Justia Agriculture Law Opinion Summaries

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a lower court's decision that an Iowa law violated the First Amendment. The law prohibited accessing an agricultural production facility under false pretenses or making a false statement or misrepresentation as part of a job application at such a facility, with the intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury to the facility. Various organizations challenged this law, arguing it was unconstitutional as it was "viewpoint-based", targeting speakers with negative views of agricultural production facilities. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa agreed and granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs, enjoining officials from enforcing the law. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit disagreed, finding that the law was constitutional as it restricted intentionally false speech carried out to cause a legally recognized harm. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the judgment, vacated the injunction, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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In a divorce and child support dispute in the State of North Dakota, the Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the lower court's judgment, which involved the calculation of the defendant's child support obligation, decisions on evidentiary matters and the awarding of attorney’s fees.Aron Williams and Jennifer Williams, who have two children together, divorced in February 2018. Jennifer Williams was awarded primary residential responsibility of the children, and Aron Williams was ordered to pay child support based on his classification as an experienced farmer with an imputed gross annual income. The case has gone through several rounds of modification and amendment of judgments.In the latest appeal, Aron Williams contested the district court's categorization of him as a "farmer" and its subsequent calculation of his income for child support purposes, arguing that he should be considered a "farm laborer" with a lower income. The Supreme Court of North Dakota found that the district court did not err in classifying Aron Williams as a farmer and imputing the statewide average income of a farmer to him for the purposes of child support.Additionally, Aron Williams argued that the district court erred in its decisions regarding evidentiary matters and the awarding of attorney’s fees to Jennifer Williams. The Supreme Court of North Dakota concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Aron Williams’s motion to reopen the record or in awarding attorney’s fees, and therefore affirmed these decisions. View "Williams v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota, Ivan and Donita Weber, who were married for less than four years, sought a divorce. Prior to their marriage, Donita owned significant assets, including a valuable farmland. During their marriage, the couple co-mingled and jointly titled most of their assets, including the farmland. They worked on and made improvements to the farm before selling it and most of the accompanying assets for approximately $2.5 million. Upon divorce, the circuit court treated most of the parties’ property as marital but awarded Donita a much larger share. Ivan appealed, arguing that the circuit court abused its discretion in dividing the marital assets and in failing to award him spousal support.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the circuit court appropriately considered the relevant factors, including the duration of the marriage, the value of the property owned by the parties, their ages, health, ability to earn a living, the contribution of each party to the accumulation of the property, and the income-producing capacity of the parties’ assets. The court found that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in dividing the marital property, given the short length of their marriage and the fact that Donita brought in significantly more assets into the marriage than Ivan.Regarding Ivan's argument for spousal support, the court found that Ivan had waived his right to appeal this issue because he failed to present any issue concerning spousal support to the circuit court. Therefore, the court declined to award Ivan any attorney fees and awarded $5,000 in appellate attorney fees to Donita. View "Weber V. Weber" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in this lawsuit it brought seeking a declaration that it had no duty to defend or indemnify its insureds under the circumstances, holding that the circuit court did not err.Agtegra Cooperative brought the underlying lawsuit alleging that Mike Grunewaldt and Nancy Grunewaldt were liable to Agtegra for damages related to its delivery of wheat contaminated with fertilizer to Agtegra's elevator. State Farm, the Grunewaldts' insurance company, then commenced a separate lawsuit arguing that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the Grunewaldts to pay any judgment arising from the allegations in Agtegra's action. The circuit court granted summary judgment for State Farm. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly held that State Farm had no duty to defend or indemnify the Grunewaldts in the lawsuit initiated by Agtegra. View "State Farm v. Grunewaldt" on Justia Law

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Winn-Dixie sued EMMC, its individual farmer members, and certain downstream distributors claiming their price-fixing agreement violated the Sherman Act. 15 U.S.C. 1. EMMC, a cooperative of mushroom growers, targets the Eastern United States. Initially, EMMC controlled over 90 percent of the supply of fresh Agaricus mushrooms in the relevant market. That share fell to 58% percent by 2005, and 17% percent by 2010. EMMC’s 20-plus initial members shrunk to fewer than five. EMMC’s stated purpose was to establish a “Minimum Pricing Policy,” under which it would “circulat[e] minimum price lists” along with rules requiring the member companies to uniformly charge those prices to all customers. Those minimums were not the price at which growers sold the product, but the price at which EMMC members hoped to coerce downstream distributors to go to market. Certain members were grower-only entities, lacking an exclusive relationship with any distributor. Many members partnered with specific, often legally-related downstream distributors. The precise nature of these relationships varied widely but downstream distributors were prohibited from joining EMMC.The district court instructed the jury to apply the “rule-of-reason” test. The Third Circuit affirmed a verdict in EMMC’s favor. Winn-Dixie argued that the judge should have instructed the jury to presume anticompetitive effects. Because this hybrid scheme involved myriad organizational structures with varying degrees of vertical integration, the court correctly applied the rule of reason. Under that more searching inquiry, the evidence was sufficient to sustain the verdict. View "Winn Dixie Stores v. Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative Inc" on Justia Law

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In April 2012, Plaintiff-Appellee Brandon Barrick filed a qui tam action against his then-employer, Defendant-Appellant Parker-Migliorini International LLC (PMI). Barrick alleged violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) and amended his complaint to include a claim that PMI unlawfully retaliated against him under the FCA. PMI was a meat exporting company based in Utah. While working for PMI, Barrick noticed two practices he believed were illegal. The first was the “Japan Triangle”: PMI exported beef to Costa Rica to a company which repackaged it, then sent it to Japan (Japan had been concerned about mad cow disease from U.S. beef). The second was the “LSW Channel”: PMI informed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) it was shipping beef to Moldova on a shipping certificate, but sent it to Hong Kong. Then, according to Barrick, PMI smuggled the beef into China (China was not then accepting U.S. beef). Barrick brought his concerns to Steve Johnson, PMI’s CFO, at least three times, telling Johnson that he was not comfortable with the practices. By October, the FBI raided PMI's office. Barrick was terminated from PMI in November 2012, as part of a company-wide reduction in force (RIF). PMI claimed the RIF was needed because in addition to the FBI raid, problems with exports and bank lines of credit put a financial strain on the company. Nine employees were terminated as part of the RIF. PMI claims it did not learn about Barrick’s cooperation with the FBI until October 2014, when the DOJ notified PMI of this qui tam action. A jury found that PMI retaliated against Barrick for his engagement in protected activity under the FCA when it terminated his employment. On appeal, PMI argued the district court improperly denied its motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL). In the alternative, PMI argued the Tenth Circuit court should order a new trial based on either the district court’s erroneous admission of evidence or an erroneous jury instruction. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed on all issues. View "Barrick v. Parker-Migliorini International" on Justia Law

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Imperial Sugar went bankrupt in 2001 and suffered a costly accident in 2008, prompting its sale to Louis Dreyfus. Imperial receives from Louis Dreyfus only minimal investment and is an “import-based, price-uncompetitive sugar refinery” that is “structurally uncompetitive” and lost roughly 10 percent of its customers from 2021-2022. Florida-based refiner U.S. Sugar agreed to purchase Imperial. The government sought an injunction (Clayton Act. 15 U.S.C. 18), arguing that the acquisition would have anticompetitive effects, leaving only two entities in control of 75% of refined sugar sales in the southeastern United States. The government applied the hypothetical monopolist test to demonstrate the validity of its proposed product and geographic markets. U.S. Sugar responded that it does not sell its own sugar but participates with other producers in a Capper-Volstead agricultural cooperative that markets and sells the firms’ output collectively but exercises no control over the quantities produced. At capacity, Imperial’s facility could produce only about seven percent of national output. U.S. Sugar argued that distributors constitute a crucial competitive check on producer-refiners that would undermine any attempt to increase prices and noted evidence of the high mobility of refined sugar throughout the country.The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of an injunction, upholding a finding that the government overlooked the pro-competitive effects of distributors in the market, erroneously lumped together heterogeneous wholesale customers, and defined the relevant geographic market without regard for the high mobility of sugar throughout the country. View "United States v. United States Sugar Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court entering summary judgment for the United States and rejecting the lawsuit brought by Appellant asking the district court to overturn the finding of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture that Appellant was disqualified from further participation in the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), holding that there was no error.FNS disqualified Appellant from further participation in SNAP after investigating evidence of unlawful trafficking in SNAP benefits. Thereafter, Appellant brought this action seeking to overturn the FNS's liability finding and asking the court to vacate the order of program disqualification as arbitrary and capricious. The district court entered summary judgment for the United States. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in entering summary judgment in favor of the United States on the liability issue; and (2) the sanction of the permanent disqualification order from the program was neither arbitrary nor capricious. View "AJ Mini Market, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Using a patent directed to a method for sorting sperm cells according to specific DNA characteristics to preselect the gender of a domestic animal’s offspring, STGenetics, provided bull semen-processing services to ABS, which sells semen drawn from its own bulls, packaged in small tubes for use in artificial insemination.In 2014, ABS filed an antitrust lawsuit, alleging that ST was maintaining monopoly power for sexed semen processing. ST brought counterclaims for trade secret misappropriation, breach of contract, and patent infringement. ABS stipulated to direct infringement of three claims. A jury awarded ST $750,000 for past infringement and a royalty on future sales of sexed semen tubes sold by ABS. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the validity findings and issued a remand that did not concern the ongoing royalty.ST filed another infringement suit, which was consolidated with the remand proceedings, then learned that ABS had begun selling and licensing ST’s system to third parties. ST filed a third suit, asserting induced infringement (35 U.S.C. 271(b)). The district court dismissed the action, citing claim preclusion.The Federal Circuit reversed. An induced patent infringement claim brought at the time of the first trial would have been based on speculation; the parties stipulated to direct infringement and the question of inducement was not before the jury. The scope of ABS’s direct infringement allegations cannot reasonably be expanded to cover actions of third-party licensees using the technology to make their own tubes. View "Inguran, LLC v. ABS Global, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court entering a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction in favor of Adams Land & Cattle, LLC (ALCC), a commercial livestock company, in this dispute regarding the meaning of a statute governing cattle brand inspection, holding that the district court erred in its interpretation of Neb. Rev. Stat. 54-1,122.ALCC and the Nebraska Brand Committee disputed whether section 54-1,122 requires direct movement from the point of origin with required paperwork to avoid a brand inspection upon entry to the registered feedlot. The district court granted declaratory relief and a permanent injunction for ALCC, and the Brand Committee appealed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in its interpretation of section 54-1,122 and in granting a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction in favor of ALCC.. View "Adams Land & Cattle v. Widdowson" on Justia Law