Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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The Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court denying the motion filed by Protect the Peninsula, Inc. to intervene as a matter of right in an action brought by a group of wineries and an association representing their interests (collectively, the Wineries) against a Michigan municipality over several zoning ordinances that regulate vineyards, holding that the district court erred.Protect the Peninsula, Inc., a local advocacy group, moved to intervene in this action brought against Peninsula Township challenging the zoning ordinances regulating the vineyards' activities as unconstitutional and in violation of state laws. Protect the Peninsula moved to intervene under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24(a)(2), but the district court denied the motion. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that Protect the Peninsula satisfied each of Rule 24(a)(2)'s requirements. View "Wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula Ass'n v. Township of Peninsula, Michigan" on Justia Law

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A California regulation mandates that agricultural employers allow union organizers onto their property for up to three hours per day, 120 days per year. Union organizers sought access to property owned by two California growers, who sought to enjoin enforcement of the access regulation. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit.The Supreme Court reversed. California’s access regulation constitutes a per se physical taking and the growers’ complaint states a claim for an uncompensated taking in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. When the government, rather than appropriating private property for itself or a third party, imposes regulations restricting an owner’s ability to use his own property, courts generally determine whether a taking has occurred by applying the “Penn Central” factors. When the government physically appropriates property, the flexible Penn Central analysis has no place. California’s access regulation appropriates a right to invade the growers’ property and therefore constitutes a per se physical taking. Rather than restraining the growers’ use of their own property, the regulation appropriates for the enjoyment of third parties (union organizers) the owners’ right to exclude. The right to exclude is “a fundamental element of the property right.” The duration of a physical appropriation bears only on the amount of compensation due. The California regulation is not transformed from a physical taking into a use restriction just because the access granted is restricted to union organizers, for a narrow purpose, and for a limited time.The Court distinguished restrictions on how a business generally open to the public may treat individuals on the premises; isolated physical invasions, not undertaken pursuant to a granted right of access; and requirements that property owners cede a right of access as a condition of receiving certain benefits. Government inspection regimes will generally not constitute takings. View "Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid" on Justia Law

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Will Hughes and Chad Penn were commercial farmers who leased farmland in Madison County, Mississippi. They began using propane cannons in the summer months to deter deer from eating their crops. Because of the intentionally loud noise these devices created, neighboring property owners sought to enjoin Hughes and Penn from using the cannons. But citing the Mississippi Right to Farm Act, the chancellor found the neighbors’ nuisance claim was barred. Undisputedly, Hughes’s and Penn’s farms had been in operation for many years before the nuisance action was filed. So the chancery court ruled Miss. Code Ann. Section 95-3-29(1) was an absolute defense and dismissed the neighbors’ nuisance action. On appeal, the neighboring property owners argued the chancery court misinterpreted the statute. In their view, the chancery court erred by looking to how long the farms had been in operation instead of how long the practice of propane cannons had been in place. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found their proposed view contradicted the statute’s plain language. "The one-year time limitation in Section 95-3-29(1) does not hinge on the existence of any specific agricultural practice. Instead, it is expressly based on the existence of the agricultural operation, which 'includes, without limitation, any facility or production site for the production and processing of crops . . . .'" Applying the plain language in Section 95-3-29(2)(a), the Supreme Court found the properties being farmed were without question agricultural operations. And the propane cannons were part of those operations, because they were part of the farms’ best agricultural-management practices. Since the farms had been in operation for more than one year, the chancellor was correct to apply Section 95-3-29(1)’s bar. View "Briggs v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, neighbors of Murphy-Brown's hog production facilities, filed suit against the company, seeking relief under state nuisance law from odors, pests, and noises they attribute to farming practices Murphy-Brown implemented at an industrial-scale hog feeding farm. On appeal, Murphy-Brown challenges a jury verdict against it awarding compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs.As a preliminary matter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment rejecting Murphy-Brown's argument that Kinlaw Farms was a necessary and indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. Furthermore, the district court's decision as to the applicable statute of limitations was not legal error, and refusing to give the inapplicable jury instruction on continuing nuisances was not an abuse of discretion.The court affirmed the jury's verdict as to liability for compensatory and punitive damages. The court rejected Murphy-Brown's contention that North Carolina private nuisance law bars recovery of compensatory damages of any kind pursuant to the 2017 Right to Farm Act amendment. Rather, the court concluded that the amendment represents a substantive, forward-looking change in the law, and affirmed the district court's conclusion that the issue of annoyance and discomfort damages should go to the jury based on longstanding North Carolina case law allowing such recovery in nuisance suits. The court also affirmed the district court's decisions as to the admission and exclusion of expert testimony, and the district court's jury instruction as to vicarious liability because the contested jury instruction did not prejudice Murphy-Brown. However, the court vacated the jury's judgment as to the amount of punitive damages and remanded for rehearing on the punitive damages issue without the parent company financial evidence, including executive compensation. View "McKiver v. Murphy-Brown, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the clean water commission approving Trenton Farms' permit to establish a twin concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), holding that House Bill No. 1713 (HB 1713) does not violate the original purpose, single subject, or clear title requirements of the Missouri Constitution and that there was sufficient evidence regarding the CAFO's protection from a 100-year flood.The clean water commission affirmed the department of natural resource's issuance of a permit to Trenton Farms to establish a CAFO. Hickory Neighbors United, Inc. appealed, arguing (1) HB 1713, which amended Mo. Rev. Stat. 644.021.1 to change the criteria for members of the commission, violated Missouri Constitution article III's original purpose requirement and single subject and clear title requirements; and (2) there was insufficient evidence that CAFO's manure containment structures would be protected from inundation or damages in the event of a 100-year flood, a requirement of 10 C.S.R. 20-8.300. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) HB 1713 is constitutionally valid; and (2) there was sufficient evidence that CAFO structures met regulatory requirements. View "In re Trenton Farms RE, LLC Permit No. MOGS10520" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court concluding that Regions Bank and Optimum Agriculture, LLC had lien priority to crop proceeds and that Optimum Agriculture, LLC was entitled to a statutory landlord lien, holding that the circuit court did not clearly err.On appeal, AgriFund, LLC, one of the three creditors in this intercreditor dispute over lien priority to the crop proceeds, argued that its lien was superior to those held by Regions and Optimum. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the circuit court did not clearly err in finding that AgriFund did not have priority to the proceeds and that Optimum held a landlord's lien. View "Agrifund, LLC v. Regions Bank" on Justia Law

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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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The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) affirming the order of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant and dismissing Plaintiff's complaint alleging that Defendant's cattle trespassed onto his property causing damage to his sweet potato crop, holding that the legislature intended to hold owners of livestock liable for the damage caused by the trespass of their animals on cultivated land whether the land is properly fenced or not.In granting summary judgment for Defendant, the circuit court concluded (1) Hawai'i's statutory law governing the trespass of livestock onto cultivated land did not apply to Plaintiff's property because the property was neither "properly fenced" nor "unfenced"; and (2) a provision in Plaintiff's lease making Plaintiff fully responsible for keeping cattle out of his cultivated land was not void against public policy. The ICA affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) livestock owners are liable for damages caused by their livestock trespassing onto cultivated land; and (2) the lease provision was contrary to statutory law and public policy and was thus invalid because it had the effect of absolving Defendant of liability for livestock damage to Plaintiff's cultivated land. View "Yin v. Aguiar" on Justia Law

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The Grossens own but do not live on, Parcel A, adjacent to Parcel B, leased by Frank. The parcels are separated by a common fence. Frank has used Parcel B for pasturing cattle since 2009 and, under his lease is responsible for maintaining the fences on the parcel. When Frank repaired the fence he did not notify the Grossens. In 2011, Frank’s cattle escaped to a nearby road, where Raab collided with a cow. Raab sued, citing the Animals Running Act. Frank filed a third-party complaint against the Grossens under the Contribution Act, citing the Fence Act, negligence, and breach of contract. The cow that injured Raab escaped through a portion of the fence the Grossens were obligated to maintain under a contract between previous owners. The circuit court approved a $225,000 settlement agreement between Raab and Frank; determined that the Animals Running Act barred any contribution from nonowners or nonkeepers of livestock and that Frank’s failure to notify the Grossens of known deficiencies in the fence barred liability under the Fence Act; and held that a breach of the fence contract could not create that liability to Raab, so the contract could not be the basis for contribution. The appellate court reversed in part.The Illinois Supreme Court held that common law does not provide a basis to hold a nonowner or nonkeeper of livestock liable in tort for damage caused by a neighbor’s animals; the Animals Running Act is not a source of a duty for nonowners and nonkeepers to restrain neighboring cattle. Since Frank has not otherwise established potential tort liability, breach of contract does not give rise to liability under the Contribution Act. View "Raab v. Frank" on Justia Law

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In the 1990s, Boucher cut down nine trees on his family farm in Indiana. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claimed that the tree removal converted several acres of wetlands into croplands, rendering the Bouchers’ entire farm ineligible for USDA benefits that would otherwise be available under the “Swampbuster” provisions in the Food Security Act of 1985, 16 U.S.C. 3801, 3821–24. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court. The USDA repeatedly failed to follow applicable law and agency standards. It disregarded compelling evidence showing that the acreage in question never qualified as wetlands that could have been converted illegally into croplands and has shifted its explanations for treating the acreage as converted wetlands, so its actions qualify as arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion. The agency experts did not attribute the alteration of hydrology to the removal of the nine trees; the agency presented no evidence that the tree removal altered the wetland hydrology. The USDA failed to engage meaningfully with this point, ignoring a crucial factor under the agency’s interpretation of its regulation. View "Boucher v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law