The Ag Law Harvest

By:Jeffrey K. Lewis, Attorney and Research Specialist, Agricultural & Resource Law Friday, August 20th, 2021
Enzo the Eurasian Eagle Owl staring

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.