then required FSA to conduct an environmental assessment. FSA consulted with local, state, and federal agencies; published drafts of an environmental assessment for public comment; and considered a private environmental consulting firm's recommendations. FSA issued a “finding of no significant impact” rather than a more detailed environmental impact statement. FSA provided the loan guarantee. The farm has been operating since 2016 and houses 192,000 birds. Two years after the loan was approved, FWW, an environmental group, filed suit, alleging that the failure to prepare an environmental impact statement violated NEPA, purportedly injuring thousands of FWW members, including one who lived adjoining the farm and was subjected to loud noises, bright lights, foul odors, and flies. Another FWW member, who fishes nearby, asserted concerns about pollution and aesthetic and recreational impacts. The district court granted FSA summary judgment on the merits.The D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal. FWW lacks standing; it failed to establish that its claims are redressable by favorable judicial action. It is not “likely, as opposed to merely speculative,” that vacatur of the loan guarantee would redress its members’ alleged injuries. The loan guarantee might have been a “substantial contributing factor” to the farm’s construction, but a new status quo existed when FWW filed suit. View "Food & Water Watch v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from two cases consolidated for trial, involving a California Raisin Marketing Order (the Marketing Order) first issued in 1998 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (the Department) under the California Marketing Act of 1937 (the CMA). The first case, Lion Raisins, Inc., et al. v. Ross (case No. C086205) sought a declaration and injunctive relief filed by Lion Raisins, Inc., et al. (collectively, Lion). The Lion complaint sought a declaration that the Marketing Order was unconstitutional and invalid, and requested an injunction against future assessments, and a refund of all assessments paid since the 1999-2000 crop year. In the second case, People ex rel. Ross v. Raisin Valley Farms, LLC, et al. (case No. C086206), Raisin Valley Farms, LLC, et al. (collectively, Raisin Valley) sought to recover unpaid assessments, and a related cross-complaint against the Department for declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief. Similar to the Lion complaint, the Raisin Valley cross-complaint challenged the validity of the Marketing Order on multiple grounds. The trial court initially entered judgment against the Department on the consolidated cases, concluding the Marketing Order was invalid because there was insufficient evidence that the Marketing Order was necessary to address severe economic conditions in the raisin industry. The Department appealed and the Court of Appeal reversed, concluding the trial court’s interpretation of the CMA was too narrow. On remand, after additional briefing, the trial court entered judgments in favor of the Department, denying the challenges to the Marketing Order. Lion and Raisin Valley appealed those judgments, asserting numerous errors. With regard to the appeal in the Lion case, the Court of Appeal modified the judgment to dismiss the “varietal benefit” and “non-disparagement” claims due to appellants’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and affirmed the judgment as modified. The Court dismissed the appeal in the Raisin Valley case as premature under the one final judgment rule. View "Lion Raisins v. Ross" on Justia Law

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Will Hughes and Chad Penn were commercial farmers who leased farmland in Madison County, Mississippi. They began using propane cannons in the summer months to deter deer from eating their crops. Because of the intentionally loud noise these devices created, neighboring property owners sought to enjoin Hughes and Penn from using the cannons. But citing the Mississippi Right to Farm Act, the chancellor found the neighbors’ nuisance claim was barred. Undisputedly, Hughes’s and Penn’s farms had been in operation for many years before the nuisance action was filed. So the chancery court ruled Miss. Code Ann. Section 95-3-29(1) was an absolute defense and dismissed the neighbors’ nuisance action. On appeal, the neighboring property owners argued the chancery court misinterpreted the statute. In their view, the chancery court erred by looking to how long the farms had been in operation instead of how long the practice of propane cannons had been in place. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found their proposed view contradicted the statute’s plain language. "The one-year time limitation in Section 95-3-29(1) does not hinge on the existence of any specific agricultural practice. Instead, it is expressly based on the existence of the agricultural operation, which 'includes, without limitation, any facility or production site for the production and processing of crops . . . .'" Applying the plain language in Section 95-3-29(2)(a), the Supreme Court found the properties being farmed were without question agricultural operations. And the propane cannons were part of those operations, because they were part of the farms’ best agricultural-management practices. Since the farms had been in operation for more than one year, the chancellor was correct to apply Section 95-3-29(1)’s bar. View "Briggs v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a tugboat pushing a barge through the coastal waters of St. Bernard Parish entered an area known as Christmas Lake. Christmas Lake was productive oyster grounds and contained several oyster leases marked by poles extending above the waterline. Down to one engine due to mechanical problems, the captain tried to navigate the tugboat to Hopedale for repairs. An oyster fisherman stopped the tugboat and instructed the captain to turn around, emphasizing the presence of oyster beds and explaining the water was too shallow to travel any further. The captain reversed course and turned southwest, entering oyster-lease grounds held by plaintiff, Marty Melerine. The tugboat crossed the middle of Melerine’s 140-acre lease until grounding on an oyster reef in the southwest corner of the lease. At high tide the next day, the captain freed the tugboat from the reef with the assistance of Melerine. Following directions from Melerine and another area oysterman, the captain piloted the tugboat along the southern boundary of the lease and exited the area. Shortly after the grounding, Melerine retained Dr. Edwin Cake Jr., an oyster biologist, to inspect the oyster beds and determine the extent of any damages caused by the incident. Based on samples and poling data, Dr. Cake concluded Melerine’s damages totaled $7,235,993.27: the cost to repair the damaged reefs ($997,314.77); and lost profits from oysters killed by the grounding incident ($6,238,678.50). Melerine and OFI sued the tugboat captain’s employer, Tom’s Marine & Salvage, LLC, and its insurer, AGCS Marine Insurance Company, seeking damages caused by the grounding. The Louisiana Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in (1) allowing evidence of a regulatory method for determining oyster-lease damages applicable only when a pre-project biological survey was performed; and (2) admitting opinion testimony from an expert witness that is beyond his expertise and not supported by reliable methodology. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for new trial. View "Melerine v. Tom's Marine & Salvage, 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