Justia Agriculture Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
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
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
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
Scruggs, et al. v. Farmland Mutual Insurance Co.
Almost two decades prior to this decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court handed down Farmland Mutual Insurance Co. v. Scruggs, 886 So. 2d 714 (Miss. 2004). In that opinion, the Court held that Farmland Mutual Insurance Co., the liability insurer for Mitchell Scruggs, Eddie Scruggs, Scruggs Farms & Supplies LLC, and Scruggs Farm Joint Venture (collectively, Scruggs), had no duty to defend Scruggs in a federal lawsuit by Monsanto Company. The reason no coverage applied was because Monsanto had alleged that Scruggs committed the intentional act of conversion by saving and using unlicensed seeds. Eight years later, a district court judge overturned a jury’s verdict that Scruggs had willfully violated Monsanto’s patents. Consequently, Scruggs was not liable for treble damages and attorney’s fees. Scruggs returned to state court in 2013. Citing Rule 60(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, Scruggs asked the Lee County Circuit Court to reopen and vacate the final judgment entered in 2004 in favor of Farmland on the coverage issue. Scruggs asserted the Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion had been erroneously decided based on facts that came to light in the federal case. The state court rejected the motion as untimely under Rule 60(b). Scruggs appealed. While Scruggs asserted the motion was timely, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the motion’s timing is irrelevant: Rule 60(b) was not a procedural vehicle for a trial court to overturn a mandate issued from the Mississippi Supreme Court. Because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant Scruggs’s request, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s denial of the motion. View "Scruggs, et al. v. Farmland Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al.
Plaintiff-appellant Francisco Serna sued a police officer and local police department that allegedly prevented him from transporting hemp plants on a flight from Colorado to Texas. In the complaint, he asserted a single claim under § 10114(b) of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill), a statute that authorized states to legalize hemp and regulate its production within their borders, but generally precluded states from interfering with the interstate transportation of hemp. The district court dismissed Serna’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), concluding that Serna failed to state a viable claim because § 10114(b) did not create a private cause of action to sue state officials who allegedly violate that provision. Serna appealed, arguing that § 10114(b) impliedly authorized a private cause of action and that even if it didn't, the district court should have allowed him to amend the complaint to add other potentially viable claims rather than dismissing the case altogether. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that contrary to Serna’s view, the language in § 10114(b) did not suggest that Congress intended to grant hemp farmers a right to freely transport their product from one jurisdiction to another, with no interference from state officials. Because courts could not read a private cause of action into a statute that lacked such rights-creating language, the Court held the district court properly dismissed Serna’s § 10114(b) claim. The Court also concluded the trial court properly declined to allow Serna to amend his complaint. View "Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al." on Justia Law
Trosen, et al. v. Trosen, et al.
Jeff Trosen appealed a judgment and amended judgment awarding damages for a breach of contract claim to the Estate of Shirley Trosen and the Trosen Family Trust and dismissing Jeff’s counterclaim and third-party complaint. A dispute arose over Jeff’s lease of farmland from Shirley. The lease covered the farming seasons of 2017 through 2022. Partial payments were made in 2020 and 2021, leaving balances owed for those years. Shirley and the Trust sued Jeff for breach of contract and to cancel the lease. Jeff argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the breach of contract claim and by dismissing his counterclaim and third-party complaint. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgments. View "Trosen, et al. v. Trosen, et al." on Justia Law
Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund v. Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, et al.
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
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
Thornton, et al. v. Tyson Foods, et al.
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
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