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Nationwide, it seems as though “ag-gag” laws are being challenged and overturned left and right. “Ag-gag” is the term for laws that prevent undercover journalists, investigators, animal rights advocates, and other whistleblowers from secretly filming or recording at livestock facilities. “Ag-gag” also describes laws which make it illegal for undercover persons to use deception to obtain employment at livestock facilities. Many times, the laws were actually passed in response to under-cover investigations which illuminated conditions for animals raised at large industrial farms. Some of the videos and reports produced were questionable in nature—they either set-up the employees and the farms, or they were released without a broader context of farm operations. The laws were meant to protect the livestock industry from reporting that might be critical of their operations—obtained through deception and without context, or otherwise.
Here in Ohio, we do not have an ag-gag law; instead we have the Ohio Livestock Care Standards, which are rules for the care of livestock in the state. The rules are made by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which is made up of farmers, food safety experts, farmers’ organizations, veterinarians, the dean of the agriculture department from an Ohio college or university, consumers, and county humane society representatives. There are standards for the care of different species of livestock, as well as standards for euthanizing livestock, feeding and watering livestock, transporting livestock, etc. Violating the standards could lead to civil penalties. Part of the thinking behind the Livestock Care Standards was that by bringing together farmers, veterinarians, and animal welfare representatives, among others, all sides would be represented, and therefore ag-gag laws and deceptive reporting could be avoided. The laws regarding the Ohio Livestock Care Standards can be found here, and the regulations here.
Kansas law challenged
On December 4, 2018, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), along with other animal and food safety organizations, filed a complaint against the state of Kansas, arguing that the state’s ag-gag law is unconstitutional on freedom of speech grounds.
Kansas’ ag-gag law can be found in the Kansas Statutes, sections 47-1826, 47-1827, 47-1828 and 21-6604. The law, among other things, makes it illegal, “without the effective consent of the owner,” to “enter an animal facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or by any other means” with the “intent to damage the animal facility.” The law also makes it illegal for someone to conceal themselves in order to record conditions or to damage the facility. “Effective consent” cannot be obtained by “force, fraud, deception, duress, or threat,” meaning it is not permissible for an undercover whistleblower to apply for a job at an animal facility and work at the facility if they really intend to record and disseminate the conditions.
ALDF and their fellow plaintiffs argue that the Kansas ag-gag law violates the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. The plaintiffs argue that purpose of the Kansas law is to suppress certain kinds of political speech, namely the speech of animal rights activists and food safety organizations “because of their viewpoint and the content of their messages.” The plaintiffs assert that “[t]he law ensures only [the livestock] industry’s side of the debate” is heard. Furthermore, the plaintiffs argue that the Kansas law is overbroad in its attempt to limit freedom of speech, “prohibiti[ng] substantially more speech than the First Amendment permits.” The Kansas lawsuit is very similar to one in Iowa, where the judge recently overturned the state’s ag-gag statute.
Iowa law overturned
On January 9, 2019, James E. Gritzner, a U.S. District Court judge in the Southern District of Iowa found Iowa’s ag-gag law to be unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Like the complaint in Kansas, this lawsuit was initiated by ALDF and other groups against the state of Iowa. Gritzner’s decision is available here.
Iowa’s law, which, as of this writing is still available here, makes it a crime to “[o]btain access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses,” and/or “[m]ake a false statement or representation as part of an application or agreement to be employed at an agricultural production facility, if the person knows the statement to be false, and makes the statement with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized.”
Much like the Kansas lawsuit discussed above, the plaintiffs in this case argued that Iowa’s law was content-based, viewpoint-based, and overbroad, and thus violated the First Amendment right to free speech. Judge Gritzner agreed.
Judge Gritzner used precedent to explain that “a free speech challenge proceeds in three stages. First, the Court resolves whether the challenged statute implicates protected speech. If it does, the Court determines which level of scrutiny applies. Then, the Court applies the appropriate scrutiny and confirms whether the statute satisfies the applicable standard.”
In this case, Gritzner found that the speech being implicated, “false statements and misrepresentations,” was protected speech, citing the Supreme Court to make his point: “one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace.” In other words, even though the protected speech in this case consists of false statements, such speech is still protected under certain circumstances.
Secondly, Judge Gritzner weighed in on the issue of scrutiny. Here, it was a question of whether to apply strict scrutiny, which the plaintiffs argued should apply, or intermediate scrutiny, which the defendants favored. Strict scrutiny requires that the challenged law deals with a compelling state interest, and that the law is narrowly tailored to accomplish that interest. Intermediate scrutiny is a step down from strict scrutiny; it requires the law to serve an important government objective, and to be substantially related to realizing that objective. Gritzner reasoned that it didn’t matter which level of scrutiny applied, because the Iowa law did not pass either one of the scrutiny tests.
Finally, Gritzner explained why the Iowa statute did not satisfy either scrutiny standard. Here, the state of Iowa argued that the law was meant to protect the “state’s interests of private property and biosecurity.” Judge Gritzner noted that private property and biosecurity were not the only reasons for the statute—at least one state senator had been quoted as saying that the bill was meant to stop groups from giving “the agriculture industry a bad name.” In addition, Gritzner reasoned that these interests were not “compelling,” pointing to case law that found similar interests—protection to animals, people, and property—did not fall under the “compelling” category. Furthermore, Gritzner found that the statute was not “narrowly tailored,” because the language was not “actually necessary to protect perceived harms to property and biosecurity.” In other words, Gritzner thought it was a stretch to believe that someone giving a false statement or misrepresentation in order to access or become employed by an agricultural production facility is really related to property damage or biological harm. Gritzner also pointed out that Iowa has protected against such harms elsewhere in its statutes in “content neutral” language that does not affect freedom of speech. The judge did not spend much time discussing intermediate scrutiny, instead he explained that the Iowa law is simply too broad, harm is unlikely, and the need to prohibit the lies is small, which can be interpreted to mean that the law does not serve an important government objective.
Future not looking good for ag-gag laws
Several other states— including Idaho, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Utah, have passed ag-gag laws similar to the laws in Kansas and Iowa. However, the laws have also been overturned in several states. In January 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined most of Idaho’s ag-gag law violated the First Amendment. A federal district court in Utah also struck down Utah’s ag-gag law for violating freedom of speech. A similar lawsuit against a North Carolina law is also in progress. The North Carolina lawsuit will be an interesting one to watch since the statute applies to other property owners, not just those involved in agriculture. Time will tell whether the remaining state ag-gag laws meet constitutional muster. Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for any future developments.
We are full steam ahead in 2019, and so far we have held to our new year’s resolutions. However, we want to take a quick look in the rearview mirror. Ohio legislators passed a number of bills in 2018 that affect Ohio agriculture. They range from multi-parcel auction laws to broadband grants, and oil & gas tax exemptions to hunting licenses. Here are some highlights of bills that the Ohio General Assembly passed and former Governor Kasich signed in 2018.
- House Bill 500, titled “Change township law.” As mentioned in a previous blog post, the Ohio General Assembly made a number of generally minor changes to Ohio’s township laws with House Bill 500. The changes included, among other things, requiring a board of township trustees to select a chairperson annually, modifying how vacating township roads and name changes are carried out, allowing fees for appealing a zoning board decision, clarifying how a board can suspend a member of a zoning commission or board of appeals, and removing the requirement for limited home rule townships to submit a zoning amendment or resolution to a planning commission. To learn about more of the changes that were made, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 500 webpage here.
- House Bill 480, titled “Establish requirements for multi-parcel auctions.” The Ohio Department of Agriculture regulates auctions, and H.B. 480 gave ODA authority to regulate a new classification of auctions: the multi-parcel auction. Revised Code § 4707.01(Q) will define these as “any auction of real or personal property in which multiple parcels or lots are offered for sale in various amalgamations, including as individual parcels or lots, combinations of parcels or lots, and all parcels or lots as a whole.” For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 480 webpage here.
- House Bill 522, titled “Allow outdoor refreshment area to include F permit holders.” A municipality or township may create a “designated outdoor refreshment area” where people may walk around the area with their opened beer or liquor. Previously, only holders of certain D-class permits (bars, restaurants, and clubs) and A-class permits (alcohol manufacturers) could allow their patrons to partake in a designated open area. H.B. 522 will allow holders of an F-class liquor permit to also allow their patrons to roam in the designated area with an open container. F-class liquor permits are for festival-type events of a short duration. However, holders of either permits D-6 (allowing Sunday sales) or D-8 (allowing sales of growlers of beer or of tasting samples) will no longer be eligible for the open container exception. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 522 webpage, here.
- Senate Bill 51, titled “Facilitate Lake Erie shoreline improvement.” As mentioned in a previous blog post, the primary purpose of Senate Bill 51 was to add projects for Lake Erie shoreline improvement to the list of public improvements that may be financed by a special improvement district. S.B. 51 also instructed the Ohio Department of Agriculture (“ODA”) to establish programs to assist in phosphorous reduction in the Western Lake Erie Basin. This adds to the previous instructions given to ODA in S.B. 299 regarding the Soil and Water Phosphorous Program. S.B. 51 further provided funding for a number of projects, ranging from flood mitigation to MLS stadium construction. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s S.B. 51 webpage here.
- Senate Bill 299, titled “Finance projects for protection of Lake Erie and its basin.” Largely an appropriations bill to fund projects, S.B. 299 primarily targeted water quality projects and research. ODA received an additional $3.5 million to support county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin, plus $20 million to establish water quality programs under a Soil and Water Phosphorous Program. Further, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”) received an additional $10 million to support projects that divert dredging materials from Lake Erie. Stone Laboratory, a sea grant research program, received an additional $2.65 million. The bill also created a mentorship program called OhioCorps, and set aside money for grants to promote broadband internet access. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s S.B. 299 webpage here.
- Senate Bill 257, titled “Changes to hunting and fishing laws.” ODNR may now offer multi-year and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses to Ohio residents under S.B. 257. Further, the bill creates a resident apprentice senior hunting license and an apprentice senior fur taker permit, and removes the statutory limits on the number of these permits a person may purchase. The bill also creates a permit for a Lake Erie Sport Fishing District, which may be issued to nonresidents to fish in the portions of Lake Erie and connected waters under Ohio’s control. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s S.B. 257 webpage here.
- House Bill 225, titled “Regards plugging idle or orphaned wells.” H.B. 225 creates a reporting system where a landowner may notify ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources about idle and orphaned oil or gas wells. Upon notification, the Division must inspect the well within 30 days. After the inspection, the Division must determine the priority for plugging the well, and may contract with a third party to plug the well. To fund this, the bill increases appropriations to the Oil and Gas Well Fund, and increases the portion of the fund that must go to plugging oil and gas wells. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 225 webpage here.
- House Bill 430, titled “Expand sales tax exemption for oil and gas production property.” Certain goods and services directly used for oil and gas production have been exempted from sales and use taxes, and H.B. 430 clarifies what does and does not qualify for the exemption. Additionally, property used to control water pollution may qualify for the property, sales, and use tax exemptions if approved by ODNR as a qualifying property. H.B. 430 also extends the moratorium on licenses and transfers of licenses for fireworks manufacturers and wholesalers. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s H.B. 430 webpage here.
- Senate Bill 229, titled “Modify Board of Pharmacy and controlled substances laws.” The Farm Bill’s opening the door for industrial hemp at the federal level has led to a lot of conversations about controlled substances, which we addressed in a previous blog post. Once its changes take effect, Ohio’s S.B. 229 will remove the controlled substances schedules from the Ohio Revised Code, which involve the well-known numbering system of schedules I, II, III, IV, and V. Instead, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy will have rulemaking authority to create schedules and classify drugs and compounds. Prior to the removal of the schedules from the Revised Code, the Board of Pharmacy must create the new schedules by rule. S.B. 229 also mentions cannabidiols, and lists them as schedule V under the current system if the specific cannabidiol drug has approval from the Food and Drug Administration. For more information, visit the Ohio General Assembly’s S.B. 229 webpage here.
The end of 2018 effectively marked the end of the 132nd Ohio General Assembly, and 2019 marks the start of the 133rd Ohio General Assembly. Any pending bills from the 132nd General Assembly that were not passed will have to be reintroduced if legislators wish to proceed with those bills. Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for legal updates affecting agriculture from the Ohio General Assembly.
Less than a week into the administration of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a new approach to watersheds in distress has emerged. Director Dorothy Pelanda assumed the helm of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (“ODA”) earlier this week. (Read more about the new director below). By Tuesday, ODA had changed the status of the proposed watersheds in distress rules in the Register of Ohio to “To Be Refiled.”
Watersheds in Distress Proposed Rules “To Be Refiled”
The change in status of the proposed rules signals that ODA plans to change its earlier proposal. The Register of Ohio, which is where state agencies post rules and proposed rules, defines a proposed rule with a “To Be Refiled” status as one “that has been temporarily removed from JCARR consideration by the rule-filing agency.” Until a sponsoring agency acts, the proposed rule remains in the “To Be Refiled” status and off of the agenda of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (“JCARR”). As we mentioned in a previous blog post, JCARR was set to consider the controversial proposal at its January 22, 2019 meeting. However, the change in status of the proposed rules means that JCARR will not consider them until ODA takes further action. ODA may revise the proposal, refile as-is, take no action, or withdraw the proposal.
Readers may recall from a previous blog post that the Kasich administration sought to expand the number of watersheds designated as “in distress,” which would impose additional regulations and restrictions on farmers who apply manure and nutrients to the land. Further, the proposal would have required impacted farmers to submit a nutrient management plan to ODA, and ODA would have to audit at least 5 percent of those plans. ODA’s Soil and Water Conversation Division held a hearing on November 21st, and a number of stakeholders attended to provide comments. A summary report of the hearing is available here. Currently, the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed is the only watershed in Ohio subject to the additional requirements.
Dorothy Pelanda Assumes Directorship of Ohio Department of Agriculture
Director Pelanda steps into Governor Mike DeWine’s cabinet as the 39th Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. She served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2011 until the end of the previous General Assembly, and held leadership positions within the Republican caucus. Prior to her appointment to the Ohio House, Director Pelanda practiced law in Union County. She is a graduate of the University of Akron School of Law, Miami University, and Marysville High School. Director Pelanda is the first woman to serve as the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. For more information about Director Pelanda, visit ODA’s website here.
Written by: Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow
Welcome to 2019 from all of us at the OSU Extension Agricultural and Resource Law Program! With a new Congress, a new Ohio General Assembly, and a new slate of leaders atop Ohio’s executive offices, we are expecting a flurry of activity in the new year. Our resolution this year is to keep you in the know about agricultural law news, and maybe find some time to exercise.
Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:
U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear state livestock standard lawsuits. In a previous blog post, we noted that California and Massachusetts had adopted laws that would require sellers of certain meats and eggs to follow heightened animal care standards in order to sell those products within California or Massachusetts. Thirteen states, led by Indiana, quickly sued Massachusetts to stop its law from taking effect. Missouri led another group of thirteen states in suing California.
Indiana and Missouri had attempted to have their cases brought directly before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court has “original jurisdiction” over claims between states. After the states filed their arguments with the Supreme Court, the justices asked the U.S. Solicitor General whether he believed these cases were appropriate for the Court’s original jurisdiction. The Solicitor General filed briefs in the Indiana v. Massachusetts and Missouri v. California maters, and suggested that the Supreme Court should not exercise original jurisdiction because, among other things, the states lack the proper standing to sue. Here, this argument essentially means that the resulting harm from enforcement of the statutes would not harm the states as states, but only some of their citizens, and that those citizens may still sue California or Massachusetts for their individualized harm.
The Supreme Court took the position of the Solicitor General and denied the requests of Indiana and Missouri to have the cases brought before the Court. Any further action will have to be taken through the lower courts. For more information about the Missouri v. California matter as argued to the Supreme Court, click here. For more information about the Indiana v. Massachusetts matter as argued to the Supreme Court, click here.
USDA not required to adopt Obama-era “Farmer Fair Practice Rules,” according to federal appeals court. In December 2016, the USDA published the Farmer Fair Practices Rules as an interim final rule, and published two amendments to its rules that deal with the Packers and Stockyards Act. The amendments addressed the ease of bringing a lawsuit for unfair and uncompetitive business practices under the Packers and Stockyards Act. The rule was set to take effect at the end of February 2017, although the amendments were only proposals that had not fully gone through the required notice and comment process. In early February 2017, citing the President’s regulatory freeze, and arguing that the rule would cause more litigation and confusion, the USDA postponed, and ultimately withdrew, the rule. The USDA also did not take action on the two proposed amendments. The Organization for Competitive Markets sued to stop the USDA from withdrawing the interim final rule, and to compel the USDA to promulgate the two amendments, arguing that the 2008 Farm Bill requires action by the USDA.
On December 21, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied the Organization for Competitive Markets’ request for review. The court explained that the USDA did not fail to fulfill its mandate, describing Congress’s language as ambiguous. Further, the court said that the USDA’s withdrawal of the interim final rule followed the proper notice and comment procedures. Ultimately the court believed that Congress has been monitoring this issue and if Congress wishes for a more specific action, then Congress should act. The court’s opinion in Organization for Competitive Markets v. USDA, No. 17-3723 (8th Cir. 2018) is available here.
Funding for National Weather Service and National Algal Bloom Program receives President’s signature. On Monday, January 7th, President Trump signed Senate Bill 2200, which passed during the previous Congress. The bill increases funding for the National Weather Service’s agriculture related weather monitoring and forecasting from $26.5 million in 2019 to $28.5 million by 2023. The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the research arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will see an increase in funding from $136.5 million in 2019 to $154 million by 2023. The bill also instructs NOAA to “plan the procurement of future data sources and satellite architectures,” essentially instructing NOAA to think about cost-effective ways to upgrade weather monitoring systems both on the ground and in space. The National Integrated Drought Information System will also see an increase in funding from $13.5 million this year to $14.5 million by 2023. The program is to use some of the funding to “develop a strategy for a national coordinated soil moisture monitoring network” within the next year. Finally, the bill also reauthorizes $20.5 million each year through 2023 for relief from hypoxia or harmful algal blooms “of national significance,” which the bill defines as “a hypoxia or harmful algal bloom event that has had or will likely have a significant detrimental environmental, economic, subsistence use, or public health impact on an affected state.” For the text of the act, visit Congress’s webpage here.
Ohio Case Law Update
- Ohio Power Citing Board cannot extend construction certificate for wind farm by simple motion, but must follow amendment process, according to the Ohio Supreme Court. Black Fork Wind Energy filed an application with the Ohio Power Citing Board (“the board”) to construct a wind farm in Crawford and Richland Counties in 2011, and the board approved the application in January 2012. Black Fork had five years, until January 2017, to begin construction on the project. The project was delayed due to a lawsuit challenging the project, and Black Fork sought an additional two years to begin construction. The board granted Black Fork’s motion without a full application to amend and investigation. The board argued that it regularly grants such extensions and that extensions do not amount to an “amendment” that would require an application because an extension is not “a proposed change to the facility.” The majority of the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed, and held that the board acted improperly. Because the commencement of construction was a term in the certificate, granting an extension amounts to an amendment in the certificate. As such, the board should not have acted on the request without requiring an application for amendment and investigation. The Court reversed the order and remanded the issue back for further proceedings. Justices Fischer and O’Donnell dissented, arguing that the Court should defer to the board in how it reads “amendment” under Ohio Revised Code § 4906.07(B). For the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion from In re application of Black Ford Wind Energy, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5206, click here.
- Creditors must first seek payment of unpaid bills from estate of deceased spouse before attempting to collect from a surviving spouse, according to the Ohio Supreme Court. In Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, Mr. Robert Bell received care at a nursing home operated by Embassy Healthcare. Embassy sent a letter for collection to his wife, Mrs. Bell, six months and three days after he had passed away, but no estate for Mr. Bell had been opened. In Ohio, creditors have six months to request an estate administrator be appointed in order to collect a debt from an estate, but Embassy did not make such a request. Since it missed the six month statute of limitations, Embassy tried to seek collection from Mrs. Bell under Ohio’s “necessaries” law, as provided in Ohio Revised Code § 3103.03. This law requires spouses to support their spouse with money, property, or labor if their spouse cannot do so on their own; however, the Ohio Supreme Court has said that a person is responsible for their own debts first, and that under this statute their spouse will only be liable if that person cannot pay for their debts. In this case, the Ohio Supreme Court said that Embassy had to seek payment from Mr. Bell’s estate before it could require payment from his spouse. Since the statute of limitations had run to bring a claim against Mr. Bell’s estate, Embassy would be unable to demonstrate that Mr. Bell’s estate could not cover his personal debts. Therefore, Embassy would not be able to prove an essential requirement of Ohio’s necessaries law, and cannot recover from his spouse. For the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion in Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4912, click here.
- Trial court may determine width of easement as a question of fact, and will not be reversed by appellate court unless the evidence shows it clearly lost its way, according to Ohio Court of Appeals for the 7th District. A property owner signed an express easement to a neighbor so that the neighbor could cross the property owner’s land to access the public road. The written easement did not specify the width of the easement, but the neighbor cleared a path approximately 10 feet wide. The property owner eventually sold the property, and the new owner laid gravel on the path from the public road to their garage, and the neighbor extended the gravel all the way to his own property. Disputes later arose regarding the easement, and the neighbor sued the new property owners for breach of easement, and sought a declaration that the easement was thirty feet wide. Ohio case law allows trial courts to establish the dimensions of an easement if the writing does not specify any dimensions if the trial court examines: 1) the language of the granting document, 2) the context of the transaction, and 3) the purpose of the easement. The trial court found the easement to be ten feet wide. The neighbor appealed, but the Seventh District found the trial court’s decision to be reasonable given the evidence and Ohio law. Since the width of an easement is a question of fact, an appellate court will not reverse the trial court absent evidence that the trial court clearly lost its way given the weight of the evidence. For the Seventh Districts’ opinion in Cliffs and Creek, LLC v. Swallie, 2018-Ohio-5410 (7th Dist.), click here.