Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Agriculture Law
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Most of the world's reserves of potash, a mineral used primarily in fertilizer, are in Canada, Russia, and Belarus. Defendants are producers with mines in those countries. Plaintiffs are direct and indirect potash purchasers in the U.S. They allege that producers operated a cartel through which they fixed prices in Brazil, China, and India, and that inflated prices in those markets influenced the price of potash in the U.S. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction under the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act, 15 U.S.C. 6a. The district court denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The world market for potash is highly concentrated and U.S. customers account for a high percentage of sales. This is not a “House-that-Jack-Built situation in which action in a foreign country filters through many layers and finally causes a few ripples” in the U.S. Foreign sellers allegedly created a cartel, took steps outside the U.S. to drive the price up of a product that is wanted in the U.S., and, after succeeding, sold that product to U.S. customers. The payment of overcharges by those customers was objectively foreseeable, and the amount of commerce is substantial.

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In 1996 defendant and his cousin formed companies that bought, stored, and sold grain, and provided farming services. In 1999, the cousins obtained bank loan by falsely representing that valuable contracts existed for future grain deliveries from one company to the other and inflating balances of bank accounts by writing bad checks between accounts. Charged with loan fraud and check-kiting (18 U.S.C. 1344) that cost the bank more than $2.5 million, the cousin pled guilty. Defendant testified that the transactions were in good faith, but was convicted and sentenced to 70 months in prison and restitution in the amount of $1,967,055.30, the outstanding balance on the loans. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the indictment was multiplicitous; that there was insufficient evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; that sentencing under 2009 guidelines violated the ex post facto clause; that loss and restitution amounts were miscalculated; that an enhancement for obstruction of justice was improper; and that the disparity between defendant’s sentence and that of his cousin was improper.

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The Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act prevents states and their subdivisions from imposing discriminatory taxes against railroads. 49 U.S.C. 11501. In 2008, the drainage district, a subdivision of Illinois, changed its method for calculating assessments. All other owners are assessed on a per-acre formula, but railroad, pipeline, and utility land were to be assessed on the basis of "benefit," apparently based on the difference in value between land within the district and land outside the levees; annual crop rentals being paid; and agricultural production of lands within the district. Two rail carriers brought suit under a section of the Act, which prevents imposition of "another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier." The district court held that the assessment was prohibited by the Act, but concluded that it was powerless to enjoin the tax. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the court has authority to enjoin the tax, but, under principles of comity, should eliminate only the discriminatory aspects, not the entire scheme. The assessment is a tax that, raises general revenues; its ultimate use is for the whole district. It imposes a proportionately heavier tax on railroading than other activities.

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A default judgment entered against the defendant, for failure to pay loans from the Department of Agriculture. On the day before property was to be sold at auction, the defendant filed a bankruptcy petition. The judge lifted the stay. The $322,000 proceeds from the sale were inadequate to pay the debt and the government has a deficiency judgment. The trial court denied a motion to set aside the sale and a request for an opportunity to redeem. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although the property has transferred to the buyers, who are not parties to the litigation, and their interests are secure, the case is not moot. The sale price, which was below the $513,000 appraisal price, did not "shock the conscience" so as to be invalid under Wisconsin law.