Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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House owns an organic farm, adjacent to the Property, formerly owned by Moller. In 2002, House entered into a six-year lease with Moller for 35 farmable acres, containing a renewal option and a right of first refusal. House converted the Property to certified organic status. In 2007, Moller, with no notice to House, agreed to sell the Property to Foss. Foss, a licensed real estate agent, prepared the agreement, which did not contain a fixed closing date. House became aware of the agreement, notified Foss about the right of first refusal, and sued Moller. While the lease remained in effect, Foss entered the Property and sprayed nonorganic herbicides, cut down trees, and altered the fencing. House sued Foss. Moller filed for bankruptcy. The Property was foreclosed on and sold to a third party in 2015.The trial court found Foss liable for inducing a breach of contract, intentionally interfering with House’s prospective economic advantage, conversion, trespass, and negligence and awarded compensatory damages of $1,669,705 and $1,000 in punitive damages. House sought attorney fees and costs. The court denied the motion. The court of appeal remanded for a determination of reasonable attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure 1021.9, which refers to “any action to recover damages to personal or real property resulting from trespassing on lands either under cultivation or intended or used for the raising of livestock.” The damages award is supported by substantial evidence. View "Kelly v. House" on Justia Law

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A common-benefit trust fund was established to compensate attorneys leading the MDL concerning Bayer’s LibertyLink LL601 genetically modified rice. On appeal, Bayer and Riceland challenge the district court's order requiring Bayer to cause the deposit of a portion of a settlement between Bayer and Riceland into the fund. Bayer and Riceland argue that because their settlement was the product of negotiations following a state-court judgment, the district court lacked jurisdiction to order Bayer to cause a percentage of the settlement to be deposited into the fund. The court concluded that the district court properly ordered Bayer to hold back a portion of the Bayer-Riceland settlement. In this case, application of the Common Benefit Order was a comparable collateral matter that the district court had jurisdiction to resolve in light of the settlement; the district court properly applied the Common Benefit Order to the settlement and required a percentage of the entire settlement to be redirected to the common-benefit fund; and the district court did not plainly err in assigning to Bayer the duty of causing a deposit of the funds due under the Common Benefit Order. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Riceland Foods v. Bayer Cropscience US" on Justia Law

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The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA), 7 U.S.C. 499e, is a Depression-era statute designed to protect sellers of perishable produce form delinquent purchasers. In this case, two such purchasers filed for bankruptcy and the bankruptcy court appointed special counsel to collect and disburse funds to PACA-protected sellers that had claims against the purchasers-turned-debtors. At issue on appeal is whether special counsel’s (Stokes) fees and expenses be disbursed from the PACA fund. Nowhere in the orders on the interim appeals is there an indication that the district court realized these were interlocutory orders and believed there was a benefit to hearing them in this piecemeal manner. That absence means the district court did not have appellate jurisdiction over the first two interim fee orders. Therefore the court vacated for lack of jurisdiction the district court’s order vacating the first and second fee awards. The court found that Kingdom Fresh has no standing to dispute the percentage of Stokes’s fee allocable to the nonobjecting parties. Only the small percentage of Stokes’s fee apportionable to Kingdom Fresh is at issue in this appeal; Stokes is free to keep the remainder. The court agreed with the Second Circuit that PACA’s unequivocal language requires that a PACA trustee - or in this case, its functional equivalent - may not be paid from trust assets “until full payment of the sums owing” is paid to all claimants. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order vacating the final fee award, but only as to Kingdom Fresh's pro rata share of the fees. View "Kingdom Fresh Produce, Inc., et al v. Delta Produc" on Justia Law

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Universal successfully defended a lawsuit brought by a group of cotton farmers in Arkansas state court for damages arising from off-target aerial application of the herbicide known as 2,4-D Amine. Universal then sued several aerial herbicide applicators (collectively, Crop Dusters) who were not parties to the cotton farmers' litigation, seeking to recover its attorney's fees incurred during the cotton farmers' litigation. Because the Crop Dusters owed no duty to Universal, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Universal's negligence claim. The court affirmed the dismissal of Universal's Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA), Ark. Code Ann. 4-88-107(a), claim where the alleged conduct failed to fit within the scope of the unconscionable trade practices prohibited by the ADTPA. Because the Arkansas Supreme Court most recently has rejected any cause of action against a third party for attorney's fees incurred in earlier litigation against another party, and in this case there was no duty running from the third party to the plaintiff that would support such a cause of action in any event, the court affirmed the dismissal of Universal's claims based on the third-party-litigation exception to the American Rule and Restatement (Second) of Torts section 914(2). Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Universal's complaint for failure to state a claim. View "Universal Cooperatives, Inc., et al v. AAC Flying Service, Inc., et al" on Justia Law