Justia Agriculture Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Miller, et al. v. Nodak Ins. Co.
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
Wilcox v. Security State Bank
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Security State Bank (SSB) on Plaintiff's claims and SSB's breach of contract counterclaim, holding that there was no error.When Plaintiff defaulted on several agricultural loans she had obtained from SSB, SSB foreclosed on some of the collateral Plaintiff pledged to secure those loans. Plaintiff then brought this action, alleging, among other things, negligent lending and negligent advising. SSB counterclaimed, alleging, among other things, breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of SSB on all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court declines to recognize new causes of action for negligent lending or negligence advising; (2) there were no questions of material fact barring summary judgment on Plaintiff's breach of good faith and fair dealing claim; and (3) the district court did not err in finding that equitable defenses did not preclude entering summary judgment in favor of SSB on his counterclaim for breach of contract. View "Wilcox v. Security State Bank" 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
KBX, Inc. v. Zero Grade Farms
The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order reflecting a jury verdict awarding almost $6 million in compensatory damages, jointly and severally, against KBX, Inc. and three KBX individuals (collectively, Appellants) and other defendants and reversed the court's award of attorney's fees, holding that the court erred in part.In this case involving certain farmers' dispute with KBX, a grain exporter and merchandiser, and the KBX individuals over a series of written contracts for the purchase of rice, the circuit court entered a judgment reflecting the jury's award of compensatory damages against Appellants and other defendants. The court assessed attorney's fees and costs against Appellants as a sanction for alleged spoliation of evidence. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) without any evidence of deceit in the form of a false representation by KBX or the KBX individuals to the farmers, substantial evidence did not support the jury's verdict on deceit; (2) substantial evidence did not support the jury's verdict on constructive fraud or the farmers' conspiracy claim; (3) the circuit court erred as a matter of law in denying Appellants' motion for directed verdict on the farmers' unjust enrichment claim; and (4) remand was required on the issue of attorney's fees for recalculation of an award consistent with this opinion. View "KBX, Inc. v. Zero Grade Farms" on Justia Law
S. Katzman Produce Inc. v. Yadid
Defendant appealed from so much of the district court's judgment that orders him, jointly and severally with his codefendants Orel, to pay plaintiffs, suppliers of perishable goods, a total of $606,664.87, including principal amounts totaling $473,268.82, plus interest and attorneys' fees, because Orel failed to pay plaintiffs for goods purchased, and because of the dissipation of the statutory trust imposed on Orel's assets for the benefit of unpaid suppliers, in violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA). The district court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment holding defendant liable on the ground that he was a person in control of the trust assets.The Second Circuit concluded that partial summary judgment was appropriate with respect to $40,000 of PACA trust assets that were placed in defendant's personal bank account, but that whether he had the necessary degree of control over other assets could not be resolved as a matter of law. In this case, defendant was neither an owner nor an officer of Orel. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment in part and remanded for trial on the issue of defendant's control over other Orel assets. View "S. Katzman Produce Inc. v. Yadid" on Justia Law
Phytelligence Inc. v. Washington State University
Phytelligence, an agricultural biotechnology company that used tissue culture to grow trees, and Washington State University (WSU) contracted for the propagation of WSU's patented “WA 38” apple trees. Section 4 of the agreement was entitled “option to participate as a provider and/or seller in [WSU] licensing programs.” The parties acknowledged that WSU would need to “grant a separate license for the purpose of selling.” Phytelligence expressed concern about the “wispy forward commitment.” WSU responded that “Phytelligence and others would have a shot at securing commercial licenses.”WSU later requested proposals for commercializing WA 38. Phytelligence did not submit a proposal. WSU accepted PVM’s proposal, granting PVM an exclusive license that required PVM to subcontract exclusively with NNII, a fruit tree nursery association, to propagate and sell WA 38 trees. Phytelligence later notified WSU that it wanted to exercise its option. WSU responded that PVM was WSU’s “agent.” Phytelligence rejected PVM’s requirement to become an NNII member and two non-membership proposals for obtaining commercial rights to WA 38. WSU terminated the Propagation Agreement, alleging that Phytelligence breached the Agreement when it sold WA 38 to a third-party without a license and that such actions infringed its plant patent and its COSMIC CRISP trademark.Phytelligence sued, alleging breach of the Agreement. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of WSU. Section 4 is an unenforceable agreement to agree. WSU did not commit to any definite terms of a future license. View "Phytelligence Inc. v. Washington State University" 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
Shadow Industries, LLP v. Hoffman, et al.
Shadow Industries, LLP, appealed a district court judgment dismissing its eviction action and holding the tenants David and Chris Hoffman had timely exercised their option to extend the term of the parties’ lease agreement. Shadow argued the district court erred in finding the parties’ lease agreement to be ambiguous, finding the option to extend the lease expired on February 1, 2019, and finding the Hoffmans timely exercised their option to extend the lease. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court’s interpretation of the lease as having ambiguity as to when the lease terminated was premised upon the court’s observation that “[w]hen ‘crop years’ end and begin is undefined.” To this, the Supreme Court disagreed that the lease was ambiguous and failed to define the end of the lease. The Supreme Court found the lease terminated at the end of the 2018 crop year. "While determining when the end of the 2018 crop year occurred may be a question of fact, the term is not ambiguous simply because it requires a future event or contingency." There was testimony that the crop year ended no later than October 2018; following the harvesting of their crops and still in 2018, the Hoffmans deep ripped the land, tilled to create fall bedding, and applied fertilizer to prepare for the 2019 crop year. "On the basis of these facts, and the absence of any contrary facts in the record, we conclude as a matter of law the 2018 crop year ended and the lease terminated in 2018." Because the facts of this case compelled a finding the 2018 crop year ended in 2018 and the lease terminated at the end of the 2018 crop year, the Court found the exercise of the option in January 2019 was not timely and the lease terminated. It therefore reversed judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shadow Industries, LLP v. Hoffman, et al." 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
New Hanover County Board of Education v. Stein
In this complaint seeking to have the Attorney General preliminarily and permanently enjoined from distributing monies received pursuant to an agreement between the Attorney General and Smithfield Foods, Inc. and several of its subsidiaries regarding the operation of hog farms to any recipient other than the Civil Penalty and Forfeiture Fund, the Supreme Court held that the payments contemplated by the agreement did not constitute penalties for purposes of N.C. Const. art. IX, 7.In their complaint, Plaintiffs argued that payments made pursuant to the agreement constituted penalties under article IX, section 7 and that the Attorney General lacked the authority to enter into the agreement. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Attorney General, concluding that even if Smithfield and its subsidiaries had entered into the agreement in hope of avoiding future penalties, the payments made under the agreement were not penalties, forfeitures or fines collected for any breach of the penal laws of the State. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed precluding summary judgment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the payments contemplated by the agreement did not constitute penalties for purposes of article IX, section 7. View "New Hanover County Board of Education v. Stein" on Justia Law