Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

by
A dairy farmer looking to expand the market to which he could sell butter challenged the Food and Drug Administration's ("FDA") decades-old rule barring the interstate sale of raw butter. The farmer proposed a new rule that would allow such sales, claiming that by including raw butter in the definition of "butter" under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the FDA unlawfully changed the statutory definition of butter. The FDA rejected the farmer's proposal and the district court granted summary judgment to the FDA.The D.C. Circuit affirmed. As a preliminary matter, the court found all but one of the farmer's claims were waived on appeal. His remaining claim--that the FDA's regulation banning interstate sale of raw butter violates the FDCA’s definition of butter--failed because the FDA reasonably concluded that raw butter was too dangerous to be sold interstate. View "Mark McAfee v. FDA" on Justia Law

by
Various members of the Hemp Industries Association ("Members") challenged a DEA rule emoving Epidiolex as a Schedule V controlled substance as well as the accompanying import-export controls over the substance. The DEA removed Epidiolex after the passage of the Farm Bill, which relaxed regulation of the cannabis plant.The D.C. Circuit dismissed the Members' petition, finding that they lacked standing. The Members were unable to show that they suffered any injury as a result of the DEA rule. The Members did not claim that they produce Epidiolex or that Epidiolex manufacturers compete with the Members. View "Hemp Industries Association v. DEA" on Justia Law

by
Various members of the Hemp Industries Association ("Association") sought declaratory and injunctive relief following a DEA rule passed in the wake of the Farm bill. The Association specifically wanted to prevent the DEA from enforcing the CSA as it related to two byproducts of the hemp-extract production process. The district court dismissed the Association's claim, finding that it impermissibly challenged the DEA rule by failing to use the statutory review provision for rules promulgated under the Controlled Substances Act.The D.C. Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court did not err in finding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Association's claims seek review of issues that were outside the scheme set forth in 21 U.S.C. Sec. 877. View "Hemp Industries Association v. DEA" on Justia Law

by
CSIRO, a research arm of the Australian government, owns six U.S. patents, concerning the engineering of plants, particularly canola, to produce specified oils not native to the plants. After the resolution of jurisdiction and venue issues in an infringement case against BASF and Cargill, the case proceeded to trial on eight claims of the six patents. The parties stipulated to infringement of five patents; the jury found infringement of the sixth. The jury rejected invalidity challenges, including the challenge that the asserted patent claims lacked adequate written-description support. The jury found that BASF co-owned one patent (precluding infringement of that patent) but not the others. The district court ruled that the evidence would not support a finding of willfulness, denied a conduct-stopping injunction, and granted an ongoing royalty on all five patents found infringed.The Federal Circuit affirmed that Eastern District of Virginia venue was proper and affirmed the verdict rejecting the written-description challenge to the claims that are limited to canola plants but reversed as to the broader genus claims. The court agreed that five patents were not co-owned by BASF but reversed the contrary verdict as to the sixth, so that infringement of all valid claims of the six patents is now settled. The court upheld the district court’s refusal to submit willfulness to the jury and its decision on an evidentiary issue concerning past damages but remanded for reconsideration of the remedy. View "BASF Plant Science, LP v. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation" on Justia Law

by
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

by
The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order reflecting a jury verdict awarding almost $6 million in compensatory damages, jointly and severally, against KBX, Inc. and three KBX individuals (collectively, Appellants) and other defendants and reversed the court's award of attorney's fees, holding that the court erred in part.In this case involving certain farmers' dispute with KBX, a grain exporter and merchandiser, and the KBX individuals over a series of written contracts for the purchase of rice, the circuit court entered a judgment reflecting the jury's award of compensatory damages against Appellants and other defendants. The court assessed attorney's fees and costs against Appellants as a sanction for alleged spoliation of evidence. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) without any evidence of deceit in the form of a false representation by KBX or the KBX individuals to the farmers, substantial evidence did not support the jury's verdict on deceit; (2) substantial evidence did not support the jury's verdict on constructive fraud or the farmers' conspiracy claim; (3) the circuit court erred as a matter of law in denying Appellants' motion for directed verdict on the farmers' unjust enrichment claim; and (4) remand was required on the issue of attorney's fees for recalculation of an award consistent with this opinion. View "KBX, Inc. v. Zero Grade Farms" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether the penalty for intentionally concealing the source of political contributions could be based on the amount concealed. Washington voters proposed and passed Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA or act), ch. 42.17A RCW. The FCPA compels disclosure and “compelled disclosure may encroach on First Amendment rights by infringing on the privacy of association and belief.” In 2012, California voters were presented with Proposition 37, which would have required some manufacturers to disclose whether packaged food contained genetically modified organisms (GMO). The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) and many of its member companies successfully campaigned against Proposition 37, and some received negative responses from the public for doing so. In the wake of the Proposition 37 campaign, Washington sponsors filed Initiative 522, which also would have required GMO labels on packaged food. And like Proposition 37, GMA opposed it. GMA raised more than $14 million to oppose GMO labeling efforts. GMA in turn contributed $11 million to the “No on 522” campaign from the Defense of Brands strategic account. Despite its political activities in Washington, GMA did not register as a political committee with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) and did not make any PDC reports until after this lawsuit was filed. In response to the suit, GMA registered “under duress” but, as of the time of trial, still had not filed all of the required reports. The State sued, contending that GMA intentionally, flagrantly, and repeatedly violated the FCPA. The trial court specifically rejected testimony from GMA officers that they had not intended to violate the law, finding “it is not credible that GMA executives believed that shielding GMA’s members as the true source of contributions to GMA’s Defense of Brands Account was legal.” A majority of the Washington Supreme Court concluded GMA did not show that the trial court erred in imposing a punitive sanction under the FCPA based on the amount intentionally concealed. The Court thus affirmed the courts below and remanded for any further proceedings necessary. View "Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n" on Justia Law

by
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

by
Elkhorn is a farm labor contractor for a California-based vegetable grower. As part of Elkhorn’s orientation for incoming employees, Martinez-Gonzalez signed employment paperwork that included arbitration agreements. The district court held that the arbitration agreements resulted from undue influence and economic duress and were invalid and unenforceable.The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded for determination of whether Martinez-Gonzalez’s allegation of federal and state labor and wage law violations fell within the scope of the arbitration agreements. Under California law, the doctrine of economic duress did not render the arbitration agreements unenforceable because Elkhorn did not commit a wrongful act and reasonable alternatives were available to Martinez-Gonzalez. Martinez-Gonzalez made the journey from Mexico to California, where he was dependent on Elkhorn housing and had already started work but, while “not ideal,” those circumstances did not constitute a “wrongful act” under California law. No one at Elkhorn told Martinez-Gonzalez that refusing to sign the agreements was a cause for termination. It was clearly erroneous for the district court to conclude that MartinezGonzalez lacked a reasonable alternative. The timing and place of the orientation did not show that Martinez-Gonzalez’s will was overborne; the lack of time to consult with attorneys or read the agreements did not improperly induce his signatures. Elkhorn’s representatives’ instructions to sign the agreements quickly were not insistent demands. View "Martinez-Gonzalez v. Elkhorn Packing Co. LLC" on Justia Law

by
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