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By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, June 05th, 2024

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA) is asking the agricultural community to weigh in on a new program aimed at the voluntary carbon market in the U.S.  The agency has published a Request for Information seeking input on what the agency should consider in developing rules for the new “Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program.”  The purpose of the new program, created by the passage of the Growing Climate Solutions Act last year, is to facilitate farmer, rancher, and private forest landowner participation in voluntary carbon markets by: (1) publishing a list of widely accepted protocols designed to ensure consistency, reliability, effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency of voluntary credit markets; (2) publishing descriptions of widely accepted qualifications possessed by covered entities that provide technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners; (3) publishing a list of qualified technical assistance providers and third-party verifiers; and (4) providing information to assist farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners in accessing voluntary credit markets.

Farmers haven’t engaged in the voluntary carbon market to the extent some predicted several years ago, when “carbon agreements” began circulating through the agricultural community.  A carbon agreement is a private  contract that compensates a farmer for adopting practices that sequester carbon, with one ton of sequestered carbon creating a “carbon credit.”  Those who pay farmers for the carbon credits can retain the credits or trade the credits through a carbon market.  The owner of the carbon credits can use the credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of reducing their “carbon footprint.”

According to USDA Secretary Vilsack, “high-integrity voluntary carbon markets offer a promising tool to create new revenue streams for producers and achieve greenhouse gas reductions from the agriculture and forest sectors.  However, a variety of barriers have hindered agriculture’s participation in voluntary carbon markets and we are seeking to change that by establishing a new Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program.”  In its Request for Information, the agency seeks responses to eight questions:

Question 1: How should USDA define the terms “consistency,” “reliability,” “effectiveness,” “efficiency,” and “transparency” (see 7 U.S.C. 6712(c)(1)(A)) for use in protocol evaluation?

Question 2: What metrics or standards should USDA use to evaluate a protocol's alignment with each of the five criteria to be defined in Question 1? What should USDA consider as minimum criteria for a protocol to qualify for listing under the Program?

Question 3: In general, after a new protocol is published, how long does it take for a project to use the protocol and be issued credits ( i.e., what is the lag time between protocol publication and first credit generation)?

Question 4: Which protocol(s) for generating voluntary carbon credits from agriculture and forestry projects should USDA evaluate for listing through the Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program?

Question 5: Additional information for any protocol(s) identified under Question 4.

Question 6: How should USDA evaluate technical assistance providers (TAP)? What should be the minimum qualifications, certifications, and/or expertise for a TAP to qualify for listing under the Program?

Question 7: Should the qualifications and/or registration process be different for entities and individuals that seek to register as a TAP?

Question 8: What should be the minimum qualifications and expertise for a third-party verifier to qualify for registration under the Program?

The agency will accept comments on the questions until June 28, 2024.

Part of a broader policy initiative

USDA announced the Request for Information on the same day that Secretary Vilsack, Energy Secretary Granholm, and Treasury Secretary Yellen, published a Joint Statement of Policy and Principles for Voluntary Carbon Markets, which outlines seven principles for the government’s approach to advancing “high-integrity voluntary credit markets,” summarized in a White House Fact Sheet:

  1. Carbon credits and the activities that generate them should meet credible atmospheric integrity standards and represent real decarbonization.
  2. Credit-generating activities should avoid environmental and social harm and should, where applicable, support co-benefits and transparent and inclusive benefits-sharing.
  3. Corporate buyers that use credits should prioritize measurable emissions reductions within their own value chains.
  4. Credit users should publicly disclose the nature of purchased and retired credits.
  5. Public claims by credit users should accurately reflect the climate impact of retired credits and should only rely on credits that meet high integrity standards.
  6. Market participants should contribute to efforts that improve market integrity.
  7. Policymakers and market participants should facilitate efficient market participation and seek to lower transaction costs.

The recent USDA announcements once again suggest that there are many issues for farmers considering engaging in the carbon market.  Caution is usually warranted when dealing with a new, developing market.  For farmers who do want to enter into the carbon market, be sure to refer to our posts on Carbon as a commodity for agriculture? and Considering carbon farming? Take time to understand carbon agreements.  The Farmers Legal Action Group also has an excellent publication on Farmers Guide to Carbon Market Contracts in Minnesota, also useful for Ohio farmers.

 

The Federal Trade Commission Website.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Monday, April 29th, 2024

As April comes to a close, we bring you another edition of the Ag Law Harvest. This month’s harvest brings you laws and regulations from across the country regarding a national drinking water standard, the Endangered Species Act, Ag-Gag laws, noncompete agreements, and pollution. 

EPA Finalizes First-Ever PFAS Drinking Water Standards
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced a final rule, issuing the “first-ever national, legally enforceable drinking water standard to protect communities from exposure to harmful per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as ‘forever chemicals’”. The final rule sets legally enforceable maximum contaminant levels for six PFAS chemicals in public water systems. The EPA also announced nearly $1 billion in new funding to “help states and territories implement PFAS testing and treatment at public water systems and to help owners of private wells address PFAS contamination.” The EPA suggests that this final rule “will reduce PFAS exposure for approximately 100 million people, prevent thousands of deaths, and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses.” 

Interior Deptartment Finalizes Rule to Strengthen Endangered Species Act
The Department of the Interior has announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized revisions to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These revisions aim to enhance participation in voluntary conservation programs by promoting native species conservation. They achieve this by clarifying and simplifying permitting processes under Section 10(a) of the ESA, encouraging greater involvement from resource managers and landowners in these voluntary initiatives. For more information about Section 10 of the ESA visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website.

Kentucky Passes Ag-Gag Statute
On April 12, 2024, the Kentucky legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass Senate Bill 16 into law. The new law, titled “An Act Relating to Agricultural Key Infrastructure Assets,” expands the definition of “key infrastructure assets” to include commercial food manufacturing or processing facilities, animal feeding operations, and concentrated animal feeding operations. It criminalizes trespassing on such properties with unmanned aircraft systems, recording devices, or photography equipment without the owner's consent. The first offense is a Class B misdemeanor with up to 90 days imprisonment and a $250 fine, while subsequent offenses are Class A misdemeanors with up to 12 months imprisonment and a $500 fine.

Federal Trade Commission Bans Non-Compete Agreements
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced a final rule banning noncompete agreements and clauses nationwide. This move aims to promote competition by safeguarding workers’ freedom to change jobs, increasing innovation and the formation of new businesses. Under the FTC’s new rule, existing noncompetes for the vast majority of workers will no longer be enforceable after the rule’s effective date. However, existing noncompetes for senior executives – those earning more than $151,164 annually and in policy making positions – remain enforceable under the new rule. Employers will have to notify workers bound to an existing noncompete that the noncompete agreement will not be enforced against the worker in the future. The final rule will become effective 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.  

EPA Announces New Rules to Reduce Pollution from Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) unveiled a set of final rules designed to decrease pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants. These rules, developed under various laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, aim to protect communities from pollution and improve public health while maintaining reliable electricity supply. They are expected to substantially reduce climate, air, water, and land pollution from the power industry, aligning with the Biden-Harris Administration's goals of promoting public health, advancing environmental justice, and addressing climate change.

 

By: Robert Moore, Wednesday, April 10th, 2024

At some point, we have all had to find a notary to get a document notarized.  Ohio law requires certain documents like deeds, long-term leases and vehicle titles to be notarized.  But, have you ever thought, why do we need to have documents notarized and what are notaries?  In this article, we will discuss notaries and the important role they plan in our society.

What Does an Ohio Notary Do?

An Ohio notary is an official empowered by the state to perform various acts that add an extra layer of security and credibility to legal proceedings. Their primary duties include:

  • Verifying Signatory Identity: A notary ensures that the person signing a document is who they claim to be. This involves either personally knowing the person or requesting valid government-issued photo identification and verifying its details.
  • Witnessing Signature: The notary observes the signing of the document and attests to their presence during this act. Their signature and official seal serve as evidence of this witnessing.
  • Administering Oaths and Affirmations: Notaries can administer oaths, which are formal declarations made under penalty of perjury, and affirmations, which are non-religious oaths. This ensures the seriousness and truthfulness of statements made during legal proceedings.
  • Taking Acknowledgments: An acknowledgment is a formal statement confirming that a signer understands the content of a document and willingly signed it. The notary verifies the signer's identity, witnesses their signature, and completes a separate acknowledgment certificate.

Why Do We Need Documents Notarized?

Notarization serves several critical purposes:

  • Combating Fraud: By verifying identity and witnessing signatures, notaries help deter fraud by ensuring documents haven't been forged or signed under duress. This adds a layer of security to important transactions, protecting individuals and organizations from potential scams and financial losses.
  • Promoting Trust: A notary's seal signifies an independent and impartial witness to the signing process. This official recognition instills confidence in the document's authenticity, especially when dealing with parties unfamiliar with each other.
  • Facilitating Legal Processes: Certain legal documents, such as deeds, powers of attorney, and sworn statements, require notarization to be considered valid in court proceedings. The notary's presence strengthens the document's legitimacy and streamlines the legal process.

Who Can Be an Ohio Notary?

To be a notary, a person must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old and a legal resident of Ohio, or
  • Be an attorney admitted to practice law in the state with a primary practice in Ohio.
  • Have no criminal convictions.

All new notaries are required to complete a 3-hour notary class and obtain a background check.  Non-attorneys must also pass an exam. 

Conclusion

Notaries play a vital role in safeguarding the integrity of legal documents and transactions within the state of Ohio. By verifying identities, witnessing signatures, and administering oaths, they contribute to a more secure and efficient legal system. If you're interested in a rewarding role that upholds trust and protects individuals, becoming an Ohio notary public might be a perfect fit for you.

Template Contract
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Thursday, February 29th, 2024

In this rendition of the Ag Law Harvest, we bring you some contracts! Over the course of February, there were three Ohio cases that demonstrate the importance of having a written contract, the ability to form a contract through your actions, and the need to make sure specific terms within a contract can be enforceable. 

Handshake Agreements Can Be a Double-Edged Sword.
In this case we are introduced to two brothers (the “Plaintiffs”), who were equal partners in a farming business that included buying and selling livestock. As part of their business, Plaintiffs sold cattle to Defendants between 2009 and 2017. The parties did not have a formal contract in place and conducted business on a “handshake agreement.” 

The Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants acted as intermediaries, purchasing heifers from them, and reselling them to other dairy farmers or at market. According to Plaintiffs, it was customary for the Defendants to pay for the cattle immediately upon delivery or within 30 days. However, around 2016, Defendants allegedly wrote checks for seven transactions but asked Plaintiffs not to cash them due to insufficient funds. Plaintiffs assert that Defendants never honored these checks, resulting in an outstanding amount of $128,950. Despite Plaintiffs' attempts to collect, Defendants denied owing any money, arguing that Plaintiffs were fully paid through later payments or third-party transactions. This disagreement led to the filing of Plaintiffs' lawsuit.

In February of last year, the trial court granted Plaintiffs summary judgment and awarded them $120,150. Defendants appealed the trial court’s decision arguing that summary judgment was inappropriate because whether or not Defendants owed Plaintiffs any money was in dispute. The appellate court agreed. 

In its opinion, the appellate court stated that it was clear that “the trial court weighed the credibility of the parties. . .” The appellate court also made it clear that “[s]ince resolution of the factual dispute will depend, at least in part, upon the credibility of the parties or their witnesses, summary judgment in such a case is inappropriate.” Furthermore, the court noted that because there was no written contract between the parties, the only evidence to demonstrate the particulars and common practices of the handshake agreement comes from the personal knowledge of the Plaintiffs and Defendants. Therefore, because both parties disagree as to whether Defendants owe any money to Plaintiffs, the trial court should not have ruled in favor of Plaintiffs on summary judgment. Consequently, the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings, potentially including a trial.

This case shows us two things, the importance of having a written contract and the importance of recordkeeping. The parties to this lawsuit must now argue that their recollection of events is the true and accurate recollection. Both parties will likely be judged by a group of jurors and one party is bound to be out a large sum of money. A written contract could have avoided much of the dispute by including language about the process for payment, record keeping requirements, and other terms and conditions that would have governed the relationship of the parties. Now, because there is no written contract, this case becomes a case of “he said-he said.”  

Implied Contracts Can Be Formed Based on a Tacit Understanding.
The second case demonstrates that the surrounding facts and circumstances can create an implied contract even when no signed contract exists. In this case Plaintiff, a residential construction company, provided the Defendant-homeowners with two written quotes for roofing and other work at their home. The quotes included various services and specified a 30% upfront payment with the remainder due upon completion of the work. Although the Defendants did not sign or date the quotes, they paid Plaintiff $6,815, which was stated to be a 30% prepayment for the total quoted amount of $22,717. 

After completing the roof, Plaintiff submitted a bill to the Defendants for the balance due on the roof. The Defendants took issue with the invoice for two reasons: (1) the price did not match the quotes, and (2) Defendants believed that payment would not be due until all items on both quotes were completed. Ultimately, the parties parted ways and Defendants asked Plaintiff to not return to their home leaving the remainder of the work listed on the two quotes uncompleted. 

Plaintiff sued the Defendants alleging breach of contract, seeking payment for the finished roof. The matter proceeded to a bench trial where the trial court found that the two quotes and the 30% payment operated as an implied contract and not an express one. The trial court also held that Plaintiff did partially perform the agreement and should be paid for the roof installation. 

The Defendants appealed, arguing that Plaintiff could not recover in this case because Plaintiff only alleged a breach of an express contract and did not seek recovery for breach of an implied contract. The appellate court disagreed. The court noted that under Ohio law there are three types of contracts: (1) express contracts, (2) implied in fact contracts, and (3) implied in law contracts. 

The court went on further to explain when the three different kinds of contracts are created. An express contract is created when there is an offer and acceptance of written terms. An implied in fact contract requires a “meeting of the minds” and that “is shown by the surrounding circumstances which [make] it inferable that [a] contract exists as a matter of tacit understanding.” Lastly, with an implied in law contract “there is no meeting of the minds” but the law will create civil liability for a person in receipt of benefits which they are not justly entitled to retain.   

The appellate court held that the trial court correctly found there was no express contract between the parties, rather there was an implied in fact contract. The court reasoned that the two written quotes and the 30% prepayment created a tacit understanding amongst the parties. Furthermore, the court concluded that because an implied contract existed amongst the parties, Plaintiff is entitled to recover for the work they did do. Lastly, the trial court noted that Defendants should have been aware that Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim would not only apply to express contracts but also to implied contracts. 

Noncompetition Agreement Found to be Unenforceable. 
In our final case we are introduced to a salesman that was being sued by his former employer for breach of a non-competition agreement (the “NCA”) after going to work for a direct competitor. Plaintiff, Kross Acquisition Co., LLC (“Kross”), is a basement waterproofing contractor. Kross provides service in southwestern Ohio, southeastern Indiana, and northern and eastern Kentucky. Kross’s former employee Roger Kief left to work for Groundworks Ohio, LLC (“Groundworks”). Groundworks is engaged in substantially the same business as Kross and serves the entire state of Ohio as well as Kentucky, Indiana, and many other states. 

Kief began working for Kross in 2017 and signed the NCA. The NCA prohibits Kief from disclosing confidential information and from working anywhere in Ohio or Kentucky for any competing company for a period of two years after leaving Kross. In February of 2022, Groundworks offered Kief an identical position with a start date of March 2022. 

Kross filed lawsuit against Kief for failing to adhere to the NCA. The trial court found the NCA unenforceable and granted summary judgment in favor of Kief. Kross filed an appeal arguing that the trial court erred when it found the NCA unenforceable. The appellate court disagreed. The court noted that the following factors are used to analyze whether a noncompetition agreement can be enforceable: 

1. Time and space limitations: Whether the agreement specifies a reasonable duration and geographic scope for its restrictions.

2. Sole contact with the customer: Whether the employee is the primary or sole contact with the employer's customers.

3. Confidential information or trade secrets: Whether the employee has access to and possesses confidential information or trade secrets of the employer.

4. Limitation of unfair competition: Whether the covenant aims to prevent unfair competition or if it overly restricts ordinary competition.

5. Stifling of inherent skill and experience: Whether the agreement unreasonably stifles the employee's inherent skill and experience in the industry.

6. Disproportionate benefit to the employer: Whether the benefit gained by the employer from the agreement outweighs the detriment imposed on the employee.

7. Bar on sole means of support: Whether the agreement bars the employee's only means of earning a livelihood.

8. Development of restrained skills during employment: Whether the skills restricted by the agreement were actually developed during the employee's tenure with the employer.

9. Incidental nature of forbidden employment: Whether the forbidden employment is merely incidental to the employee's primary employment with the employer.

Based on the foregoing factors, the court found that the geographic and time limitations “exceeded what is necessary to protect Kross’s legitimate business interests.” Therefore, the appellate court found the NCA unenforceable.   

Calf standing in the snow
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Tuesday, January 30th, 2024

Happy 2024! We hope your new calendar year has gotten off to a delightful start. As we close out the first of twelve months, we bring you another edition of the Ag Law Harvest. In this blog post, we delve into the intricate world of employment contracts and noncompete agreements, classifying workers as independent contractors or employees, Ag-Gag laws, and agricultural policy. 

Ohio Man Violates Employer’s Noncompete Agreement. 
Kevin Ciptak (“Ciptak”), an Ohio landscaping employee, is facing legal trouble for allegedly breaching his employment contract with Yagour Group LLC, operating as Perfection Landscapes (“Perfection”). The contract included a noncompete agreement, which Ciptak is accused of violating by running his own landscaping business on the side while working for Perfection. Perfection eventually discovered the extent of Ciptak’s side business, leading to Perfection filing a lawsuit.

During the trial, Ciptak testified that Perfection was “too busy” to take on the jobs he completed. Additionally, Ciptak stated that the profits from his side jobs amounted to over $60,000. Perfection countered that they would have been able to perform the work and, because of the obvious breach of the noncompete agreement, Perfection lost out on the potential profits. The trial court ruled in favor of Perfection, ordering Ciptak to pay the $60,000 in profits along with attorney's fees and expenses, exceeding $80,000. Ciptak appealed, arguing that, according to Ohio law, Perfection could only recover its own lost profits, not Ciptak's gains from the breach. He also claimed that Perfection was not harmed as they were "too busy," and Perfection failed to provide evidence of lost profits. 

The Eighth District Court of Appeals ultimately found in favor of Perfection.  The court reasoned that “[t]his case came down to a credibility determination.” The court held there was no dispute that Ciptak had violated the noncompete agreement. What was in dispute was whether Perfection could have and would have performed the work. The Eighth District held that the trial court’s finding that Perfection could have performed the work was not unreasonable. The Eighth District noted that although Ciptak claimed that Perfection was “too busy” to do any of those jobs, Ciptak “provided no other evidence to support this assertion.” The Eighth District ruled that the evidence presented at trial showed that Perfection would have realized approximately the same amount of profit on those jobs as Ciptak did and, therefore, Perfection was damaged as a result of Ciptak’s breach of the noncompete agreement. 

New Independent Contractor Rule Announced by Department of Labor. 
The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has published a final rule to help employers better understand when a worker qualifies as an employee and when they may be considered an independent contractor. The new rule gets rid of and replaces the 2021 rule. As announced by the DOL, the new rule “restores the multifactor analysis used by courts for decades, ensuring that all relevant factors are analyzed to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.” Thus, the new rule returns to a “totality of the circumstances” approach and analyzes the following six factors: (1) any opportunity for profit or loss a worker might have; (2) the financial stake and nature of any resources a worker has invested in the work; (3) the degree of permanence of the work relationship; (4) the degree of control an employer has over the person’s work; (5) whether the work the person does is essential to the employer’s business; and (6) the worker’s skill and initiative. The new rule goes into effect on March 11, 2024. 

Federal Appeals Court Reverses Injunctions on Iowa “Ag-Gag Laws.” 
On January 8, 2024, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued two opinions reversing injunctions against two Iowa “ag-gag laws”. At trial, the two laws were found to have violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In its first opinion, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals analyzed Iowa’s “Agricultural Production Facility Trespass” law which makes it illegal to use deceptive practices to obtain access or employment in an “agricultural production facility, with the intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury to the agricultural production facility’s operations . . .” The Eighth Circuit found that the intent element contained within the Iowa law prevents it from violating the First Amendment. The court reasoned that the Iowa law “is not a viewpoint-based restriction on speech, but rather a permissible restriction on intentionally false speech undertaken to accomplish a legally cognizable harm.” 

In its second opinion, the Eighth Circuit reviewed an Iowa law that penalized anyone who “while trespassing, ‘knowingly places or uses a camera or electronic surveillance device that transmits or records images or data while the device is on the trespassed property[.]’” The court found that the Iowa law did not violate the First Amendment because “the [law’s] restrictions on the use of a camera only apply to situations when there has first been an unlawful trespass, the [law] does not burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the State’s legitimate interests.”  The court noted that Iowa has a strong interest in protecting property rights by “penalizing that subset of trespassers who – by using a camera while trespassing – cause further injury to privacy and property rights.” 

Both cases have been remanded to the trial courts for further proceedings consistent with the forgoing opinions. 

USDA Announces New Remote Beef Grading Program.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced a new pilot program to “allow more cattle producers and meat processors to access better markets through the [USDA’s] official beef quality grading and certification.” The “Remote Grading Pilot for Beef” looks to expand on the USDA’s approach to increase competition in agricultural markets for small- and mid-size farmers and ranchers. The pilot program hopes to cut expenses that otherwise deter small, independent meat processors from having a highly trained USDA grader visit their facility. 

Under the pilot program, trained plant employees capture specific images of the live animal and the beef carcass. These images are then sent to a USDA grader that will inspect the images and accompanying plant records and product data, who then assigns the USDA Quality Grade and applicable carcass certification programs. The “Remote Grading Pilot for Beef” is only available to domestic beef slaughter facilities operating under federal inspection and producing product that meets USDA grading program eligibility criteria. More information can be found at https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/remote-beef-grading

USDA Accepting Applications for Value-Added Producer Grants Program. 
On January 17, 2024, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced that it is “accepting applications for grants to help agricultural producers maximize the value of their products and venture into new and better markets.” These grants are available through the Value-Added Producer Grants Program. Independent producers, agricultural producer groups, farmer or rancher cooperatives, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures are all eligible for the grants. The USDA may award up to $75,000 for planning activities or up to $250,000 for working capital expenses related to producing and marketing a value-added agricultural product. For more information, visit the USDA’s website or contact your local USDA Rural Development office.

 

Combine in the field ready to harvest.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Monday, October 02nd, 2023

Happy Fall Y’all! We are back with another monthly edition of The Ag Law Harvest. This month’s edition brings you an Ohio Supreme Court case that clarifies a party’s obligations under express indemnification provisions in a contract, an Ohio woman’s fight against a local zoning ordinance that sought to remove her pet ducks, and agricultural labor updates. 

Common Law Notice Requirements May No Longer Exist Under Express Indemnification. 
The Ohio Supreme Court recently made a significant decision regarding indemnification clauses in contracts. Indemnification is the right of one party to be fully reimbursed for payments they made on behalf of another party who should have made those payments. There are two types of indemnity: express and implied. Express indemnity is when a written contract explicitly states that one party will reimburse the other under certain circumstances. Implied indemnity is a common law principle where each party is responsible for their own wrongdoing, and the wrongdoer should reimburse the injured party.

In this case, Discovery Oil and Gas contracted with Wildcat Drilling, which included an express indemnification provision. Wildcat was supposed to indemnify Discovery for any fines related to pollution or contamination from drilling. When Wildcat violated Ohio law by using brine improperly, Discovery settled with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for $50,000 without notifying Wildcat and requested reimbursement. Wildcat refused, arguing that Discovery didn't follow Ohio common law, which requires notice before settling a claim.

The Ohio Supreme Court sided with Discovery, stating that the express clause in the contract indicated the parties' intent to deviate from common law principles. The court clarified that notice requirements for indemnification are determined by the contract terms. Depending on the contract, parties may not need to provide notice before settling a claim and seeking reimbursement. This ruling emphasizes the importance of contract language in determining indemnification obligations.

Medina County Woman Has All Her Ducks in a Row. 
A Medina County woman is able to keep her pet ducks after a battle with the Village of Seville and an interpretation of its zoning ordinances. Ms. Carlson, the owner of the ducks at issue, fought to keep her pet ducks after being ordered to remove them from her property by Wadsworth Municipal Court. Ms. Carlson appealed the municipal court’s ruling, arguing that Seville’s zoning ordinance against “poultry and livestock” is unconstitutionally vague. The appellate court agreed with Ms. Carlson. The appellate court found that Seville’s ordinance against poultry focused on hens, roosters, coop hygiene, and the sale of poultry byproducts such as meat and eggs. The court held that an ordinary person would not be able to understand that keeping other birds, such as ducks, as companion animals would violate Seville’s ordinances. Therefore, Ms. Carlson could not be found to have committed an unclassified misdemeanor by owning pet ducks. However, had Ms. Carlson been keeping the ducks and selling their byproducts such as duck eggs and meat, there might have been a different outcome.  

Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program. 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) has announced the opening of the Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program (“FLSP”). The FLSP will award up to $65 million in grant funding to provide support for agricultural employers to implement new hearty labor standards/procedures and update existing workplace infrastructure to help promote a healthy and safe work environment. The USDA states that the purpose of the FLSP program is “to improve food and agricultural supply chain resiliency by addressing challenges agricultural employers face with labor shortages and instability.” The FLSP has three goals: (1) drive U.S. economic recovery and safeguard domestic food supply by addressing current labor shortages in agriculture; (2) reduce irregular migration from Northern Central America through the expansion of regular pathways; (3) improve working conditions for all farmworkers. Qualified applicants can receive grants ranging from $25,000 - $2,000,000. The application window closes on November 28, 2023. For more information, view the USDA’s fact sheet on the FLSP

Department of Labor Publishes Proposed Rule to Amend H-2A Regulations. 
The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) Employment and Training Administration (“ETA”) has published a proposed rule titled “Improving Protections for Workers in Temporary Agricultural Employment in the United States.” The proposed rule seeks to amend several H-2A program regulations by: 

  • Adding new protections for worker self-advocacy. 
  • Clarifying when a termination is “for cause.” 
  • Making foreign labor recruitment more transparent. 
  • Making wages more predictable. 
  • Improving workers’ access to safe transportation. 
  • Enhancing enforcement to improve program integrity. 

Read more about the proposed rule by visiting the DOL’s news release. The comment period on the proposed rule ends November 14, 2023. 

Department of Homeland Security Publishes Proposed Rule Amending H-2 Program.  
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has published a proposed rule titled “Modernizing the H-2 Program Requirements, Oversight, and Worker Protections.” The DHS announced its intent to strengthen protections for temporary workers through the H-2A and H-2B worker programs by providing greater flexibility and protections for participating workers, and improving the programs’ efficiency. The proposed rule would: 

  • Provide whistleblower protection to H-2A and H-2B workers who report their employers for program violations. 
  • Extend grace periods for workers seeking new employment, preparing for departure from the United States, or seeking a change of immigration status. 
  • Establish permanent H-2 portability, allowing employers to hire H-2 workers who are already lawfully in the United States while the employer’s H-2 petition for the worker is pending. 

The comment period for the proposed rule ends on November 20, 2023. 

Post-it notes with insurance coverage questions.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, August 25th, 2023

With just over a week left until echoes of “Hang on Sloopy” and chants of “O-H” and “I-O” can be heard from Buckeye faithful across the nation, we thought we would provide you with some light reading to hold you over until that long awaited 3:30 kick off. In this edition of our Ag Law Harvest, we focus on three recent Ohio Supreme Court cases that could potentially impact business owners, Northern Ohio landowners, and Ohio taxpayers. 

Assault and Battery: Is it Covered Under an Insurance Policy?
A victim of a stabbing at an Ohio adult care facility is unable to collect judgment from the facility’s insurance company after a recent decision by the Ohio Supreme Court. The victim was living at the facility when another resident stabbed him. The perpetrator was later indicted on criminal charges but found not guilty by reason of insanity. 

The victim then filed a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator and the facility to recover for damages resulting from the stabbing injuries. The victim ultimately dropped his lawsuit against the perpetrator and entered into a settlement agreement with the facility. As part of the settlement agreement, the victim agreed not to pursue the judgment against the facility, and instead, sought to collect his judgment from the facility’s insurance company.   

At the time of the stabbing, the adult care facility had a commercial general liability policy. When the victim sought judgment from the facility’s insurance company, the insurance company refused to provide coverage. The insurance company explained that the insurance policy contained a provision that specifically excluded coverage for any bodily injury resulting from an assault or battery. The specific provision at issue stated: 

 

The victim argued that because the perpetrator was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity in the criminal trial, the exclusion provision was nullified because the perpetrator lacked the subjective intent to commit any assault or battery. 

The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed. The Court explained that the plain language of the exclusion provision of the insurance policy at issue is clear – there is no intent requirement included in the exclusion language. Therefore, the Court held that coverage did not exist for the willful assault on the victim. The Court sympathized with the victim but ultimately could not interpret the insurance policy language to include a subjective intent requirement where none existed. 

This case demonstrates the importance of reading and understanding your business insurance policy. Insurance policies are, at the core, contracts between two parties and the language contained within the policy will usually govern that contractual relationship. What you assume is covered under your policy may not necessarily be the case. Furthermore, not all insurance policies are the same. We have seen Ohio cases where an insurance policy does require the presence of some subjective intent in order for an assault and battery exclusion to apply. Speak with your insurance agent and/or attorney to make sure you understand when and where coverage exists, knowing this can be critical to protecting you, your farm, and/or your business. 

Ohio Supreme Court Approves Northern Ohio Wind Farm. 
Residents of Huron and Erie Counties along with Black Swamp Bird Conservatory (the “Plaintiffs”) recently lost their battle in court to prevent the construction of a new wind farm in Northern Ohio. The Plaintiffs argued that the Ohio Power Siting Board (the “Board”) failed to satisfy Ohio law before granting the new wind farm its certificate of environmental compatibility and public need. Specifically, the Plaintiffs assert that the wind farm could “disrupt the area’s water supply, create excessive noise and ‘shadow flicker’ for residents near the wind farm, and kill bald eagles and migrating birds.” 

The Ohio Supreme Court found otherwise. The Court concluded that the Plaintiffs failed to establish that the Board’s granting of the certificate was unlawful or unreasonable. As approved, the new wind farm will consist of up to 71 turbines and cover 32,000 acres of leased land. To read more about the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision visit: In re Application of Firelands Winds, L.L.C.

Ohio Supreme Court Sets New Precedent on Interpreting Ohio Tax Law.
In Ohio, most retail sales are subject to sales tax unless a certain exemption applies. Ohio law does have a sales tax exemption for equipment used directly in the production of oil and gas. A fracking business recently challenged a decision by Ohio’s Tax Commissioner and Board of Tax Appeals that levied the sales tax on certain equipment purchased by the business. The fracking equipment at issue included: a data van, blenders, sand kings, t-belts, hydration units, and chemical-additive units.

The Tax Commissioner concluded that the fracking equipment was not used directly in the extraction of oil and gas, only indirectly, and therefore, did not qualify for the tax exemption. The Ohio Supreme Court felt differently. 

The Court found that all the equipment, except the data van, is used in unison to expose the oil and gas. Because the equipment is used to expose the oil and gas – a necessary part of fracking – the Court had little difficulty concluding that the equipment is being used directly in the production of oil and gas. 

In addition to the equipment’s direct use in the production of oil and gas, the Court also recognized that the fracking equipment may also have a storage or delivery function/purpose. However, the Court reasoned that a piece of equipment’s function must be viewed through the “primary purpose” lens. For example, the Court held that although the blender equipment in this case performs a holding function, the primary use of the blender is to mix “the critical ingredients in the fracking recipe seconds before the mixture is inserted into the well.” Therefore, the Court found that the blender’s holding function did not disqualify it from Ohio’s sales tax exemption. 

Additionally, in this case, the Court also issued an opinion on how Ohio courts should interpret tax law moving forward. Normally, courts use the ever-important legal principal of stare decisis to help it decide on new cases. Stare decisis is the principal that courts and judges should honor the decisions, rulings, and opinions from prior cases when ruling on new cases. Here, the Court took its opportunity to acknowledge that in the past the Court interpreted tax exemptions against the taxpayer, favoring tax collection. But the Court made clear that from here on out, the Court “will apply the same rules of construction to tax statutes that [it applies] to all other statutes” without a slant toward one side or the other. The Court concluded that its task “is not to make tax policy but to provide a fair reading of what the legislature has enacted: one that is based on the plain language of the [law].” 

To read the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision visit: Stingray Pressure Pumping, L.L.C. v. Harris

Thumbs up emoji
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, July 28th, 2023

It’s getting hot! And we are here to bring you even more heat. This month’s Ag Law Harvest takes you across the country and even across our northern border as we highlight some interesting court cases, a petition to the USDA, and some legislation coming across the desks of Governors from Maine to Oregon.

Ohio Court Determines That Dairy Farm Did Not Intentionally Harm Employee. 
In 2019, a dairy farm employee sustained serious injuries after getting caught in a PTO shaft while operating a sand spreader. After his injury, the employee filed a lawsuit against his employer for failing to repair or replace the missing safety guards on the PTO shaft and sand spreader. In his lawsuit, the employee alleged that the dairy farm’s failure to repair or replace the missing safety guards amounted to a “deliberate removal” of the equipment’s safety features making the dairy farm liable for an intentional tort. In other words, the employee was accusing his employer of intentionally causing him harm. Normally, workplace injuries are adjudicated under Ohio’s workers’ compensation laws, unless an employee can prove that an employer acted intentionally to cause the employee harm. 

For an employer to be held liable for an intentional tort under Ohio law, an employee must prove that the employer acted with the specific intent to injure an employee. An employee can prove an employer’s intent in one of two ways: (1) with direct evidence of the employer’s intent; or (2) by proving that the employer “deliberately removed” equipment safety guards and/or deliberately misrepresented a toxic or hazardous substance. Because there was no direct evidence to prove the dairy farm’s intent, the employee could only try his case under the theory that the dairy farm deliberately removed the safety guards, intentionally causing him harm. 

The case went to trial and the jury found the dairy farm liable and ordered it to pay over $1.9 million in damages. The dairy farm appealed to the Twelfth District Court of Appeals arguing that its failure to repair or replace does not amount to a “deliberate removal” of the safety guards from the PTO shaft and sand spreader. The appellate court agreed

The Twelfth District decided to apply a narrow interpretation of the term “deliberate removal.” The court held that a “deliberate removal” is defined as the “deliberate decision to lift, push aside, take off, or otherwise eliminate.” The evidence presented at trial showed that the shaft guard may have simply broken off because of ordinary wear and tear. Additionally, the evidence could not establish who removed the connector guard or if the connector guard did not also break off due to ordinary wear and tear. Thus, the Twelfth District found that the evidence presented at trial did not support a finding that the dairy farm made “a careful and thorough decision to get rid of or eliminate” the safety guards. Furthermore, the Twelfth District reasoned that an employer’s “failure to repair or replace a safety guard is akin to permitting a hazardous condition to exist” and that the “mere knowledge of a hazardous condition is insufficient to show intent to injure. . .” The Twelfth District vacated and reversed the $1.9 million judgment and entered summary judgment on the dairy farm’s behalf.  

USDA Receives Petition Over “Climate-friendly” Claims. 
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), asking the USDA to: (1) prohibit “climate-friendly” claims or similar claims on beef products; (2) require third-party verification for “climate-friendly” and similar claims; and (3) require a numerical on-pack carbon disclosure when such claims are made. The core legal issue is whether such “climate-friendly” labels and numerical carbon disclosures are protected and/or prohibited by the legal doctrine of commercial speech, which is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. EWG argues that the USDA has the authority to regulate such speech because commercial speech is only protected if it is not misleading. Additionally, EWG claims that requiring numerical carbon disclosures advances a substantial governmental interest by protecting consumers from fraud and deception. Although EWG has the legal right to petition the USDA, the USDA does not have to grant EWG’s petition, it must only consider the petition and respond within a reasonable time. 

Maine Governor Vetoes Ag Wage Bill.
Earlier this month Maine Governor, Janet Mills, vetoed Legislative Document 398 (“LD 398”) which required agricultural employers to pay their employees a minimum wage of $13.80 and overtime pay. Governor Mills stated that she supports the concept of LD 398 but was concerned about some of the bill’s language. The Maine legislature had the opportunity to override the Governor’s veto but failed to do so. After the legislature sustained her veto, Governor Mills signed an executive order establishing a formal stakeholder group to develop legislation that will establish a minimum wage for agricultural workers while also addressing the impacts the future legislation will have on Maine’s agriculture industry. 

A Big Thumbs Up! 
A Canadian judge recently found that a “thumbs-up” emoji is just as valid as a signature to a contract. In a recent case, a grain buyer, South West Terminal Ltd. (“SWT”), sent through text message, a deferred grain contract to a farming corporation owned and operated by Chris Achter (“Achter”). The contract stated that Achter was to sell 86 metric tonnes of flax to SWT at a price of $17 per bushel. SWT signed the contract, took a picture of the contract, and sent the picture to Achter along with a text message: “Please confirm flax contract”. Achter texted back a “thumbs-up” emoji. When the delivery date came and passed, Achter failed to deliver the flax to SWT which prompted SWT to file a lawsuit for breach of contract. SWT argued that Achter’s “thumbs-up” meant acceptance of the contract. Achter, on the other hand, claimed that the use of the emoji only conveyed his receipt of the contract. 

The Canadian court ultimately ruled in favor of SWT. The court relied on evidence that Achter and SWT had a pattern of entering into binding contracts through text message. In all previous occurrences, SWT would text the terms of the contract to Achter and Achter would usually respond with a “looks good”, “ok”, or “yup”. This time, Achter only responded with a “thumbs-up” emoji and the court concluded that an objective person would take that emoji to mean acceptance of the contract terms. Achter was ordered to pay over C$82,000 ($61,442) for the unfulfilled flax delivery. As the old saying goes: “a picture is worth a thousand words or tens of thousands of dollars.”  

Oregon Governor Signs Agriculture Worker Suicide Prevention Bill into Law. 
Earlier this month, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek signed a bill that creates a new suicide prevention hotline for agricultural producers and workers into law. Senate Bill 955 (“SB 955”) provides $300,000 to establish an endowment to fund an AgriStress Helpline in Oregon. Proponents of the bill believe the AgriStress Helpline will be able to specifically address the needs of agricultural producers and workers which “[s]tatistically . . . have one of the highest suicide rates of any occupation.” Oregon becomes the 7th state to establish an AgriStress Hotline joining Connecticut, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming. 

Baby chick in a laboratory flask.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, June 30th, 2023

Happy last day of June! We close out the month with another Ag Law Harvest, which brings you two interesting court cases, one about an Ohio man asserting his right to give away free gravel, and another which could decide the constitutionality of “Ag-Gag” laws once and for all. We also provide a few federal policy updates and announcements. 

Ohio Department of Agriculture Prohibited from Fining a Landowner for Charging to Load Free Gravel.  In May of 2020, Paul Gross began selling gravel and topsoil (collectively “gravel”) that he had accumulated from excavating a pond on his property. Gross charged $5 per ton of gravel, which was weighed at a scale three miles from his property. After receiving a complaint of the gravel sales, the Madison County Auditor sent a Weights and Measures Inspector to investigate Gross’s gravel sales. The Inspector informed Gross that the gravel sales violated Ohio Administrative Code 901:6-7-03(BB) (the “Rule”) because the gravel was not being weighed at the loading site. Under the Rule, “[s]and, rock, gravel, stone, paving stone, and similar materials kept, offered, or exposed for sale in bulk must be sold . . . by cubic meter or cubic yard or by weight.” As explained by the Inspector, Gross’s problem was that he was selling gravel by inaccurate weight measurements because the trucks hauling the gravel lose fuel weight when traveling the three miles to the scale. 

Instead of installing scales on his property, Gross decided to start giving away the gravel for free. However, Gross did charge a flat rate fee of $50 to any customer that requested Gross’s help in loading the gravel. According to Gross, this $50 fee was to cover the cost of his equipment, employees, and other resources used to help customers load the gravel. Unsatisfied with the structure of this transaction, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (“ODA”) decided to investigate further and eventually determined that even though Gross was giving away the gravel for free, the flat fee for Gross’s services represented a commercial sale of the gravel and, therefore, Gross was in continued violation of the Rule. 

For the alleged violation, the ODA intended to impose a $500 civil penalty on Gross, who requested an administrative hearing. The hearing officer recommended imposing the penalty and the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas agreed. Gross appealed the decision to the Tenth District Court of Appeals, which found that Gross was not in violation of the Rule

The Tenth District reasoned that customers were paying for the service of moving the gravel, not for the gravel itself. The court explained that the purpose of the Rule is to protect consumers by ensuring transparent pricing of materials like gravel. Since Gross was not in the business of selling gravel and the transaction was primarily for services, the court concluded that the ODA’s fine was impermissible. 

North Carolina Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Review “Ag-Gag Law.”  In 2015, the North Carolina Legislature passed the North Carolina Property Protection Act, allowing employers to sue any employee who “without authorization records images or sound occurring within” nonpublic areas of the employer’s property “and uses the recording to breach the [employee’s] duty of loyalty to the employer.” After the act’s passage several food-safety and animal-welfare groups, including the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”), challenged the Property Protection Act in an effort to prevent North Carolina from enforcing the law. 

A federal district court in North Carolina struck down the law, finding it to be a content-based restriction on speech in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s ruling also reasoning that the law’s broad prohibitions restrict speech in a manner inconsistent with the First Amendment. Now, the North Carolina Attorney General, Josh Stein, has petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”), asking the Court to reverse the 4th Circuit’s decision. If SCOTUS decides to hear the case, the justices will be tasked with determining “[w]hether the First Amendment prohibits applying state tort law against double-agent employees who gather information, including by secretly recording, in the nonpublic areas of an employer’s property and who use that information to breach their duty of loyalty to the employer.” 

We have reported on several Ag-Gag laws and the court challenges that have followed. If SCOTUS decides to take up the case, we may finally have a definitive answer as to whether Ag-Gag laws are constitutional or not. 

Lab-grown Chicken Given the Green Light by the USDA. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) Food Safety and Inspection Service granted its first approvals to produce and sell lab-grown chicken to consumers. Upside Foods and Good Meat, the two entities given the green light by the USDA, plan on initially providing their “cell-cultivated” or “cultured” chicken to patrons of restaurants in the San Francisco and Washington D.C. areas. However, the timeline for such products showing up in your local grocery store has yet to be determined.  

USDA Suspends Livestock Risk Protection 60-Day Ownership Requirement. The USDA’s Risk Management Agency issued a bulletin suspending the 60-day ownership requirement for the Livestock Risk Protection (“LRP”) program. Normally under the LRP, covered livestock must be owned by the producer within the last 60 days of the specified coverage endorsement period for coverage to apply. According to the bulletin, “[d]ue to the continuing severe drought conditions impacting many parts of the nation, producers are struggling to find adequate supplies of feed or forage, causing them to market their livestock sooner than anticipated.” In response, the USDA is allowing producers to apply to waive the 60-day ownership requirement, subject to verification of proof of ownership of the livestock. The USDA hopes this waiver will allow producers to market their livestock as necessary while dealing with the current drought effects. Producers will be able to apply for the waiver until December 31, 2024. 

USDA Announces Tool to Help Small Businesses and Individuals Identify Contracting Opportunities. Earlier this month, the USDA announced a new tool “to assist industry and small disadvantaged entities in identifying potential opportunities for selling their products and services to USDA.” USDA’s Procurement Forecast tool lists potential contracting or subcontracting opportunities with the USDA. Until now, businesses could only access procurement opportunities through the federal-wide System for Award Management (“SAM”). The USDA hopes the Procurement Forecast tool will provide greater transparency and maximize opportunity for small and underserved businesses. 

 

By: Robert Moore, Thursday, January 12th, 2023

Legal Groundwork

As farm machinery has become more complex and reliant on computer software, the right-to-repair issue has become a prominent issue in the farm community.  Farmers are sometimes prevented from repairing their own equipment because they do not have access to needed diagnostic tools or are otherwise barred due to embedded software.  Farmers have voiced their criticism of manufacturers as right-to-repair has become a prominent issue in the agricultural community.

In an effort to address the right-to-repair issue, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and John Deere recently entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which Deere agrees to provide access to documentation, data and diagnostic tools used by the company’s authorized dealers.  This development was likely a response to pressure that Deere and other manufactures were under to allow right-to-repair.  New York recently passed a right-to-repair law and Senator Tester introduced right-to-repair legislation in the U.S. Senate earlier this year. 

 

Software User License

The issue of right-to-repair is related to a user’s license.  The term “license” has a specific meaning under the law.  Someone who holds a license for a product is allowed to use the product but does not own the product.  In 2016, Deere began using a user’s license for the software in its machines.  Essentially, when a customer would buy a machine from Deere, the buyer had ownership of the steel but did not own the software that makes the machine operate.    

Software licensing has its roots in 1980’s software.  The burgeoning consumer software industry initially sold its software to customers and retained no rights to the software.  These software developers began to see purchasers of their software reverse engineer the software and development slightly different software that resulted in the same functionality.  In essence, a person could buy the software, make a change to the software to potentially avoid copyright infringement, but end up with software that did the same thing as the originally purchased software.  This process essentially allowed for the stealing of intellectual property from the software developer, but the developers had little legal recourse.

To overcome this loss of intellectual property, software developers began selling a license to use the software.  The software license allowed the purchaser to use the software, but the software developer retained ownership.  The license agreement expressly prohibited reverse engineering or using the software in other ways that jeopardized the software developer’s intellectual property.  By keeping ownership,  software developers could take legal action against people who tried to copy and resell the software.

The software license worked reasonably well for many years.  The vast majority of software users were oblivious to the license agreement and continued using the software as they always had.  The licensing arrangement help protect the software developers’ intellectual property.  However, in the last twenty years or so, software began to be embedded in electronic devices blurring the lines between the software and the hardware. A new tractor seems to be as much a computer running software as it does a power unit pulling implements.  

 

Right-to-Repair

The integration of software into farm machines came to light in 2016 when John Deere implemented a software user license agreement to presumably protect its intellectual property.  Its licensing agreement clearly stated that reverse engineering or copying of the software is prohibited.  However, Deere seems to have taken it one step further.  Farmers and independent repair shops were prohibited from having the diagnostic tools and manuals required to make repairs.  This denial of diagnostic tools effectively made it impossible for farmers and independent mechanics to make repairs on some John Deere equipment.  Many people in the farm community expressed their concern about the license agreement and saw it as scheme to keep the repairs, and the fees from those repairs, all within the John Deere dealer network.  Farmers wanted to be able to repair their own equipment, or use other independent third parties, to potentially save money and to have more timely service, especially during busy times like planting and harvest.

Due to pressure from a combination of the new legislation in New York, the right-to-repair legislation introduced in the Senate and dissatisfaction expressed by farmers, John Deere likely felt it was best to make some concessions with farmers while keeping ownership of the software.  This speculation is supported by the fact that AFBF agreed to “refrain from introducing, promoting, or supporting federal or state "Right to Repair" legislation that imposes obligations beyond the commitments in this MOU.”  So, it seems AFBF agreed not to pursue right-to-repair legislation in exchange for Deere loosening its prohibitions of right-to-repair.

While it is impossible to foresee all the future implications for an agreement like the one between AFBF and Deere, it does seem that it is a reasonable compromise.  Farmers can now have access to diagnostic tools to allow for self-repairs while Deere keeps ownership of its software.  Critics argue the agreement does not go far enough and Deere still has too much control over self-repairs.  We will see over the next few years if the agreement is, in fact, a reasonable compromise.

 

Memorandum of Understanding

It is noteworthy that the agreement between AFBF and John Deere is memorialized within a Memorandum of Understanding.  For those not familiar with an MOU, there may be some curiosity as to its legal context.  MOUs are most often used at the beginning of a negotiation to ensure that both parties are starting with the same understanding of their current positions, to make clear what each party is seeking from the negotiation and that it is worthwhile for both parties to move forward.  Unlike a contract, an MOU is generally not legally enforceable.  Because the agreement is an MOU, neither AFBF nor Deere is legally bound to its terms.  Neither party has legal recourse if the other party does not honor its commitments as outlined in the MOU. If either party reneges on its commitments, the party at fault will likely receive criticism in the public opinion realm but will likely have no legal liability.

 

Conclusion

The John Deere software licensing issue is a good example of how new technology can require new strategies and concepts in the law.  Prior to the 1980’s, copyright law had worked just fine for books and movies but it did not work well for the new medium of software.  So, the concept of software licenses was developed to address the threats to the software industry. Twenty years later when the line between software and hardware began to blur, software licenses were again modified to protect the developer of the software.  In the case of John Deere, perhaps they went a bit too far in enforcing their licenses.  The threat of unfavorable legislation and criticism from customers probably caused John Deere to walk back their stance on prohibition of diagnostic tools to allow self-repairs.  Hopefully, the agreement between John Deere and AFBF has found a reasonable middle ground that benefits all parties.

 

 

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Tags: Right-to-Repair
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