Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Environmental organizations challenged a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit issued by the EPA for Idaho Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) under the Clean Water Act. On CAFOs, manure is typically stored in lagoons; waste that leaks from lagoons can reach groundwater that can reach navigable waters. Since the 1970s, the EPA has regulated both CAFO production areas (animal confinement, storage, lagoons) and land-application areas (fields where manure and process wastewater are applied as fertilizer).The Ninth Circuit held that the challenge was timely, rejecting the EPA’s contention that the Permit largely relied on a 2003 Rule. The Permit lacked sufficient monitoring provisions to ensure compliance with the Permit’s “zero discharge” requirements for both production and land-application areas. EPA's discretion in crafting appropriate monitoring requirements for each NPDES permit is not unlimited. The Permit had sufficient monitoring requirements for above-ground discharges from production areas; CAFOs were required to perform daily inspections. The Permit had no monitoring provisions for underground discharges from production areas. While the Permit flatly prohibited discharges from land-application areas during dry weather it had no monitoring provisions, although the record showed that such discharges can occur during irrigation of fertilized CAFO fields. View "Food & Water Watch, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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The Department regulates the use of pesticides, including 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), which is used in agriculture. Only Dow produces 1,3-D for use in California As a condition of Dow’s continued registration of 1,3-D products, the Department maintains a “township cap program,” which limits the amount of the pesticide that may be used each year to reduce cancer risks to bystanders. Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandate, claiming that the township cap program was an underground regulation in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and fails to incorporate recommendations from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as required under the Food and Agriculture Code.The trial court granted summary judgment, declaring the township cap program void and directing the Department to engage in formal rulemaking to replace it. The court of appeal affirmed, agreeing that the program is an underground regulation. A regulation subject to the APA may exist even if the agency never promulgates a written policy setting forth the rule. The fact that Dow happens to be the only registrant of 1,3-D does not mean the Department can informally regulate the pesticide at will while its rules are implemented as conditions of Dow’s registration; the township cap program is a rule of general application. The program governs how 1,3-D will be used, not how the Department will register pesticides, and clearly implements and makes specific the law the Department administers. View "Vasquez v. Department of Pesticide Regulation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Iowa Code Sec. 717A.3A(1)(a)-(b), which makes it a crime for a person to gain access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses and to make false statements on an employment application to such a facility, on First Amendment grounds. The district court ruled that both provisions were unconstitutional and enjoined their enforcement.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the provisions providing that a person is guilty of agricultural production facility fraud if they obtain access to the facility by false pretenses is consistent with the First Amendment because it prohibits exclusively lies associated with a legally cognizable harm - namely trespass to private property. The court explained that the proscription of the Employment Provision does not require that false statements made as part of an employment application be material to the employment decision. Therefore, the statute is not limited to false claims that are made "to effect" an offer of employment; it allows for prosecution of those who make false statements that are not capable of influencing an offer of employment. The court concluded that, given the breadth of the Employment Provision, it proscribes speech that is protected by the First Amendment and does not satisfy strict scrutiny. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part, vacating the injunction against enforcement of the access provision. View "Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Finberg became the Chief Operating Officer of Adams, a produce distributor. Grinstead was Adams’s CEO. In 2011, federal authorities investigated Adams for fraud against the Department of Defense. Finberg claims he was unaware of the scheme until later when suppliers and Adams’s CFO discussed the scheme in front of him. Finberg agreed to gradually end the scheme to avoid further detection. Adams hired a law firm to internally investigate its operations, which revealed that CEO Grinstead had engaged in extensive fraud. PNC Bank froze the business’s accounts; Adams was unable to promptly pay suppliers $10 million. Adams declared bankruptcy. Grinstead pled guilty to wire fraud, misprision of felony, and multiple failures to file tax returns. Finberg pled guilty to misprision of a felony. A disciplinary complaint was filed against Adams with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, alleging violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 7 U.S.C. 499b(4), by failing to promptly pay suppliers. The determination that Adams violated the Act triggered the Act’s employment bar for each person who was responsibly connected to the violation.An ALJ found that Finberg was responsibly connected. A USDA Judicial Officer affirmed, finding that Finberg exercised judgment, discretion, or control once he learned of the fraudulent scheme and failed to report. The D.C. Circuit reversed The agency lacked substantial evidence that Finberg’s activities contributed to Adam’’s violation of the Act. View "Finberg v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law