Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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 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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The district court dismissed a putative class action challenge to ConAgra’s poultry labels and its website advertising, alleging that ConAgra falsely advertised its frozen chicken products as natural and preservative-free, when in fact they contain synthetic ingredients. The court found the claims preempted by the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), 21 U.S.C. 467e, under which the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) had approved ConAgra’s poultry labels.The Ninth Circuit reversed in part; the mere existence of the label was insufficient to establish that it was reviewed and approved by FSIS. Preemption is an affirmative defense, and when the parties dispute whether review occurred at all, the defendant must produce evidence that the label was reviewed and approved by FSIS. If the evidence on remand shows that ConAgra’s label was approved by FSIS, then the claims are preempted. The plaintiff may not assert that FSIS’s approval decision was wrong. ConAgra’s website representations were not reviewed by FSIS. The label and the website were not materially identical. A challenge to that part of the website’s representation that was materially different from the representations on the label is not preempted. The court rejected an argument under the primary jurisdiction doctrine, a prudential doctrine under which courts may determine that the initial decision-making responsibility should be performed by the relevant agency rather than the courts. View "Cohen v. ConAgra Brands, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Department regulates the use of pesticides, including 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), which is used in agriculture. Only Dow produces 1,3-D for use in California As a condition of Dow’s continued registration of 1,3-D products, the Department maintains a “township cap program,” which limits the amount of the pesticide that may be used each year to reduce cancer risks to bystanders. Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandate, claiming that the township cap program was an underground regulation in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and fails to incorporate recommendations from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as required under the Food and Agriculture Code.The trial court granted summary judgment, declaring the township cap program void and directing the Department to engage in formal rulemaking to replace it. The court of appeal affirmed, agreeing that the program is an underground regulation. A regulation subject to the APA may exist even if the agency never promulgates a written policy setting forth the rule. The fact that Dow happens to be the only registrant of 1,3-D does not mean the Department can informally regulate the pesticide at will while its rules are implemented as conditions of Dow’s registration; the township cap program is a rule of general application. The program governs how 1,3-D will be used, not how the Department will register pesticides, and clearly implements and makes specific the law the Department administers. View "Vasquez v. Department of Pesticide Regulation" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Finberg became the Chief Operating Officer of Adams, a produce distributor. Grinstead was Adams’s CEO. In 2011, federal authorities investigated Adams for fraud against the Department of Defense. Finberg claims he was unaware of the scheme until later when suppliers and Adams’s CFO discussed the scheme in front of him. Finberg agreed to gradually end the scheme to avoid further detection. Adams hired a law firm to internally investigate its operations, which revealed that CEO Grinstead had engaged in extensive fraud. PNC Bank froze the business’s accounts; Adams was unable to promptly pay suppliers $10 million. Adams declared bankruptcy. Grinstead pled guilty to wire fraud, misprision of felony, and multiple failures to file tax returns. Finberg pled guilty to misprision of a felony. A disciplinary complaint was filed against Adams with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, alleging violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 7 U.S.C. 499b(4), by failing to promptly pay suppliers. The determination that Adams violated the Act triggered the Act’s employment bar for each person who was responsibly connected to the violation.An ALJ found that Finberg was responsibly connected. A USDA Judicial Officer affirmed, finding that Finberg exercised judgment, discretion, or control once he learned of the fraudulent scheme and failed to report. The D.C. Circuit reversed The agency lacked substantial evidence that Finberg’s activities contributed to Adam’’s violation of the Act. View "Finberg v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim of an action filed by the Council, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the ground that California's Proposition 12 violates the dormant Commerce Clause in banning the sale of whole pork meat (no matter where produced) from animals confined in a manner inconsistent with California standards.The panel concluded that, under its precedent, a state law violates the dormant Commerce Clause only in narrow circumstances. The panel explained that the complaint does not plausibly allege that such narrow circumstances apply to Proposition 12, and thus the district court did not err in dismissing the Council's complaint for failure to state a claim. In this case, even though the Council has plausibly alleged that Proposition 12 will have dramatic upstream effects and require pervasive changes to the pork production industry nationwide, the panel concluded hat it has not stated a violation of the dormant Commerce Clause under existing precedent. The panel stated that alleged cost increases to market participants and customers did not qualify as a substantial burden to interstate commerce for purposes of the dormant Commerce Clause. View "National Pork Producers Council v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 imposes a $1 assessment, or “checkoff,” on each head of cattle sold in the U.S. to fund beef consumption promotional activities. The Secretary of Agriculture oversees the program. The Montana Beef Council and other qualified state beef councils (QSBCs), receive a portion of the checkoff assessments to fund promotional activities and may direct a portion of these funds to third parties for the production of advertisements and other promotional materials. R-CALF's members include cattle producers who object to their QSBCs’ advertising campaigns. In 2016, the Secretary entered into memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with QSBCs which granted the Secretary preapproval authority over promotions and allowed the Secretary to decertify noncompliant QSBCs, terminating their access to checkoff funds. The Secretary must preapprove all contracts to third parties and any resulting plans. QSBCs can make noncontractual transfers of checkoff funds to third parties for promotional materials which do not need to be pre-approved. Plaintiffs contend that the distribution of funds under these arrangements is an unconstitutional compelled subsidy of private speech.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the federal defendants after holding that R-CALF had associational standing and direct standing to sue QSBCs. The speech generated by the third parties for promotional materials was government speech, exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Given the breadth of the Secretary's authority, third-party speech not subject to pre-approval was effectively controlled by the government. View "Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America v. Vilsack" 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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Two commercial fishing companies caught and processed fish in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Alaska coast, but outside Alaska’s territorial waters. Their vessels arrived at Alaska ports where they could transfer processed fish directly to foreign-bound cargo vessels or transfer processed fish to shore for storage and later loading on cargo vessels. Because the companies did not process fish in Alaska, they did not pay the taxes imposed on other processing vessels operating out of Alaskan ports, but their fisheries business activities were subject to a state “landing tax.” The fishing companies argued that this landing tax violated the Import-Export and Tonnage Clauses of the United States Constitution and 33 U.S.C. section 5(b). The Alaska Supreme Court found: (1) the tax was imposed before the fish product entered the stream of export commerce; (2) the tax did not constitute an “impost or duty;” and (3) the tax therefore did not violate the Import-Export Clause. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the tax was not imposed against the companies’ vessels in violation of the Tonnage Clause or 33 U.S.C. (b). View "Alaska Dept. of Revenue v. North Pacific Fishing, Inc. et al." 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