Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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In 2009, 2010, and 2011, the Dowling Family Partnership and Dowling Brothers Partnership (collectively, the Partnerships) entered into a series of cash farm leases with Midland Farms, LLC. The 2012 crop year lease created a right of first refusal held by the Partnerships regarding the 2013, 2014, and 2015 crop years, a right that ripened into an option when Midland received an offer from Clement Farms and relayed the new price to the Partnerships. In 2012, Midland sought a legal determination that the parties had not extended the prior lease. The circuit court concluded that an enforceable contract existed between the Partnerships and Midland, and the Partnerships exercised their right to lease the property for the 2013 through 2015 crop years. The Partnerships were subsequently restored to possession of the leased property. The Partnerships sued Midland a second time seeking damages for being denied possession of the property from August 2012 to March 2013. Midland sought restitution from the Partnerships for the amount it paid to Clement as reimbursement for Clement’s planting expenses. The circuit court concluded that the Partnerships did not suffer damage, Midland was not entitled to restitution, and Midland had unclean hands. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that Midland breached its lease with the Partnerships and that the Partnerships were not unjustly enriched. View "Dowling Family P’ship v. Midland Farms, LLC" on Justia Law

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James and Barbara Hilliard (Vendors) owned a farm in Owyhee County with approximately 3,000 acres of farmable land. They executed written leases of the best farm ground to various farmers who grew row crops. They orally leased to John Clark other portions of the farm, on which he raised hay and grain crops. In 2009 and 2010, Vendors leased the row crop portion of the farm to Lance Funk Farms, LLC. Because of his health, on John Clark became unable to continue farming, and Vendors orally leased to his son Jay P. Clark, Vendors’ attorney, those parts of the farm not leased for growing row crops. According to Vendors, in January 2010 Jay Clark fraudulently obtained a written document purporting to give him a one-year lease of the entire farm with an option to extend the lease for a period of ten years. He then recorded the document in the records of the county recorder, and in June 2010 his father recorded a document claiming to have a 10% interest in the farm. These recordings created clouds on the Vendors’ title to the farm. In November 2010, Vendors contracted to sell their farm to Murphy Land Company, LLC (Purchaser). Jay Clark told Purchaser that he would only vacate the farm upon payment to him of $2,000,000 and payment to his father of $950,000. Because of the two clouds on the title and the refusal of Jay Clark to vacate the property, the parties entered into an amendment to their contract which stated, among other things, that $3,000,000 of the sale price would be held in trust to “be available to the extent determined by a court of competent jurisdiction of the purchaser’s damage, if any, for loss or delay of possession of real estate purchased herein.” The sale closed on December 30, 2010. In early 2011, Vendors sued Jay and John Clark, and obtained a judgment declaring Jay Clark’s purported lease null and void and ordering that John Clark’s recorded claim to ownership of a 10% interest in the farm be expunged from the county records. Then Purchaser filed a lawsuit to have Jay Clark removed from the farm. Clark fought that lawsuit, including filing for bankruptcy protection after Purchaser was granted summary judgment in its action to remove him from the farm. As a result, Purchaser did not obtain possession of the farm until May 2012. In 2013, Vendors filed this action for a declaratory judgment that they were entitled to a $3,000,000 being held in trust. Purchaser filed a counterclaim seeking that sum for the damages it incurred due to the delay in being able to obtain possession of the farm. The district court granted summary judgment to the purchaser after holding that the material portions of the affidavits filed by the vendors in opposition to summary judgment were inadmissible. Finding no error with that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court and awarded attorney fees on appeal. View "Hilliard v. Murphy Land Co." on Justia Law

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The 22-acre Shuler ranch in Soma is below 1000 acres owned by Sunshine Agriculture. After agricultural operations expanded up the hillside, it collapsed onto the Shuler property. The Shulers sued, alleging: "Defendants . . . were responsible for the removal of historic watercourses and stable ground cover and also for unreasonable grading, irrigation, planting and maintenance of the hillside slope. . . . acted negligently in failing to take steps to prevent the land from collapsing. . . . [T]he harm was foreseeable because of the steepness of the slope and nature of its soil." The Shuler's engineering expert found that the slope was unsuitable for development and that the alteration of the water courses and the introduction of irrigation for 1000 trees were the most significant factors responsible for the foreseeable slope failure. Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to join an indispensable party: Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which prepared engineering drawings and calculations in support of the erosion control plan approved by the Ventura County Resource Conservation District. The trial court found that NRCS was a necessary, indispensable party and a federal agency not amenable to suit in state court. The Shulers filed a federal action, naming the same defendants, with the government as an additional defendant. The California Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal of the state suit. View "Dreamweaver Andalusians, LLC v. Prudential Ins. Co." 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 1952 an Illinois owner granted a pipeline operator an easement for two pipelines across the parcel. The first was built immediately; the second, if built, had to be within 10 feet of the first. The contract says that any pipeline must be “buried to such depth as will not interfere with such cultivation.” In 2012 the operator notified the owner that it planned to build a second pipeline. The owner filed a quiet-title suit, alleging that either the right to build a second line had expired or that another line would violate the farmability condition. The operator replied that 49 U.S.C. 60104(c), preempts enforcement of the farmability condition. The district court dismissed. A second pipeline has been built 50 feet from the first, using eminent domain to obtain the necessary rights, but the owner anticipates construction of a third pipeline. Vacating the judgment, the Seventh Circuit held that no construction is currently planned and the district court acted prematurely. Until details of a third pipeline’ are known, it is not possible to determine what effect it would have on agricultural use. Only if a third pipeline prevents using the land for agriculture would it be necessary (or prudent) to determine whether section 60104(c) establishes a federal right to destroy more of the land’s value than paid for in 1952. The court stated that it had no reason to think that Illinois would call the 1952 contract an option or apply the Rule Against Perpetuities. View "Knight v. Enbridge Pipelines, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Farm Credit had a security interest in corn delivered to Cargill and filed suit against Cargill in replevin for the corn. The district court concluded that Farm Credit's security interest under the Food Security Act (FSA) of 1985, 7 U.S.C. 1631(e), entitled it to proceeds from the corn delivered to Cargill. The court concluded that Cargill did not dispute that Farm Credit complied with the FSA. To the extent that the U.C.C. governs priority disputes as a foundation for the FSA, Cargill's argument failed because U.C.C. 9-404 does not apply in this case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Farm Credit. View "Farm Credit Serv. v. Cargill, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against their sons, their former attorney, a limited liability company (SMP), and others, challenging the validity of their mortgages delivered to SMP. Without first seeking mediation, SMP counterclaimed to foreclose on a mortgage granted by Plaintiffs on their agricultural property. The district court foreclosed the mortgage and denied Plaintiffs' motion to quash or stay the sheriff's sale. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to foreclose on the agricultural property because SMP had not first obtained a mediation release as required by Iowa Code 654A.6(1). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that SMP was not required to obtain the mediation release prior to filing a counterclaim to foreclose its mortgage. View "Schaefer v. Putnam" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owns three tracts, zoned agricultural, and challenged a 2009 amendment to the Winnebago County zoning ordinance that makes it easier to obtain permission to build a wind farm. She claimed that a wind farm on adjacent land would deprive the property “of the full extent of the kinetic energy of the wind and air as it enters the property, subjecting it to shadow flicker and reduction of light, severe noise, possible ice throw and blade throws, interference with radar, cell phone, GPS, television, and other wireless communications, increased likelihood of lightening damage and stray voltage. increased electromagnetic radiation, prevention of crop dusting, drying out her land, and killing raptors. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, characterizing the claim as simply that a wind farm adjacent to plaintiff’s property would be a nuisance. There is no merit to the claim that the amendment violates plaintiff’s constitutional rights. It is a “modest legislative encouragement of wind farming,” within the constitutional authority, state as well as federal, of a local government.View "Muscarello v. Winnebago Cnty. Bd." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owns properties in a mixed rural/suburban area in central Illinois and lives in a house on one parcel. The other parcels, about 190 acres and near the house, were zoned agricultural and very close to a hog farm. The owners of two other properties in proximity to the hog farm obtained rezoning to the “rural residential” classification, but the county declined plaintiff’s applications for rezoning. Plaintiff sued in state court; the court entered an “Agreed Order” that stated that the parcels should be rezoned, but did not order that they be rezoned. One year later, the zoning board held the required hearing and recommended approval. The County Board voted 11 to 10 in favor of the applications, less than a three-fourths majority, which functioned as a denial. In 2008, the Board granted the applications, but the real estate market had collapsed, and the parcels were no longer worth more zoned residential than they had been when zoned agricultural. Plaintiff sought damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that protection of agriculture was a rational, nonretaliatory motive for voting against the applications. View "Guth v. Tazewell County" on Justia Law

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In 2001, the Conservancy sold a 100.10 acre farm in Garrard County, Kentucky to the Sims for $60,084, in addition to a $244,939 charitable pledge from the Sims to the Conservancy. The property appraised at $260,400 without the easement at issue, which requires that the land "be retained forever substantially undisturbed in its natural condition and to prevent any use . . . that will significantly impair or interfere with the Conservation Values of the Protected Property." The Conservancy received an annual right to enter and inspect the property. In January 2005, the Conservancy inspected and documented several violations that concerned excavating and filling a sinkhole. The Sims corrected several other violations. The district court granted summary judgment to the Conservancy, concluding that, although the easement allowed some changes to the topography in conjunction with authorized activities, like plowing for commercial agriculture, the easement specifically prohibited the substantial alteration of filling in a sinkhole with an estimated 6,269 cubic yards of fill. The court awarded the Conservancy $99,796.41 in attorneys’ fees and expenses. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "The Nature Conservancy, Inc. v. Sims" on Justia Law