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Well, it’s been a while since we’ve written about the Waters of the United States (WOTUS), so everyone had to know we were overdue for WOTUS news!
On December 11, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers announced the Trump Administration’s so-called “straightforward” new definition of WOTUS under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Publication of the proposed rule was delayed due to the federal government shutdown in December and January. The proposed rule was finally published in the Federal Register on February 14, 2019. Interested parties can comment on the proposed WOTUS rule until April 15, 2019. Information on how to comment can be found here, and the proposed rule in its entirety can be found here.
Out with the old WOTUS…
The new definition would replace the 2015 definition of WOTUS promulgated under the Obama Administration. The 2015 definition is codified at 33 CFR 328. The 2015 definition defined waters of the United States as:
- All waters which are currently used, or were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide;
- All interstate waters including interstate wetlands;
- All other waters such as intrastate lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, or natural ponds, the use, degradation or destruction of which could affect interstate or foreign commerce including any such waters:
- Which are or could be used by interstate or foreign travelers for recreational or other purposes; or
- From which fish or shellfish are or could be taken and sold in interstate or foreign commerce; or
- Which are used or could be used for industrial purpose by industries in interstate commerce;
- All impoundments of waters otherwise defined as waters of the United States under the definition;
- Tributaries of waters identified in paragraphs (a) (1) through (4) of this section;
- The territorial seas;
- Wetlands adjacent to waters (other than waters that are themselves wetlands) identified in paragraphs (a) (1) through (6) of this section.
- Waters of the United States do not include prior converted cropland. Notwithstanding the determination of an area’s status as prior converted cropland by any other Federal agency, for the purposes of the Clean Water Act, the final authority regarding Clean Water Act jurisdiction remains with the EPA.
The 2015 definition also noted that “[w]aste treatment systems, including treatment ponds or lagoons designed to meet requirements of CWA…are not waters of the United States” (emphasis added).
...In with the new WOTUS
The Trump Administration’s new proposed definition of WOTUS would make significant changes to the definition listed above. Under the new proposed rule, section (a) of §328.3 would define waters of the United States as:
- Waters which are currently used, or were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including the territorial seas and waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide;
- Tributaries of waters identified in paragraph (a)(1) of this section;
- Ditches that satisfy any of the conditions identified in paragraph (a)(1) of this section, ditches constructed in a tributary or that relocate or alter a tributary as long as those ditches also satisfy the conditions of the tributary definition, and ditches constructed in an adjacent wetland as long as those ditches also satisfy the conditions of the tributary definition;
- Lakes and ponds that satisfy any of the conditions identified in paragraph (a)(1) of this section, lakes and ponds that contribute perennial or intermittent flow to a water identified in paragraph (a)(1) of this section in a typical year either directly or indirectly through a water(s) identified in paragraphs (a)(2) through (6) of this section or through water features identified in paragraph (b) of this section so long as those water features convey perennial or intermittent flow downstream, and lakes and ponds that are flooded by a water identified in paragraphs (a)(1) through (5) of this section in a typical year;
- Impoundments of waters identified in paragraphs (a)(1) through (4) and (6) of this section; and
- Adjacent wetlands to waters identified in paragraphs (a) (1) through (5) of this section.
Every other type of water in this proposed definition relates back to the waters described in (1), which the EPA describes as “traditional navigable waters.” For example, tributaries that are WOTUS would be those bodies of water that empty into or connect to traditional navigable waters. Similarly, lakes and ponds are WOTUS under the definition if they are traditional navigable waters themselves, or if they flow regularly into traditional navigable waters. An EPA fact sheet, available here, is very helpful in understanding what is included under the proposed WOTUS definition. It describes the six proposed categories of WOTUS in layman’s terms, and provides examples of bodies of water that fall under each category.
The newly proposed rule also greatly expands the list of waters that are not waters of the United States in section (b):
- Waters or water features that are not identified in paragraphs (a) through (6) of this section;
- Groundwater, including groundwater drained through subsurface drainage systems;
- Ephemeral features and diffuse stormwater run-off, including directional sheet flow over upland;
- Ditches that are not identified in paragraph (a)(3) of this section;
- Prior converted cropland;
- Artificially irrigated areas, including fields flooded for rice or cranberry growing, that would revert to upland should application of irrigation water to that area cease;
- Artificial lakes and ponds constructed in upland (including water storage reservoirs, farm and stock watering ponds, and log cleaning ponds) which are not identified in paragraph (a)(4) or (a)(5) of this section;
- Water-filled depressions created in upland incidental to mining or construction activity, and pits excavated in upland for the purpose of obtaining fill, sand, or gravel;
- Stormwater control features excavated or constructed in upland to convey, treat, infiltrate or store stormwater run-off;
- Wastewater recycling structures constructed in upland, such as detention, retention and infiltration basins and ponds, and groundwater recharge basins; and
- Waste treatment systems.
Notable differences between 2015 rule and proposed rule
Just glancing at the two rules, it is obvious that there are major differences in how WOTUS is defined. EPA has a useful fact sheet (highly recommended reading) outlining the “key proposed changes” and how they compare to the 2015 WOTUS rule, as well as to the pre-2015 WOTUS rule. Overall, it appears that the number of water bodies considered WOTUS would decrease under the proposed rule. EPA argues that limiting the number of waters classified as WOTUS would give more power to the states to regulate waters as they see fit.
One major change is that under the proposed rule, tributaries that are “ephemeral” (meaning they’re not around for a great deal of time, and/or may be there because of rainfall or snowmelt, etc.), are not considered to be WOTUS. Similarly, the number of ditches considered to be WOTUS would decrease under the new rule. Upland ditches and ephemeral ditches would no longer fall under WOTUS. The number of wetlands considered WOTUS would also take a hit under the new rule. Wetlands would either have to “abut” other WOTUS or “have a direct hydrological surface connection” to WOTUS in a “typical year” to fall under the new definition. Furthermore, wetlands would no longer be considered to be “adjacent,” and therefore connected to WOTUS, if they are “physically separated from jurisdictional waters by a berm, dike, or other barrier.” Finally, you guessed it— the number of lakes and ponds considered WOTUS would also be reduced, since they would no longer connect through “adjacent” wetlands.
It’s important to remember that this new WOTUS rule is not currently effective—they are just proposed rules, open to public comment. In the meantime, due to litigation, what qualifies as WOTUS depends on which state you live in, as we discussed in Harvest posts here and here. EPA has a map depicting which definition of WOTUS currently applies where—in some states, the 2015 rule applies, and in others the pre-2015 rule applies. Obama’s 2015 rule applies in Ohio at this time. If the proposed rule makes it through the rulemaking process and goes into effect, it will replace the 2015 and pre-2015 rules, and barring any other lawsuits, will apply nationwide. The ultimate implementation of this rule is anything but certain; changes and challenges to the rule are likely to occur. The Ag Law Blog will keep readers updated on all the WOTUS discussion yet to come.
The answer to the question in the title is still ‘it depends,’ but the answer is more likely yes when the barn is also a winery. A recent court decision found that a barn in Medina County where weddings occur qualifies for the agricultural zoning exemption because of the barn’s use for wine production, marketing, and sales.
The decision represents the culmination of a battle between Medina County’s Litchfield Township and Forever Blueberry Barn, LLC that began in 2015. The township filed suit that year, alleging that Forever Blueberry Barn was operating a rental facility for wedding receptions in violation of the township zoning ordinance. At first, the trial court sided with the township and issued an injunction; however, Forever Blueberry Barn was able to lift that injunction by convincing the trial court that the agricultural zoning exemption’s vinting and viticulture provisions apply.
The first time the case went to the Ninth District Court of Appeals, the township won a brief victory when the appellate court ordered the trial court to review its decision and determine specifically whether or not the viticulture exception applied to the barn in question. Essentially, the court of appeals believed that the trial court was convinced that the exemption should apply, but the trial court’s responsibility is to also explain why.
The second time on appeal, which resulted in the decision just recently issued, the Ninth District believed that the lower court appropriately examined and applied the agricultural zoning exemption’s vinting and viticulture provisions. The Ninth District relied on case law from the Ohio Supreme Court instructing lower courts to “liberally construe” exemptions from restrictive zoning provisions. The agricultural zoning exemption in Ohio Revised Code § 519.21 qualifies as an exemption from restrictive zoning provisions. Specifically, it exempts “buildings or structures that are used primarily for vinting and selling wine and that are located on land any part of which is used for viticulture.” That case, which is cited as Terry v. Sperry, 2011-Ohio-3364, is available here.
One of the big issues the second time on appeal involved what is known as the burden of proof. The township argued that the barn owner had to prove that the barn’s primary use was vinting and selling wine by clear and convincing evidence. This is a fairly high standard in civil cases, and courts often reserve the higher standard for accusations of things such as fraud or breach of fiduciary duties. Essentially, the township wanted to see receipts and written business plans that the barn owner did not have.
However, the court said that determining the barn’s primary use must only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, which asks simply whether it is more likely that the barn was used primarily for vinting rather than for some other purpose.
Here, the court was persuaded by testimony of the barn’s owner that the barn was primarily used for vinting and selling wine. The member’s testimony included statements that:
- Part of the barn will be used as a tasting room where wine will be sold directly to the public during established business hours;
- The barn itself may be rented out for private events, including weddings, on the condition that a certain quantity of wine is purchased for the event;
- Grapevines had been planted on the property and had started producing mature grapes.
As to this last point, the court noted that even one grapevine is sufficient to count as the growing of grapes. The court again cited the Ohio Supreme Court’s Terry v. Sperry decision, which said that there is no minimum number of vines needed for a farm to qualify as engaging in viticulture.
It is important to note that this decision in Litchfield Twp. v. Forever Blueberry was not unanimous. One judge dissented, believing that the primary use of the barn is as an event venue, with vinting activities being merely peripheral. This dissent demonstrates the continued lack of a consensus on the application of this statute to wedding barns, even in cases with evidence of wine making activities.
What are our main takeaways from this case?
- There is still no consensus on whether wedding barns are exempt from township zoning.
- One producing grapevine can be sufficient to establish a viticulture activity.
- Renting out barns for events must still be secondary to the barn’s vinting use.
The case is cited as Litchfield Twp. Bd. of Trustees v. Forever Blueberry Barn, L.L.C., 2019-Ohio-322 (9th Dist.), and the full text of the decision is available HERE.
We can’t say that Lake Erie is back in the news, because lately it hasn’t left the news. However, there is a new lawsuit in federal court that seeks further action from either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) or the Ohio EPA regarding Lake Erie water quality. Filed on February 7, 2019 by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (“ELPC”) and the Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, this new lawsuit alleges that the U.S. EPA improperly signed off on action taken by the Ohio EPA to designate Lake Erie as an impaired water body without implementing a Total Maximum Daily Load (“TMDL”) to restrict discharges such as agricultural runoff. The plaintiffs weren’t necessarily unhappy about the designation, but they were not happy about the lack of a TMDL.
Designating a waterway as impaired indicates low water quality, and triggers requirements to take action to improve water quality. A state must classify its waterways, and that classification guides the selection of which types of regulations to impose and the priority of fixing a waterway. The Ohio EPA’s designation of Lake Erie as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act was motivated by a previous lawsuit brought by the ELPC. In that lawsuit, a federal court ordered the U.S. EPA to review the Ohio EPA’s compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, which is something the plaintiffs in this new case want the court to order again. That case remains pending, and is cited as Environmental Law and Policy Center v. U.S. EPA, Case No. 17-cv-1514 (N.D. Ohio).
The plaintiffs allege that the new designation alone is not enough, and that the Ohio EPA must take more action. The complaint in the new lawsuit alleges that the Ohio EPA must establish a TMDL for western Lake Erie. Under the federal Clean Water Act, TMDLs identify the maximum amounts of a pollutant that a body of water can handle in order to meet water quality standards. The U.S. EPA describes these as a “starting point or planning tool for restoring water quality” that states often use as targets when crafting comprehensive plans to attain water quality. The complaint alleges that the Ohio EPA must prioritize creating a TMDL for western Lake Erie, but the Ohio EPA has said that it hopes to pursue an alternative approach to water quality attainment without the need for a TMDL. The plaintiffs do not believe that this is enough.
But why then is the new lawsuit against the U.S. EPA, and not the Ohio EPA? Congress granted the U.S. EPA oversight over water quality for federally navigable waters, or Waters of the United States, which include Lake Erie. The complaint alleges that by approving Ohio’s designation of Lake Erie without a plan and timeline to reach water quality standards, the U.S. EPA made an improper and arbitrary decision under the federal Clean Water Act. The plaintiffs want the U.S. EPA to rescind its approval of the Ohio EPA’s action. After this, the U.S. EPA would have to require the Ohio EPA to submit a new binding plan to bring Lake Erie into attainment with water quality standards, or the U.S. EPA can decide that Ohio has refused to submit a plan and exercise its authority to create its own plan for Ohio. The complaint also seeks an award of attorney’s fees and costs to cover the expenses incurred by the plaintiffs in bringing the lawsuit.
Click HERE to view the complaint. The case is cited as Environmental Law & Policy Center v. U.S. EPA, Case No. 3:19-cv-00295 (N.D. Ohio). Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for more updates on litigation involving Lake Erie.
Lake Erie once again made headlines when the Ohio Supreme Court recently decided that a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” (LEBOR) initiative could be placed on the Toledo ballot on February 26, 2019. The decision raised alarm in Ohio’s agricultural community and fears that, if passed, the measure will result in litigation for farmers in the Lake Erie watershed.
The OSU Extension Agricultural and Resource Law Program took a close look at LEBOR. Specifically, we wanted to know:
- What does Toledo’s Lake Erie Bill of Rights petition mean?
- What does the petition language say?
- What happened in the legal challenges to keep the petition off the ballot?
- Have similar efforts been successful, and if not, why not?
- Who has rights in Lake Erie?
- What rights do business entities have?
We examine all of these questions, plus a number of frequently asked questions, in a new format called “In the Weeds.” While many of our readers know of our blog posts and law bulletins, explaining this issue required something different. Using “In the Weeds” is a way for us to dig into a current legal issue more in depth.
For answers to the questions above and more, CLICK HERE to view the new “In the Weeds: The Lake Erie Bill of Rights Ballot Initiative.”
Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate
The Ohio Supreme Court recently decided that a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” initiative could be placed before Toledo residents in a special election on February 26, 2019. The Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) is a proposed amendment to the Toledo City Charter. Josh Abernathy, an opponent to the initiative, brought the lawsuit seeking a “writ of prohibition”—meaning he wanted the Ohio Supreme Court to determine that the Lucas County Board of Elections must remove LEBOR from the special election ballot.
The Supreme Court began its analysis in the case by explaining that in order to obtain a writ of prohibition in an election case, the party bringing suit must prove all of the following:
- The board of elections exercised quasi-judicial power,
- The exercise of that power was unlawful, and
- The party bringing suit has no adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.
The Supreme Court examined the three elements in reverse order. The Court quickly answered the third element in the affirmative—reasoning that because the election was so imminent, Abernathy did “not have an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law,” because any other suit, such as an injunction, would not be finished prior to the election.
The Supreme Court determined that the second element was not satisfied. The Court reasoned that the “exercise of power” was not “unlawful,” because “a board of elections has no legal authority to review the substance of a proposed charter amendment and has no discretion to block the measure from the ballot based on an assessment of its suitability.” In doing so, the Supreme Court pointed to past cases it had decided, as well as the language in Article XVIII, Section 9 of the Ohio Constitution, which must be read with Section 8, both provided above. Section 9 says that a charter amendment can “be submitted to” the voters “by a two-thirds vote of the legislative authority,” as well as through a petition signed by 10 percent of the voters in the municipality. Then, as is explained above, the board of elections must pass an ordinance to include the proposed amendment on the ballot. After that, the Supreme Court found, based on precedent and the language of the Constitution, the only responsibility of the board of elections is to put the charter amendment on the ballot—the board has no other authority.
Finally, the Ohio Supreme Court concluded that since the second element was not met, there was no reason to address the first element—whether or not “the board’s exercise of authority was quasi-judicial.” Abernathy also argued that the board of elections should not have put LEBOR on the ballot due to the doctrine of claim preclusion—meaning that since the Court had already decided a case concerning LEBOR, the board should not have the power to place it on the ballot afterwards. The Supreme Court disagreed, pointing once again to the language in the Ohio Constitution, which effectively says that “the board had no power to keep the proposed charter amendment off the ballot for any reason, including claim preclusion.” In sum, the Supreme Court decided that based on a reading of case law and the Ohio Constitution, the board of elections in Toledo had no option other than placing LEBOR on the ballot. This outcome does not necessarily mean that if Toledo passes LEBOR, it is a done deal; if and when it passes, courts could determine it is unconstitutional and/or beyond the scope of the city’s power.
The case is cited as State ex rel. Abernathy v. Lucas Cty. Bd. Of Elections, Slip Opinion No. 2019-Ohio-201, and the opinion is available at https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2019/2019-Ohio-201.pdf.
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.
Written by: Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, and Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate
The end of the year is here, and there is a flurry of news coming across our desks. We wish you a prosperous 2019 and look forward to keeping you up to date on what is happening in the agricultural law world.
Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:
GMO labeling rule released by USDA. The Agricultural Marketing Service posted the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard rule on the Federal Register, located here, on Friday, December 21, 2018. According to the rule page, the rule “establishes the new national mandatory bioengineered (BE) food disclosure standard (NDFDS or Standard).” The standards require foods labeled for retail sale to disclose certain information either through a new symbol, inclusion of a QR code that provides a link to a website, including a phone number to text for more information, or including the term “bioengineered” on the label. The rule defines bioengineered food as food that contains genetic material modified through changing DNA or other modifications that could not be done through conventional breeding or otherwise found in nature. Exemptions for foods served in restaurants and very small food manufacturers with gross receipts of less than $2.5 million limit the rule’s applicability. The rule will take effect on February 19, 2019, with compliance becoming mandatory by January 1, 2022. For more information, or to see the new label, visit the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s BE Disclosure webpage here.
Farm Bill provides good news for dairy farmers. Under the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Report, available here, the Margin Protection Program (MPP) was renamed the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC). The name was not the only change made to the program. Per the USDA, the program “is a voluntary risk management program… offer[ing] protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.” The Farm Bill lowers the premium rates for risk coverage. Furthermore, the bill adds coverage levels of $8.50, $9.00 and $9.50 for a dairy operation’s “first five million pounds of participating production.” If a farmer covers his first five million pounds at $8.50, $9.00, or $9.50, he then has the option to cover anything in excess of five million pounds at coverage levels of $4.00-$8.00 (in fifty cent increments). Another notable change—the Farm Bill allows farmers who maintain “their coverage decisions, including coverage level and covered production, through 2023,” to “receive a 25% discount on their premiums each year.” The DMC language can be found in section 1401 of the Farm Bill.
Missouri farmer pleads guilty to wire fraud for falsely marketing grains as organic. Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Randy Constant with wire fraud, alleging that since 2008 he and his associates improperly marketed millions of dollars worth of grain as certified organic while knowing that it was not. Mr. Constant operated certified organic farms as part of his larger operation, but “at least 90% of the grain being sold was actually either entirely non-organic or a mix,” according to the information filed by the federal prosecutors. Federal prosecutors sought full restitution of approximately $128 million for victims/purchasers, in addition to the forfeiture of 70 pieces of equipment, ranging from pickup trucks to combines and semi-trucks to GPS yield mapping systems.
On December 20, 2018, Mr. Constant entered a plea of guilty. The magistrate filed a report indicating that Mr. Constant understood what his plea meant, and that the one count of wire fraud is punishable by (1) a maximum of 20 years in prison, (2) a maximum of 3 years of supervised release following prison, and (3) a maximum fine of $250,000. Further, Mr. Constant will be barred from receiving USDA benefits, including those from USDA Farm Service Agency, Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program, and Federal Crop Insurance Program. Additionally, Mr. Constant could face restitution to all victims/purchasers of approximately $128 million. For more information, search for United States v. Constant, 6:18-cr-02034-CJW-MAR (N.D. Iowa 2018).
Japan set to lower tariffs on agricultural commodities from TPP members and the EU. The United States exports a significant share of the beef, pork, wheat, and other farm products imported by Japan. However, two major trade agreements set to take effect early in 2019 will result in reduced tariffs for imports into Japan from a number of other countries. The United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but 11 other nations continued to pursue the agreement, which is set to begin taking effect at the start of 2019. On February 1st, the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement takes effect, and will result in lowered tariffs for a number of agricultural products, especially for beef. Under the new agreements, chilled or frozen beef from EU and TPP exporters will face a 26.6% tariff, while tariffs on American beef will remain at 38.5%. Prepared pork from EU and TPP exporters will face a 13.3% tariff, while tariffs on American pork will remain at 20%. For more information on Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s TPP webpage here. For more information on Japan’s agreement with the European Union, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s EU agreement webpage here.
Ohio Case Law Update
- Signing a mortgage is enough to bind signatory despite not being named in the mortgage if the signature demonstrates an intent to be bound by the mortgage. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Ohio Supreme Court to clarify “whether a mortgage is invalid and unenforceable against the interest of a person who has initialed, signed, and acknowledged the mortgage agreement but who is not identified by name in the body of the agreement.” In this case, Vodrick and Marcy Perry filed for bankruptcy. At issue was a piece of property subject to a promissory note and mortgage. The bank held the promissory note, which was signed and initialed by Mr. Perry only, while the mortgage was signed by both Mr. and Mrs. Perry. The Ohio Supreme Court held that “the failure to identify a signatory by name in the body of a mortgage agreement does not render the agreement unenforceable as a matter of law against that signatory.” The focus is on the signor’s intent to be bound by the mortgage, even if the mortgage itself does not mention the signor by name. The case is cited as Bank of New York Mellon v. Rhiel, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5087, and the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.
- Specific reference in a deed to a mineral interest preserves the interest despite Marketable Title Act when the reference includes the type of interest created and to whom the interest was granted. Generally, Ohio’s Marketable Title Act allows a landowner with an unbroken chain of title for forty years or more to take an interest in the land free and clear of other claims that arose before the “root of title.” However, there is an exception where prior interests will still apply if there is a specific identification of a recorded title transaction, rather than a general reference to an interest. In this case, Nick and Flora Kuhn conveyed a 60-acre tract of land in 1915, but retained an interest in royalties from any oil and gas extracted from the parcel, specifically naming Nick and Flora Kuhn and their heirs and assigns. Then in 1969, the Blackstone family purchased the 60-acre parcel, and received a deed that included language “[e]xcepting the one-half interest in oil and gas royalty previously excepted by Nick Kuhn, their [sic] heirs and assigns in the above described sixty acres.” The Blackstone family sought to quiet title and have the Kuhn heirs’ interest extinguished or deemed abandoned in 2012. The Ohio Supreme Court interpreted the language in the deed as sufficient to survive Ohio’s Marketable Title Act, which preserves the Kuhn heirs’ oil and gas interest that dates back to 1915. The case is cited as Blackstone v. Moore, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4959, and the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.