Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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James and Levi Garrett, a father and son farming duo in South Dakota, were found guilty by a jury of making false statements in connection with federal crop insurance. The Garretts had participated in a federal crop insurance program, administrated by Crop Risk Services (CRS) and backed by the Risk Management Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They had obtained insurance for sunflower crops in 2018, and James had obtained insurance for a corn crop in 2019. The Garretts were accused of falsely certifying the number of acres of sunflowers and corn they planted in 2018 and 2019 respectively, and subsequently reporting harvest losses to CRS.The case went to trial in October 2022. The jury heard from several witnesses and examined dozens of exhibits. At the conclusion of the trial, James was convicted on two counts of making a false statement in connection with insurance for sunflower and corn crops, and Levi was convicted on one count of making a false statement in connection with insurance for a sunflower crop. The Garretts moved for judgment of acquittal, and in the alternative, a new trial, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. The district court denied their motion.The Garretts appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, challenging the district court’s evidentiary rulings and its denial of their post-trial motions. They argued that the district court erred in admitting certain evidence and excluding others, and that there was insufficient evidence to support their convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding that the trial record supported the jury verdict and that the district court did not err in its evidentiary rulings or in denying the Garretts' post-trial motions. View "United States v. Garrett" on Justia Law

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A member of the Metlakatla Indian Community was convicted of several commercial fishing violations in State waters and fined $20,000. He appealed his conviction and sentence to the court of appeals, which asked the Alaska Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of the appeal because of the importance of the primary issue involved: whether the defendant’s aboriginal and treaty-based fishing rights exempted him from State commercial fishing regulations. The defendant also challenged several evidentiary rulings and the fairness of his sentence. Because the Supreme Court held the State had authority to regulate fishing in State waters in the interests of conservation regardless of the defendant’s claimed fishing rights, and because the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its procedural rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The Court also affirmed the sentence as not clearly mistaken, except for one detail on which the parties agreed: the district court was mistaken to include a probationary term in the sentence. The case was remanded for modification of the judgments to correct that mistake. View "Scudero Jr. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

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In March 2012, Edington and his father agreed Edington would apply for a Farm Services Agency (FSA) farm operating loan and list assets belonging to his father as collateral. Edington listed as collateral many assets he did not own. In 2012, Edington also presented documents to the FSA falsely claiming he had purchased cattle from his friend. Edington defaulted on the loans; his father died. Edington did not inherit the assets listed in the security agreement. In 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed felony charges for conspiring to violate 18 U.S.C. 1014, which prohibits: “knowingly make[] a false statement or report . . . for the purpose of influencing in any way the action of the” FSA. The district court dismissed, citing the five-year statute of limitations under 18 U.S.C. 3282(a).The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded; 18 U.S.C. 3293(1) expressly provides a 10-year limitations period for certain offenses including “a violation of, or a conspiracy to violate . . . section . . . 1014.” Section 3293 extends the statute of limitations from five to 10 years for certain crimes including a violation of and conspiracy to violate section 1014. The most recent alleged overt acts listed in the information occurred in 2012; the charges were timely. View "United States v. Edington" on Justia Law

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Indiana-based hemp sellers and wholesalers sought to enjoin the enforcement of Indiana’s “Act 516” criminal prohibition on the manufacture, delivery, or possession of smokable hemp, Ind. Code 35-48-3-10.1, arguing that Indiana’s law is preempted by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The 2018 Act expanded the definition of industrial hemp to include all parts of the cannabis plant with a low THC concentration and all low-THC cannabis derivatives; excludes industrial hemp from the federal definition of marijuana, removing it from the DEA’s schedule of controlled substances; provides that the states retain the authority to regulate the production of hemp (7 U.S.C. 1639p); and forbids the states from prohibiting the transportation of hemp products through the state. The district court issued the requested injunction. Indiana then enacted Act 335, which clarifies that Indiana’s prohibition on the delivery and possession of smokable hemp does “not apply to the shipment of smokable hemp from a licensed producer in another state in continuous transit through Indiana to a licensed handler in any state.”The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding the injunction overly broad. The part of Act 516 prohibiting the manufacture of smokable hemp does not fall under the 2018 law’s express preemption clause; it is not clear that the express preemption clause, alone, precludes a state from prohibiting the possession and sale of industrial hemp within the state. View "C.Y. Wholesale, Inc. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

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From 2006-2012 Packerland deceived at least one of its customers about the protein content of its Whey Protein Concentrate. Land O’Lakes purchased Packerland’s protein concentrate for use in making foods for calves and other young animals. Buyers infer protein levels from measuring nitrogen: a seller can add another nitrogen-rich substance to produce higher scores. The Ratajczaks, who owned Packerland, started adding urea to its protein concentrate. in 2006. Land O’Lakes suspected that the concentrate was high in nonprotein nitrogen but could not learn why; the Ratajczaks made excuses that Land O’Lakes accepted. The Ratajczaks sold Packerland in 2012. The new owner kept them as employees; they kept adding urea until the buyer learned what the truth. The Ratajczaks lost their jobs and settled for about $10 million before the buyer filed a complaint. Land O’Lakes stopped buying Packerland’s product and asserted claims of breach of contract, fraud, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Packerland’s insurers refused to defend or indemnify it or the Ratajczaks; the Ratajczaks’ personal insurer refused to indemnify them for their settlement with Packerland’s buyer. The district court dismissed Land O’Lakes’s suit and ruled in favor of the insurers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Land O’Lakes’ claim to treble damages under RICO and state-law and the Ratajczaks’ claims that Packerland’s insurers and their own insurers had to defend and indemnify them. View "Land O'Lakes, Inc. v. Ratajczak" on Justia Law

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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grants grazing permits to private individuals who own land adjacent to public lands; adjacent, private lands are called "base properties." Grazing permits limit both the number of animals grazing on a specific allotment of public land and the number of days they are permitted to graze. Appellant Stanley Jones appealed his convictions for one count of unlawful use or occupation of public lands, and two counts of allowing his livestock to graze without authorization on public lands. While Mr. Jones owned cattle in Wyoming, he was not the owner of the base properties adjacent to the two BLM public lands or allotments involved in this suit. Instead, his brother owned the adjacent base properties During the periods at issue, no grazing permit had been issued to Mr. Jones or his brother, nor has Mr. Jones leased his brother's property, as required for obtaining such a permit. After issuing Mr. Jones multiple administrative trespass notices and fines over the years for grazing his cattle on these and other allotments without a permit, the BLM, through the United States Attorney's Office for Wyoming, brought criminal charges against him, including one count of unlawful use or occupation, and for unauthorized grazing. A jury convicted Mr. Jones of all three criminal counts, and thereafter, the district court sentenced him to two years of supervised probation for each count, to be served concurrently, together with a $3,000 fine, contingent on his compliance with certain terms and conditions, and a $75 special assessment. Appearing pro se, Mr. Jones appealed, arguing that "the handling of the district court proceeding caused the jury to come to the wrong conclusion and that the true and honest facts should have been considered." Furthermore, Mr. Jones argued: (1) the district court improperly granted the government's motion in limine and excluded his witness from testifying, thereby depriving him of a fair trial; and (2) the proceedings against him were fundamentally unfair and denied him due process for a multitude of reasons. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. Jones" on Justia Law

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In 1996 defendant and his cousin formed companies that bought, stored, and sold grain, and provided farming services. In 1999, the cousins obtained bank loan by falsely representing that valuable contracts existed for future grain deliveries from one company to the other and inflating balances of bank accounts by writing bad checks between accounts. Charged with loan fraud and check-kiting (18 U.S.C. 1344) that cost the bank more than $2.5 million, the cousin pled guilty. Defendant testified that the transactions were in good faith, but was convicted and sentenced to 70 months in prison and restitution in the amount of $1,967,055.30, the outstanding balance on the loans. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the indictment was multiplicitous; that there was insufficient evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; that sentencing under 2009 guidelines violated the ex post facto clause; that loss and restitution amounts were miscalculated; that an enhancement for obstruction of justice was improper; and that the disparity between defendant’s sentence and that of his cousin was improper.View "United States v. Peugh" on Justia Law