Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Agriculture 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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The Beef Promotion and Research Act of 1985 imposes a $1 assessment, or “checkoff,” on each head of cattle sold in the U.S. to fund beef consumption promotional activities. The Secretary of Agriculture oversees the program. The Montana Beef Council and other qualified state beef councils (QSBCs), receive a portion of the checkoff assessments to fund promotional activities and may direct a portion of these funds to third parties for the production of advertisements and other promotional materials. R-CALF's members include cattle producers who object to their QSBCs’ advertising campaigns. In 2016, the Secretary entered into memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with QSBCs which granted the Secretary preapproval authority over promotions and allowed the Secretary to decertify noncompliant QSBCs, terminating their access to checkoff funds. The Secretary must preapprove all contracts to third parties and any resulting plans. QSBCs can make noncontractual transfers of checkoff funds to third parties for promotional materials which do not need to be pre-approved. Plaintiffs contend that the distribution of funds under these arrangements is an unconstitutional compelled subsidy of private speech.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the federal defendants after holding that R-CALF had associational standing and direct standing to sue QSBCs. The speech generated by the third parties for promotional materials was government speech, exempt from First Amendment scrutiny. Given the breadth of the Secretary's authority, third-party speech not subject to pre-approval was effectively controlled by the government. View "Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America v. Vilsack" on Justia Law

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Representatives of the estates of black male farmers sought to submit claims of past discrimination in agricultural credit programs to a claims-processing framework set up to resolve Hispanic and female farmers' credit discrimination claims. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action, holding that representatives lacked standing to challenge the framework because they have no live underlying credit discrimination claims to present.In this case, representatives never submitted claims in the Black Farmers remedial process, but instead sought to present their claims in the parallel framework for claims of discrimination against women and/or Hispanic farmers. Therefore, the harm representatives asserted from being excluded was not redressable. Furthermore, representatives' claims were time barred and, even if the claims were not time barred, any credit discrimination claim a member of the Black Farmers plaintiff class may have had during the relevant period, whether or not actually pursued in the remedial process established under the Black Farmers' consent decree, was now precluded by that decree, or, for any member who opted out, time barred. View "Estate of Earnest Lee Boyland v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought relief from the district court's gag order imposing stringent restrictions on participants and potential participants in a series of nuisance suits brought against the hog industry in North Carolina. Determining that a mandamus petition was the appropriate mechanism for challenging the gag order and that the mandamus petition was not moot, the Fourth Circuit held that petitioner met its burden of showing a clear and indisputable right to the requested relief. Applying strict scrutiny, the court held that the gag order breached basic First Amendment principles in both meaningful and material ways. In this case, the gag order harmed petitioner, farmers, and plaintiffs. Accordingly, the court vacated the gag order and allowed the parties to begin anew under the guidelines the court set forth. View "In re: Murphy-Brown, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court granting the Department of Environmental Protection’s request for a permanent injunction prohibiting Dubois Livestock, Inc. and the Randrick Trust (collectively, Appellants) from denying the Department access for solid waste inspections. The court held (1) the superior court did not err in concluding that Me. Rev. Stat. 38, 347-C and 1304(4-A) permit the Department to enter Appellants’ property without consent or an administrative search warrant; and (2) the warrantless searches authorized by these statutes do not violate Appellants’ constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. View "State v. Dubois Livestock, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an African American farmer, filed suit against the USDA and others, alleging racial discrimination, retaliation, and conspiracy regarding his loan applications, servicing requests, and the application of administrative offsets to collect on a defaulted loan. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's conclusions that plaintiff's Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), 15 U.S.C. 1691 et seq., claims were barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel because the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights could not bar subsequent federal litigation; the individual defendants have not demonstrated that plaintiff failed to state an ECOA claim against them where the complaint included sufficient allegations from which one could plausibly infer that the individual defendants qualified as creditors under the ECOA; the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's Bivens claims against the individual defendants in their individual capacities because his constitutional claims were not barred by a comprehensive remedial scheme; and plaintiff failed to state a claim for conspiracy against the individual defendants. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Johnson v. Perdue" on Justia Law

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The Creamery filed suit against the State, contending that the State's refusal to allow it to call its product "skim milk" amounted to censorship in violation of the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment for the State, determining that the State's refusal to allow the Creamery to use the term "skim milk" withstood scrutiny under the threshold inquiry of the Central Hudson test for commercial speech regulations. The court held that the State's actions prohibiting the Creamery's truthful use of the term "skim milk" violated the First Amendment. Under the threshold question of Central Hudson, the court concluded that the speech at issue neither concerned unlawful activity nor was inherently misleading. Therefore, the speech merits First Amendment protection and the State's restriction was subject to intermediate scrutiny under Central Hudson. The court concluded that the State's mandate was clearly more extensive than necessary to serve its interest in preventing deception and ensuring adequate nutritional standards. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Ocheesee Creamery LLC v. Putnam" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, six states, filed suit seeking to block enforcement of California's laws and regulations prescribing standards for the conditions under which chickens must be kept in order for their eggs to be sold in the state. Plaintiffs seek to block enforcement before the laws and regulations take effect. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring this case as parens patriae where plaintiffs failed to demonstrate an interest apart from the interests of particular private parties because plaintiffs' alleged harm to the egg farmers in plaintiffs' states is insufficient to satisfy the first prong of parens patriae; plaintiffs' allegations regarding the potential economic effects of the laws, after implementation, were necessarily speculative; and plaintiffs’ reliance on cases granting parens patriae standing to challenge discrimination against a state’s citizens is misplaced where the laws do not distinguish among eggs based on their state of origin. The court also concluded that plaintiffs would be unable to assert parens patriae standing in an amended complaint. Because plaintiffs could allege post-effective-date facts that might support standing, the complaint should have been dismissed without prejudice. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss the action without prejudice. View "State of Missouri ex rel. Koster v. Harris" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the USDA and others, claiming that defendants violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), 15 U.S.C. 1691 et seq., because they denied his debt settlement offers on the basis of his race and in retaliation for his being a member of the Pigford class-action litigation. Plaintiff also alleged that defendants engaged in a conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. 1985(3) to interfere with his civil rights, and that they violated his rights under the Fifth and Thirteenth Amendments. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims. The court held that a final agency decision by the USDA resolving a complaint under 7 C.F.R. Pt. 15d using the administrative procedures currently in effect does not result in claim preclusion. In this case, the complaint does not contain sufficient allegations to state a plausible claim that Thomas Brown and M. Terry Johnson, both of whom are employed with the USDA’s National Appeals Division, are creditors for ECOA purposes. Accordingly, the court affirmed the dismissal of the ECOA claims with respect to Thomas Brown and M. Terry Johnson, and reversed the dismissal of these claims with respect to the remaining defendants. The court also concluded that plaintiff's conspiracy claims under 42 U.S.C. 1985(3) were properly dismissed pursuant to the intracorporate conspiracy doctrine. Finally, the court reversed the dismissal of the Bivens claims because, when a remedial scheme is created entirely by regulation, it does not preclude a Bivens claim. View "Johnson v. USDA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, brothers who worked in the pest control industry, filed suit against LDAF and LDAF's Assistant Director David Fields, in his individual capacity, alleging various claims related to the hearings before LDAF for violations of Louisiana's Pest Control Laws, La. Stat. Ann. 3:3363. The court concluded that plaintiffs failed to establish sufficient evidence to demonstrate that defendants retaliated against them for complaining before the Commission and others. Because summary judgment was proper as to plaintiffs' First Amendment claims, summary judgment is also proper as to plaintiffs' state law claims. The court also concluded that summary judgment was properly granted as to the substantive due process claims. In this case, although plaintiffs may have a protected interest in being free from arbitrary state action not rationally related to a state purpose, they do not have a constitutional right to violate rules and regulations of the Louisiana Pest Control law. The record establishes a substantial basis for defendants’ actions and precludes any inference that such actions were arbitrary. Because Louisiana courts have found the due process protections in the Louisiana Constitution to be coextensive with the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment, the same determination applies to plaintiffs’ state law claims. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment claim fails because, assuming that the Excessive Fines Clause applies in this instance, the record indicates that each of plaintiffs' offenses resulted in fines that do not exceed the limits prescribed by the statute authorizing it. Under the facts established in the summary judgment record, plaintiffs' claims against David Fields failed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Cripps v. Louisiana Dep't of Agriculture & Forestry" on Justia Law