Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries
Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Bd.
Some of the practices that have made California's Central Valley an "agricultural powerhouse" have also adversely impacted the region’s water quality and environmental health. Respondents State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Central Valley Water Board) are responsible for regulating waste discharges from irrigated agricultural operations in the Central Valley. The State Water Board adopted order WQ 2018-0002 (Order) in February 2018. Environmental Law Foundation (Foundation), Monterey Coastkeeper (Coastkeeper), and Protectores del Agua Subterranea (Protectores) (collectively, appellants) brought petitions for writs of mandate challenging various aspects of the Order. The trial court consolidated the cases and granted a motion for leave to intervene by the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition (Coalition) and others (cumulatively, the Coalition). Following a hearing on the merits, the trial court denied the petitions. Appellants appealed, advancing numerous claims of error. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal rejected these arguments and affirmed the judgments. View "Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law
Scruggs, et al. v. Farmland Mutual Insurance Co.
Almost two decades prior to this decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court handed down Farmland Mutual Insurance Co. v. Scruggs, 886 So. 2d 714 (Miss. 2004). In that opinion, the Court held that Farmland Mutual Insurance Co., the liability insurer for Mitchell Scruggs, Eddie Scruggs, Scruggs Farms & Supplies LLC, and Scruggs Farm Joint Venture (collectively, Scruggs), had no duty to defend Scruggs in a federal lawsuit by Monsanto Company. The reason no coverage applied was because Monsanto had alleged that Scruggs committed the intentional act of conversion by saving and using unlicensed seeds. Eight years later, a district court judge overturned a jury’s verdict that Scruggs had willfully violated Monsanto’s patents. Consequently, Scruggs was not liable for treble damages and attorney’s fees. Scruggs returned to state court in 2013. Citing Rule 60(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, Scruggs asked the Lee County Circuit Court to reopen and vacate the final judgment entered in 2004 in favor of Farmland on the coverage issue. Scruggs asserted the Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion had been erroneously decided based on facts that came to light in the federal case. The state court rejected the motion as untimely under Rule 60(b). Scruggs appealed. While Scruggs asserted the motion was timely, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the motion’s timing is irrelevant: Rule 60(b) was not a procedural vehicle for a trial court to overturn a mandate issued from the Mississippi Supreme Court. Because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant Scruggs’s request, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s denial of the motion. View "Scruggs, et al. v. Farmland Mutual Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Skolnick v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue
During the tax years at issue, 2010–2013, the Taxpayers owned a New Jersey horse farm. Their Company employed several employees, none of whom had a budget. The Company paid the Taxpayers' personal expenses and lost more than $3.5 million during the years at issue and more than $11.4 million between 1998-2013. The Taxpayers contributed capital and made loans to the Company. In 2016, the Company sold a horse for nearly $1.2 million, enabling it to report a modest overall profit.In 2016, the IRS sent notices of income tax deficiencies. The Tax Court sustained the deficiency determinations, holding that the Taxpayers could not deduct Company losses because their horse breeding activity was not engaged in for profit under Internal Revenue Code section 183 and that the Taxpayers failed to substantiate net operating loss carryforwards that allegedly arose from Company activity. The Third Circuit affirmed. The Tax Court did not clearly err when it found that adverse market conditions did not explain the Company’s sustained unprofitability and correctly considered the Taxpayers’ substantial income from other sources. The profit generated from the 2016 horse sale was tempered by the fact that it occurred after the tax years at issue and after the notices of deficiency. The expertise of the Taxpayers and their advisors was the only factor that favored the Taxpayers. View "Skolnick v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law
Helena Chemical Co. v. Cox
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the order of the district court granting summary judgment for Helena Chemical Company in this action brought by Plaintiffs claiming that an aerial herbicide drifted onto their farms and damaged their cotton crops, holding that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for Helena.Plaintiffs sued Defendant, which oversaw the aerial application of herbicide that Plaintiffs alleged Defendants were responsible for reducing crop yields in over 14,000 acres of cotton fields, seeking recovery under various theories, as well as mental anguish damages and punitive damages. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Helena. The court of appeals reversed in large part. The Supreme Court reversed in part and reinstated the summary judgment for Helena, holding that the evidence presented by Plaintiffs that Helena's application of the herbicide caused Plaintiffs' injury did not raise a genuine issue of material fact required to survive summary judgment. View "Helena Chemical Co. v. Cox" on Justia Law
Miller, et al. v. Nodak Ins. Co.
Nodak Insurance Company (“Nodak”) appealed, and John D. Miller, Jr. d/b/a John Miller Farms, Inc. and JD Miller, Inc. (collectively, “Miller”) cross-appealed a judgment determining Miller’s insurance policy with Nodak provided coverage and awarding Miller damages. The dispute arose from Miller’s sale of seed potatoes to Johnson Farming Association, Inc. (“Johnson”). Miller operated a farm in Minto, North Dakota. During the 2015 planting season, Miller planted seed potatoes. Miller claimed a North Dakota State Seed Department representative inspected the field where the seed was being grown on July 13, July 26, and September 3, 2015, which indicated no problems with the seed crop. On or about September 3, 2015, Miller “killed the vines” in anticipation of and as required to harvest the seed crop. Miller harvested the seed crop between September 18 and September 25, 2015, and the harvested seed crop was immediately taken from the field to Miller’s storage facility south of Minto. n December 31, 2015, Miller and Johnson entered into a contract for the sale of seed potatoes. The contract for sale disclaimed any express or implied warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose and contained a limitation of consequential damages and remedies. In June or July 2016, Johnson informed Miller of problems with some of the seed potatoes he had purchased. Johnson stated an analysis definitively showed very high levels of the herbicide glyphosate, which caused the problems with the seed potatoes. The seed potatoes did not grow properly, and Johnson alleged damages as a result. It was undisputed the seed potatoes were damaged because an employee of Miller inadvertently contaminated the seed potatoes with glyphosate while they were growing on Miller’s Farm. In July 2016, Miller sought coverage for the loss from Nodak. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded a policy exclusion applied and precluded coverage, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the district court's judgment. View "Miller, et al. v. Nodak Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al.
Plaintiff-appellant Francisco Serna sued a police officer and local police department that allegedly prevented him from transporting hemp plants on a flight from Colorado to Texas. In the complaint, he asserted a single claim under § 10114(b) of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill), a statute that authorized states to legalize hemp and regulate its production within their borders, but generally precluded states from interfering with the interstate transportation of hemp. The district court dismissed Serna’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), concluding that Serna failed to state a viable claim because § 10114(b) did not create a private cause of action to sue state officials who allegedly violate that provision. Serna appealed, arguing that § 10114(b) impliedly authorized a private cause of action and that even if it didn't, the district court should have allowed him to amend the complaint to add other potentially viable claims rather than dismissing the case altogether. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that contrary to Serna’s view, the language in § 10114(b) did not suggest that Congress intended to grant hemp farmers a right to freely transport their product from one jurisdiction to another, with no interference from state officials. Because courts could not read a private cause of action into a statute that lacked such rights-creating language, the Court held the district court properly dismissed Serna’s § 10114(b) claim. The Court also concluded the trial court properly declined to allow Serna to amend his complaint. View "Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al." on Justia Law
Wilcox v. Security State Bank
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Security State Bank (SSB) on Plaintiff's claims and SSB's breach of contract counterclaim, holding that there was no error.When Plaintiff defaulted on several agricultural loans she had obtained from SSB, SSB foreclosed on some of the collateral Plaintiff pledged to secure those loans. Plaintiff then brought this action, alleging, among other things, negligent lending and negligent advising. SSB counterclaimed, alleging, among other things, breach of contract. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of SSB on all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) this Court declines to recognize new causes of action for negligent lending or negligence advising; (2) there were no questions of material fact barring summary judgment on Plaintiff's breach of good faith and fair dealing claim; and (3) the district court did not err in finding that equitable defenses did not preclude entering summary judgment in favor of SSB on his counterclaim for breach of contract. View "Wilcox v. Security State Bank" on Justia Law
Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America v. Westfield Insurance Co.
Sandstone operated large-scale swine farms in Scott County. Its owner also owned Red Oak. In 2007-2008, Westfield insured Sandstone. After 2008, Indemnity insured Sandstone. Star provided insurance to Red Oak. Sandstone was named as an additional insured under Star’s policy in 2009. In 2010, neighbors brought private nuisance claims against Sandstone in Illinois state court (“Marsh action”). Sandstone notified the three insurance companies. Each agreed to defend Sandstone, subject to a reservation of rights. Indemnity, citing a coverage exclusion for claims involving ”pollutants,” sought a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to defend. Sandstone withdrew its tender of defense to Indemnity, which dismissed its suit without prejudice. Star and Westfield split the defense of the Marsh action. An Illinois appellate court held that odor claims involving a hog facility are not “traditional environmental pollution” and are not excluded under insurance policy pollution exclusions, which foreclosed Indemnity’s earlier argument. Sandstone notified Indemnity, which filed another federal declaratory judgment action. In the Marsh action, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Sandstone. Westfield and then sought reimbursement of their defense costs.Reversing the district court, the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of Indemnity. Its insurance is "excess" and Star had a duty to defend, so Indemnity’s “other insurance” provision relieves it of any duty to defend Sandstone. Indemnity is not estopped from asserting that defense because it promptly responded to Sandstone’s tender of defense. View "Indemnity Insurance Co. of North America v. Westfield Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Quality Plus Feeds, Inc. v. Compeer Financial, FLCA
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for an agricultural supplier in its foreclosure action to recover the amount of its unpaid bills from the sale proceeds of the two dairy farms it furnished with feed, holding that the supplier was entitled to summary judgment for the most part.The farms at issue were related but separate legal entities. The supplier did not receive payment for the feed, and later the farms closed down and all the remaining cows and milk were sold. The supplier brought a foreclosure action under the agricultural supplier's lien statute. The trial court granted summary judgment for the supplier, thus rejecting the arguments of a finical institution that had a larger unpaid loan balance and a previously perfected blanket lien as to both farms. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the supplier was entitled to summary judgment on the financial institution's affirmative defenses; and (2) the financial institution was entitled to summary judgment as to the milk proceeds generated by a third dairy farm. View "Quality Plus Feeds, Inc. v. Compeer Financial, FLCA" on Justia Law
Bachman Sunny Hill Fruit Farms v. Producers Agriculture Insurance Co.
Bachman Farms grows apples in Ohio and protected its 2017 crop with federally reinsured crop insurance from Producers Agriculture. When farmers and private insurers enter a federally reinsured crop insurance contract, they agree to common terms set by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), including a requirement that the parties arbitrate coverage disputes. In those proceedings, the arbitrator must defer to agency interpretations of the common policy. Failure to do so results in the nullification of the arbitration award. Bachman lost at its arbitration with Producers Agriculture and alleged that the arbitrator engaged in impermissible policy interpretation. Bachman petitioned to nullify the arbitration award.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The petition to nullify did not comply with the substance or the three-month time limit of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 12. When a dispute concerning federally reinsured crop insurance involves a policy or procedure interpretation, the parties “must obtain an interpretation from FCIC.” Bachman did not seek an interpretation from FCIC but went directly to federal court to seek nullification under the common policy and its accompanying regulations—an administrative remedy—rather than vacatur under the FAA. View "Bachman Sunny Hill Fruit Farms v. Producers Agriculture Insurance Co." on Justia Law