Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Agriculture 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
Vanegas v. Signet Builders, Inc.
Vanegas, a Mexican citizen, was hired by Signet, a nationwide construction company, to work in the U.S. on an H-2A guestworker visa, which authorizes foreign workers to perform “agricultural” work in the U.S. on a temporary basis, if the proposed employer can show that there are too few domestic workers willing and able to do the work and that the use of guest-workers will not undercut local workers’ wages and working conditions, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a); 1188(a)(1). Vanegas was assigned to build livestock structures on farms in Wisconsin and Indiana. He routinely worked more than 40 hours a week, but Signet did not pay him extra for his overtime hours.He filed a complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and moved for conditional certification of a collective action on behalf of all Signet H-2A workers who were exclusively assigned to construction work. The district court dismissed, finding that Vanegas was an agricultural worker, exempt from FLSA’s overtime protections, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit reversed. Work falls within the FLSA agricultural exemption only if it is both “performed by a farmer or on a farm” and if it “does not amount to an independent business.” Regulations establish a fact-intensive, totality-of-the-circumstances test to determine whether work performed on a farm is agricultural or is an independent business. Signet did not prove that the agricultural exemption applies. View "Vanegas v. Signet Builders, Inc." on Justia Law
American Bankers Insurance Co v. Shockley
SFC, an equestrian center hosted off‐site trail‐riding events. SFC and American entered into a “farm-owner” insurance policy that described the insured premises as the farm’s address. The policy provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage caused by an “occurrence” that arises out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the “insured premises” or operations that are necessary or incidental to the “insured premises.” There is no coverage for the use of a motorized vehicle except a “motorized vehicle” which is designed only for use off public roads and which is used to service the “insured premises.” Ratay, an SFC employee, transported horses, equipment, and a golf cart from the farm to a riding center approximately 15 miles from SFC’s property, and supervised those riding SFC horses while driving the SFC golf cart. Shockley was a passenger in the cart when Ratay chased a horse through a field. Shockley flew out of the vehicle. The cart ran over his leg. Shockley filed suit.The district court entered a declaratory judgment that American has no duty to defend or indemnify SFC. The Seventh Circuit reversed. In Illinois, the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify. The court noted ambiguities caused by the policy’s competing characteristics as a farm-owner policy and as a commercial general liability policy. The complaint’s allegations sufficiently invoke the policy’s coverage; the golf cart was being used for business purposes. View "American Bankers Insurance Co v. Shockley" on Justia Law
C.Y. Wholesale, Inc. v. Holcomb
Indiana-based hemp sellers and wholesalers sought to enjoin the enforcement of Indiana’s “Act 516” criminal prohibition on the manufacture, delivery, or possession of smokable hemp, Ind. Code 35-48-3-10.1, arguing that Indiana’s law is preempted by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The 2018 Act expanded the definition of industrial hemp to include all parts of the cannabis plant with a low THC concentration and all low-THC cannabis derivatives; excludes industrial hemp from the federal definition of marijuana, removing it from the DEA’s schedule of controlled substances; provides that the states retain the authority to regulate the production of hemp (7 U.S.C. 1639p); and forbids the states from prohibiting the transportation of hemp products through the state. The district court issued the requested injunction. Indiana then enacted Act 335, which clarifies that Indiana’s prohibition on the delivery and possession of smokable hemp does “not apply to the shipment of smokable hemp from a licensed producer in another state in continuous transit through Indiana to a licensed handler in any state.”The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding the injunction overly broad. The part of Act 516 prohibiting the manufacture of smokable hemp does not fall under the 2018 law’s express preemption clause; it is not clear that the express preemption clause, alone, precludes a state from prohibiting the possession and sale of industrial hemp within the state. View "C.Y. Wholesale, Inc. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law
Boucher v. United States Department of Agriculture
In the 1990s, Boucher cut down nine trees on his family farm in Indiana. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claimed that the tree removal converted several acres of wetlands into croplands, rendering the Bouchers’ entire farm ineligible for USDA benefits that would otherwise be available under the “Swampbuster” provisions in the Food Security Act of 1985, 16 U.S.C. 3801, 3821–24. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court. The USDA repeatedly failed to follow applicable law and agency standards. It disregarded compelling evidence showing that the acreage in question never qualified as wetlands that could have been converted illegally into croplands and has shifted its explanations for treating the acreage as converted wetlands, so its actions qualify as arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion. The agency experts did not attribute the alteration of hydrology to the removal of the nine trees; the agency presented no evidence that the tree removal altered the wetland hydrology. The USDA failed to engage meaningfully with this point, ignoring a crucial factor under the agency’s interpretation of its regulation. View "Boucher v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law
ABS Global, Inc. v. Inguran, LLC
Until recently, Sexing Tech held a monopoly on the market for sexed cattle semen in the United States. Sperm‐sorting technology separates bull semen into X‐chromosome bearing and Y‐chromosome bearing sperm cells; the resulting “sexed semen” is used to inseminate cows artificially so that dairy farmers can breed only milk‐producing cows. ABS, a bull‐stud operation, sued, alleging that Sexing Tech had unlawfully monopolized the domestic sexed‐semen market in violation of section 2 of the Sherman Act by using its market power to impose coercive contract terms. ABS sought a declaratory judgment proclaiming those contracts invalid, to permit its own entry into that market. Sexing Tech counterclaimed that ABS infringed its patents and breached the contract by misappropriating trade secrets in developing ABS’s competing technology. Three claims went to trial: ABS’s antitrust claim and Sexing Tech’s patent infringement and breach of contract counterclaims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court, holding that ABS violated a confidentiality agreement it had with Sexing Tech and that Sexing Tech’s patent was not invalid on obviousness grounds. The jury’s assessments of two of the three patent claims still at issue cannot be reconciled under the rules governing dependent claims and enablement, and so a new trial is necessary on them. View "ABS Global, Inc. v. Inguran, LLC" on Justia Law
Mittelstadt v. Perdue
Mittelstadt’s Richland County, Wisconsin land was enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), from 1987-2006. CRP participants agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production in return for annual rental payments from the USDA. In 2006, the agency denied Mittelstadt’s application to re-enroll. After exhausting his administrative appeals, he sued under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 701, and asserting a breach of contract. The district court entered judgment in favor of the agency. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Under the regulations governing the CRP, the USDA has broad discretion to evaluate offers of enrollment in the program on a competitive basis by considering the environmental benefits of a producer’s land relative to its costs. Given the agency’s wide latitude, the Farm Services Agency did not abuse its discretion when it denied re-enrollment of Mittelstadt’s land under a new definition of “mixed hardwoods.” Because he never entered a new contract with the agency, there was no breach of contract. View "Mittelstadt v. Perdue" on Justia Law
Minerva Dairy, Inc. v. Harsdorf
Minerva, an Ohio‐based, family‐owned dairy company, produces Amish‐style butters in small, slow‐churned batches using fresh milk supplied by pasture‐raised cows. Minerva challenged Wisconsin’s butter‐grading requirement under the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the dormant Commerce Clause. Wisconsin’s law applies to butter manufactured in‐state and out‐of‐state and provides that butter may be graded by either a Wisconsin‐licensed butter grader or by the USDA. Wisconsin’s standards are materially identical to the USDA’s standards. The district court rejected the challenges on summary judgment, holding that the statute is rationally related to Wisconsin’s legitimate interest in consumer protection and does not discriminate against out‐of‐state businesses. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Consumer protection is a legitimate state interest; the butter‐grading requirement is rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest in “protect[ing] the integrity of interstate products so as not to depress the demand for goods that must travel across state lines.” The state presented some evidence that the statute effectively conveys consumer preferences. The statute does not violate the Equal Protection Clause simply because Wisconsin failed to implement mandatory grading for other commodities. Wisconsin’s butter‐grading law confers a competitive advantage on prospective butter-graders who live closer to testing locations but this geographical fact of life does not constitute discrimination against out‐of‐state applicants. View "Minerva Dairy, Inc. v. Harsdorf" on Justia Law
Eli Lilly and Co. v. Arla Foods USA, Inc.
Arla, a Denmark-based global dairy conglomerate, launched a $30 million advertising campaign aimed at expanding its U.S. cheese sales, branded “Live Unprocessed.” The ads assure consumers that Arla cheese contains no “weird stuff” or “ingredients that you can’t pronounce,” particularly, no milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (“rbST”), an artificial growth hormone. The flagship ad implies that milk from rbST-treated cows is unwholesome. Narrated by a seven-year-old girl, the ad depicts rbST as a cartoon monster with razor-sharp horns. Elanco makes the only FDA-approved rbST supplement. Elanco sued, alleging that the ads contain false and misleading statements in violation of the Lanham Act. Elanco provided scientific literature documenting rbST’s safety, and evidence that a major cheese producer had decreased its demand for rbST in response to the ads. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the issuance of a preliminary injunction, rejecting arguments that Elanco failed to produce consumer surveys or other reliable evidence of actual consumer confusion and did not submit adequate evidence linking the ad campaign to decreased demand for its rbST. Consumer surveys or other “hard” evidence of actual consumer confusion are unnecessary at the preliminary-injunction stage. The evidence of causation is sufficient at this stage: the harm is easily traced because Elanco manufactures the only FDA-approved rbST. The injunction is sufficiently definite and adequately supported by the record and the judge’s findings. View "Eli Lilly and Co. v. Arla Foods USA, Inc." on Justia Law
Cornucopia Institute v. United States Department of Agriculture
The National Organic Standards Board, an advisory committee, has 15 members, all appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, 7 U.S.C.6518(b), (c); its principal task is advising the Secretary what belongs on the “National List of approved and prohibited substances that shall be included in the standards for organic production and handling” Plaintiffs, who operate organic farms, asked the Secretary to appoint them to the Board, but the Secretary appointed Beck and Swaffar. Plaintiffs contend that Beck and Swaffar are ineligible to fill the seats to which they were appointed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of standing. Beck and Swaffer, appointed to seats reserved for “individuals who own or operate an organic farming operation,” were office employees of agribusinesses that produce some organic products and some non-organic products. Plaintiffs argued that by deflecting the Board from making recommendations most likely to promote organic farmers’ interests, Beck and Swaffar have called organic-farming into disrepute and reduced organic sales; that is not the kind of person-specific loss needed to show standing. Any injury plaintiffs assert could not be redressed by a favorable decision. The Secretary has a statutory right to appoint Board members but no corresponding duty to evaluate any particular applicant. View "Cornucopia Institute v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law