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With 2022 over and 2023 just starting, I want to look back at the top legal developments impacting agriculture in 2022. These legal developments may seem like repeats from my 2022 update; click here. However, moving into 2023, we will likely see new issues emerge as lawsuits continue against certain pesticides, continued right-to-farm lawsuits, Supreme Court decisions in the Prop 12 case and the Sackets, further development of carbon markets, and possible appeals in a few cases on the list. Above, you will see embedded the annual podcast episode covering these issues. If you still need to sign up for updates, click here to signup to get email updates sent to you as new content is available.
Although I have not posted on this issue, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in National Pork Producers Council v. Ross. This case challenges the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 12 by claiming that the proposition violates the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Proposition 12 is a ballot initiative passed by California voters that banned the sale of certain pork and poultry products if certain animal husbandry practices were not followed. The National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation filed suit, claiming that the law violated the U.S. Commerce Clause by placing extraterritorial restrictions on producers in other states. Click here to read or listen to the oral arguments. We expect a decision in this case in June 2023.
A series of lawsuits were filed in 2022 claiming that the poultry companies have misclassified poultry growers as independent contractors, but they should have been classified as employees. In the lawsuits, the former growers argue that the companies did not pay the growers a required minimum wage with the tournament system that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires. Both cases seek class action certification and are in the preliminary stages. You can read more about the South Carolina case here and the Georgia case here.
Another lawsuit filed in December argues that poultry growers did not meet the definition of “family farms” and were not entitled to USDA loan guarantees. The plaintiffs, in that case, are arguing that because Tyson Foods has complete control over the poultry farm, Tyson does not meet the definition of a “family farm” according to USDA’s regulations, and USDA should not have been allowed to give a loan guarantee for the construction of the farm. This lawsuit is in the pleading stages, and I’ll post an overview of the case in the coming weeks.
In June, the Supreme Court of Iowa overturned a 2004 decision that found the three-prong test required to prove an as-applied constitutional challenge to Iowa’s right-to-farm law. In overturning the decision, the court highlighted that since 2004 no other state had followed this decision. At the same time, the court points out that this three-prong test was often difficult for lower courts to apply. You can read more about this decision here.
In December, the Supreme Court of North Carolina denied an appeal to a challenge that North Carolina’s revised right-to-farm law was unconstitutional. Plaintiffs had been arguing that the revised law violated the North Carolina constitution. The court dismissed without considering the merits because the appeal lacked a substantial constitutional question and denied discretionary review. The decision can be found at Rural Empowerment Ass'n for Cmty. Help v. State, 880 S.E.2d 678 (N.C. 2022).
Many of these issues still need to be settled, and we will have additional developments in 2023. For example, I have yet to cover changes to the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Still, in late 2022, the Biden administration announced a new rule for defining “Waters of the United States.” 2023 will see challenges brought to that new rule. We will also see new legal issues that we may not have considered. Agricultural law is constantly evolving.