Did you know that the “wise old owl” saying is a myth? Generally speaking, owls are no wiser than other birds of prey. In fact, other bird species like crows and parrots have shown greater cognitive abilities than the owl. An owl’s anatomy also helps dispel the myth because most of the space on an owl’s head is occupied by their large eyes, leaving little room for a brain.
This week’s Ag Law Harvest brings you EPA bans, Ohio case law, USDA announcements, and federal case law which could make your head spin almost as far as an owl’s.
EPA banning use of chlorpyrifos on food crops. The EPA announced that it will stop the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on all food to better protect producers and consumers. In its final rule released on Wednesday, the EPA is revoking all “tolerances” for chlorpyrifos. Additionally, the EPA will issue a Notice of Intent to Cancel under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) to cancel all registered food uses of chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used for a variety of agricultural uses, including soybeans, fruit and nut trees, broccoli, cauliflower, and other row crops, in addition to non-food uses. The EPA’s announcement comes in response to the Ninth Circuit’s order directing the EPA to issue a final rule in response to a petition filed by opponents to the use of chlorpyrifos. The petition requested that the EPA revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances because those tolerances were not safe, particularly because of the potential negative effects the insecticide has on children. For more information about chlorpyrifos and the EPA’s final rule, visit the EPA’s website.
Trusts aren’t to be used as shields. An Ohio appeals court recently reinforced the concept that under Ohio law, trusts are not be used as a way to shield a person’s assets from creditors. Recently, a plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a bank alleging breach of contract and conversion, among other things. Plaintiff, an attorney and real estate developer, claimed that the bank removed money from his personal account and a trust account in violation of Ohio law and the terms of the loan agreement between the parties. Prior to the lawsuit, plaintiff established a revocable trust for estate planning purposes and to acquire and develop real estate. This dispute arose from a $200,000 loan from the bank to the plaintiff to help establish a restaurant. A provision of the loan agreement, known as the “Right to Setoff” provision, allowed the bank to “setoff” or effectively garnish all accounts the plaintiff had with the bank. The setoff provision explicitly prohibited any setoff from any IRA or trust accounts “for which setoff would be prohibited by law.” Plaintiff made all monthly payments but failed to make the final balloon payment on the loan. Plaintiff argued that the bank broke the loan contract and violated Ohio law by taking funds from the trust account to pay off the remaining balance of the loan. The court disagreed. The court noted that under Ohio law, a settlor’s property in a revocable trust is subject to the claims of the settlor’s creditors. A settlor is a person who creates or contributes property to a trust. In this case, plaintiff was the creator, settlor, and sole beneficiary of the revocable trust. Because of that, the court concluded the bank did not violate Ohio law when using the trust account to setoff the balance of the loan. Additionally, the court found that the bank did not violate the terms of the loan agreement because a setoff from the trust account was not prohibited by law. The court noted that Ohio law did not intend to allow a settlor who is also a beneficiary of the trust to use a trust as a “shield” against creditors. Although trusts can be a useful estate planning tool, there are limits to what a trust can do, as evidenced by this case.
Renewable fuel supporters file appeal on E15 summer sales. Corn farmers have joined forces with the biofuel industry (“Petitioners”) to ask the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for a new hearing on a ruling that struck down the EPA’s 2019 decision to allow year-round E15 sales. Earlier this year, the same D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that ruled the legislative text in the law supporting the biofuel mandate does not support the Trump administration’s regulatory waiver that allowed E15 to be sold during the summer months. In their petition, Petitioners argue that the D.C. Circuit Court made “significant legal errors.” Petitioners contend that the court should rehear the case because the intent behind the nation’s biofuel mandate is better served by the sale of E15 through the summer months because it is less volatile, has less evaporative emissions, and is overall better for the environment than other fuel sources. Petitioners also believe the court’s original decision deprives American drivers the choice of lower carbon emitting options at the gas pump.
Monsanto asks Supreme Court to review Ninth Circuit’s Roundup Decision. In its petition to the Supreme Court of the United States Monsanto Company (“Monsanto”) asked the Supreme Court to review the $25 million decision rendered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In that decision, the Ninth Circuit held that the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) did not preempt, or otherwise prevent, the plaintiff from raising California failure-to-warn claims on Roundup products and allowed plaintiff to introduce expert testimony that glyphosate causes cancer in humans. In trial, the plaintiff argued that Monsanto violated California’s labeling requirements by not including a warning on the Roundup label that glyphosate, which is found in Roundup, causes cancer. Monsanto argues that FIFRA expressly preempts any state law that imposes a different labeling or packaging requirement. Under FIFRA, Monsanto argues that the EPA did not require Monsanto to include a cancer warning on its Roundup label. Therefore, Monsanto maintains, that because California law differed from FIFRA, Monsanto was not required to follow California law when it came to labeling its Roundup product. Secondly, the Ninth Circuit allowed plaintiff to present expert evidence that glyphosate could cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the general public and that glyphosate caused the plaintiff’s lymphoma. Monsanto contends that the lower courts have distorted established precedent by allowing the expert testimony because the testimony is not based on generally accepted scientific principles and the scientific community has consistently found that glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans.
USDA working to protect nation’s dairy industry. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (“AMS”) has struck a deal with the European Union (“EU”) to satisfy the EU’s new import requirements on U.S. dairy. The EU will require new health certificates for U.S. dairy products exported to the EU to verify that the U.S. milk used for products exported to the EU is sourced from establishments regulated under the Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance or the USDA AMS Milk for Manufacturing Purposes. Officials representing the U.S. Dairy Export Council and International Dairy Foods Association claim that the deal will allow U.S. producers to comply with the EU’s mandates while also satisfying the concerns within the American dairy industry. The deal pushes back the EU’s deadline for new health certificates to January 15, 2022, to allow U.S. producers and exporters enough time to bring their products into compliance. The USDA also announcedthat it is providing around $350 million to compensate dairy producers who lost revenue because of market disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a change to the federal pricing formula under the 2018 farm bill. Additional details are available at the AMS Dairy Program website.
Tale as old as time. An Ohio appeals court recently decided a dispute between neighbors about a driveway easement. The driveway in dispute is shared by both neighbors to access their detached garages. Defendants used the driveway to access their garage and then the driveway extends past the Defendants’ garage onto Plaintiff’s property and ends at Plaintiff’s garage. The dispute arose after Defendants built a parking pad behind their garage and used parts of the driveway they never used before to access the parking pad. The original easement to the driveway was granted by very broad and general language in a 1918 deed, when the property was divided into two separate parcels. In 1997, a Perpetual Easement and Maintenance Agreement (“Agreement”) was entered into by the two previous property owners. The Agreement was much more specific than the 1918 deed and specifically showed how far the easement ran and what portions of the driveway could be used by both parties. The 1997 Agreement did not allow for Defendants to use the portion of the driveway necessary to access their parking pad. Plaintiffs argue that the 1997 Agreement controls the extent of the easement, whereas Defendants argue that the broad general language in the 1918 deed grants them authority to use the whole length of the driveway. The Court found the more specific 1997 Agreement to be controlling and ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs. The Court reasoned that the 1918 deed creates an ambiguity as to the extent of the easement and there is no way of knowing what the original driveway looked like or how it was used. The Court concluded that the 1997 Agreement does not contradict or invalidate the 1918 deed, rather the 1997 Agreement puts specific parameters on the existing easement and does not violate any Ohio law. The Defendants were found liable for trespass onto the Plaintiffs’ property and is expected to pay $27,500 in damages. The lesson to be learned from all of this? Make sure your easements are as specific and detailed as possible to ensure that all parties are in compliance with the law.
It’s been a busy spring for legal developments in pesticides and insecticides. Our last article summarized recent activity surrounding dicamba products. In today’s post we cover legal activity on glyphosate and chlorpyrifos.
Roundup award. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt another loss to Monsanto (now Bayer) on May 14, 2021, when the court upheld a $25.3 million award against the company in Hardeman v. Monsanto. The lower court’s decision awarded damages for personal injuries to plaintiff Edward Hardeman due to Monsanto’s knowledge and failure to warn him of the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure. Monsanto argued unsuccessfully that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempted the plaintiff’s claim that California’s Proposition 65 law required Monsanto to include a warning about Roundup’s carcinogenic risks on its label. That requirement, according to Monsanto, conflicted with FIFRA because the EPA had determined via a letter that a cancer warning would be considered “false and misleading” under FIFRA. The Ninth Circuit disagreed that the EPA letter preempted the California requirements.
The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the plaintiff’s expert testimony. Monsanto had challenged testimony from a pathologist whom it alleged was not qualified to speak as an expert. But the court agreed that the witness testimony met the standard that expert opinions be “reliably based” on epidemiological evidence.
Monsanto also challenged the damages themselves. The award in Hardeman included $20 million in punitive damages that the district court reduced from $75 million originally awarded by the jury. While $75 million seemed “grossly excessive,” the appellate court reasoned, $20 million did not, especially considering Monsanto’s reprehensibility, because evidence of the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate was knowable by Monsanto.
Roundup settlement. In a second Roundup case, a California district court last week rejected a motion to approve a $2 billion settlement by Monsanto (now Bayer) to a proposed class of users exposed to Roundup or diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who have not yet filed lawsuits. The offer by Bayer in Ramirez, et al. v. Monsanto Co. included legal services, compensation, research and assistance with non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, and changes on the Roundup label advising users of a link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but would require class members to waive their right to sue for punitive damages if they contract non-Hodgkin lymphoma and stipulate to the opinion of a seven-member science panel about whether Roundup causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The judge determined that the settlement would accomplish a lot for Bayer by reducing its litigation and settlement exposure, but it would greatly diminish the future settlement value of claims and “would accomplish far less for the Roundup users who have not been diagnosed with NHL (non-Hodgkin lymphoma)—and not nearly as much as the attorneys pushing this deal contend.” The court also determined that the benefits of the medical assistance and compensation components of the settlement, to last for four years, were greatly exaggerated and vastly overstated. The proposed stipulation to a science panel also received the court’s criticism. “The reason Monsanto wants a science panel so badly is that the company has lost the “battle of the experts” in three trials,” the court stated. Concluding that “mere tweaks cannot salvage the agreement,” the court denied the motion for preliminary approval and advised that a new motion would be required if the parties could reach a settlement that reasonably protects the interest of Roundup users not yet diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Bayer responded to the court’s rejection immediately with a “five-point plan to effectively address potential future Roundup claims.” The plan includes a new website with scientific studies relevant to Roundup safety; engaging partners to discuss the future of glyphosate-based producers in the U.S. lawn and garden market; alternative solutions for addressing Roundup claims including the possible use of an independent scientific advisory panel; reassessment of ongoing efforts to settle existing claims; and continuing current cases on appeal.
Chlorpyrifos. The insecticide chlorpyrifos also had its share of legal attention this spring. Chlorpyrifos was first registered back in 1965 by Dow Chemical but its use has dropped somewhat since then. Its largest producer now is Corteva, who announced in 2020 that it would end production of its Lorsban chlorpyrifos product in 2021. That’s good timing according to the strongly worded decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in late April that the EPA must either revoke or modify all food residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos within sixty days.
The plaintiffs in the case of League of United Latin American Citizens v. Regan originally requested a review of the tolerances in 2007 based on the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), which addresses pesticide residues in or on a food. FFDCA requires EPA to establish or continue a tolerance level for food pesticide residues only if the tolerance is safe and must modify or rescind a tolerance level that is not safe. Plaintiffs claimed the tolerances for chlorpyrifos are not safe based upon evidence of neurotoxic effects of the pesticide on children. They asked the EPA to modify or rescind the tolerances. The EPA denied the request, although that decision came ten years later in 2017 after the agency repeatedly refused to make a decision on the safety of the product. The Obama Administration had announced that it would ban chlorpyrifos, but the Trump Administration reversed that decision in 2017.
Plaintiffs objected to the EPA’s decision not to change or revoke chlorpyrifos tolerance, arguing that the agency should have first made a scientific finding on the safety of the product. The EPA again rejected the argument, which led to the Ninth Circuit’s recent review. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the EPA had wrongfully denied the petition, as it contained sufficient evidence indicating that a review of the chlorpyrifos tolerance levels was necessary. The EPA’s denial of the petition for review was “arbitrary and capricious,” according to the court. “The EPA has sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties,” the court stated.
More to come. While the spring held many legal developments in pesticide law, the rest of the year will see more decisions. The Roundup litigation is far from over, and the same can be said for dicamba. How will the EPA under the new administration handle pesticide review and registration, and the court's order to address chlorpyrifos tolerances? Watch here for these and other legal issues with pesticides that will outlive the spring.
All is quiet at the statehouse as the Ohio legislature continues on its summer recess, but here’s our gathering of other agricultural law news you may want to know:
Does Roundup cause cancer? A jury in California has determined that it’s possible. The jury awarded $289 million last Friday against Monsanto in the first of thousands of cases alleging that Monsanto should have warned users about Roundup’s cancer risk. The plaintiff argued that Monsanto has known for decades that the Roundup product could cause cancer but failed to warn consumers, while Monsanto claimed that more than 800 studies and reviews conclude that glyphosate itself does not cause cancer. Monsanto plans to appeal the award.
Pursuing a Bill of Rights for Lake Erie. The Toledoans for Safe Water submitted over 10,500 signatures last week on a petition proposing to amend the city’s charter to establish a bill of rights for Lake Erie. The proposed bill of rights would state that Lake Erie and its watershed possesses a right to exist, flourish and naturally evolve; that the people of Toledo have a right to a clean and healthy Lake Erie, a collective and individual right to self-government in their local community and a right to a system of government that protects their rights; and that any corporation or government that violates the rights of Lake Erie could be prosecuted by the city and held legally liable for fines and all harm caused. The effort is backed by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. If successful, the initiative would appear on the November ballot for Toledo residents.
EPA ordered to ban the sale of chlorpyrifos. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals late last week ordered the U.S. EPA within 60 days to cancel all registrations for chlorpyrifos, a pesticide first introduced by Dow and commonly used on crops and animals. The court held that there was no justification for a decision by previous EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt refusing to grant a petition to ban chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that the pesticide can cause neurodevelopmental damage in children. The court also discarded the agency’s argument that it could refuse to ban chlorpyrifos so based on a possible contradiction of evidence in the future. Both actions, said the court, placed the agency in direct violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The highest uses of chlorpyrifos are on cotton and corn crops and almond and fruit trees.
Highest award in Smithfield nuisance litigation raises responses. The third and largest jury award in a series of nuisance lawsuits in North Carolina yielded a $473.5 million award for plaintiffs claiming harm from hog farms owned by Smithfield. The verdict will reduce to $94 million due to a state law that caps punitive damages. Agricultural interests are claiming that the lawsuits circumvent state right to farm laws and are seeking state legislative responses. Opponents are also hoping to reverse a gag order issued by the court to impose communication restrictions on potential witnesses, parties and lawyers in the cases. The federal judge in the case, Hon. Earl Britt from the Eastern District of North Carolina, is stepping down due to health issues. Hon. David Faber of the Southern District of West Virginia will replace Judge Britt and will soon hear a fourth trial that targets a 7,100 head hog farm in Sampson County, North Carolina.
It’s official: no reporting of air emissions from animal waste. The U.S. EPA has posted a final rule clarifying that air emissions from animal waste at farms are exempt from federal regulations that require the reporting of air releases from hazardous wastes. The rule implements an order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and revisions in the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act enacted by Congress earlier this year. We reported on the court case and legislation earlier this year.