Raisins seizure wrong, jus­tices rule

The Supreme Court sides with a Cal­i­for­nia farmer who fought the tak­ing of his crop to prop up prices.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By David G. Sav­age

WASHINGTON — Strik­ing down one of the last New Deal- era farm pro­grams, the Supreme Court has sided with a Cal­i­for­nia raisin grower in his decade- long le­gal bat­tle over a fed­eral raisin board’s seizure of his crop to re­duce sup­ply and prop up prices.

In an 8- 1 de­ci­sion Mon­day, the court ruled that Marvin Horne must be paid in full for his crop — a de­ci­sion that bol­stered free mar­kets and prop­erty rights and could po­ten­tially crimp other gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion of busi­ness.

It struck down as un­con­sti­tu­tional one of the last farm pro­grams, spawned in the Great De­pres­sion, that had al­lowed grow­ers to band to­gether with the sup­port of gov­ern­ment to keep prices steady.

Cal­i­for­nia pro­duces 99% of the na­tion’s raisins. In years when the mar­ket was glut­ted, the Raisin Ad­min­is­tra­tive Com­mit­tee would set aside part of the crop and keep it off the open mar­ket. Those ex­tra raisins were then sold over­seas or were given to the school lunch pro­gram.

The raisin board, over­seen by the U. S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, has not used that au­thor­ity in re­cent years as raisin acreage has de­clined.

In the­ory, all the grow­ers ben­e­fit from the higher mar­ket prices. But Horne, a grower from Ker­man, near Fresno, ob­jected and ac­cused the board of “steal­ing his crop” in two years when more than 30% of the crop was set aside. He was f ined more than $ 680,000 by the USDA for vi­o­lat­ing mar­ket­ing or­ders in 2003 and 2004.

He sued, al­leg­ing this scheme vi­o­lated the 5th

Amend­ment, which says pri­vate prop­erty may not be taken for public use with­out just com­pen­sa­tion.

The high court agreed in Horne vs. USDA. Although most cases about tak­ing prop­erty have in­volved real es­tate, the prin­ci­ple ap­plies to raisins as well, the court said.

“The gov­ern­ment has a cat­e­gor­i­cal duty to pay just com­pen­sa­tion when it takes your car, just as when it takes your home,” said Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts for the court.

Treat­ing a reg­u­la­tory pro­gram as a tak­ing of per­sonal prop­erty could prove more broadly sig­nif­i­cant.

In the past, the jus­tices have said gov­ern­ment has broad au­thor­ity to reg­u­late prop­erty and busi­nesses. For ex­am­ple, a zon­ing law may limit own­ers in de­vel­op­ing their land.

But the court has said land- use reg­u­la­tions go too far when they de­prive the owner of all use of the prop­erty. In the raisin case, the court said that phys­i­cally de­priv­ing the grower of part of his crop vi­o­lated the 5th Amend­ment.

Roberts de­scribed the raisin board’s or­der as “a clear phys­i­cal tak­ing,” not just a reg­u­la­tion.

“Ac­tual raisins are trans­ferred from the grow­ers to the gov­ern­ment. Ti­tle to the raisins passed to the Raisin Com­mit­tee,” he said. “The gov­ern­ment has broad pow­ers, but the means it uses to achieve its end must be con­sis­tent with the let­ter and spirit of the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

Prop­erty rights ad­vo­cates said the rul­ing will have a na­tional im­pact. The court “is show­ing more will­ing­ness to put real teeth in the Tak­ings Clause of the 5th Amend­ment,” said Richard Samp, coun­sel for the Washington Le­gal Foun­da­tion.

“With­out strict en­force­ment, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are all too ea­ger to take pri­vate prop­erty with­out pro­vid­ing just com­pen­sa­tion,” he said.

Whether the court would be will­ing to ex­tend the le­gal prin­ci­ple to cover cases of reg­u­la­tions that don’t in- volve phys­i­cal tak­ing of prop­erty re­mains un­known.

It is also not clear whether the rul­ing will af­fect other farm prod­ucts.

A USDA of­fi­cial would say only that the depart­ment was “re­view­ing the Supreme Court rul­ing ” and “will pro­vide guid­ance based on the de­ci­sion in the near fu­ture.”

Ear­lier, gov­ern­ment lawyers told the court the raisin board was un­usual be­cause it en­forced or­ders to keep raisins off the mar­ket. Only a farm pro­gram in­volv­ing tart cher­ries worked the same way, they said.

In his opin­ion, Roberts said Horne does not have to pay the f ines and penal­ties as­sessed by the USDA. Jus­tices An­tonin Scalia, An­thony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sa­muel Al­ito agreed in full with Roberts.

Jus­tices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Gins­burg and Elena Ka­gan agreed the tak­ing of the raisins was un­con­sti­tu­tional, but they would have sent the case back to a judge in Cal­i­for­nia to cal­cu­late the proper com­pen­sa­tion.

Horne ben­e­fited from the higher prices for the raisins he sold, Breyer noted, and that should off­set some of what he is owed.

Jus­tice So­nia So­tomayor dis­sented alone, agree­ing with the gov­ern­ment that the raisin or­ders were reg­u­la­tions of the mar­ket. They may be “out­dated and by some lights down­right silly,” she said, but they do not de­prive the grower of all use of his prop­erty.

Horne said he was “as­tounded” by his vic­tory.

“It’s been 11 years, and a lot of wa­ter over the dam,” he said. The gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try “made a lot of ac­cu­sa­tions and they did a lot of dirty tricks. They have to live with what they’ve done, not me.... They re­ally went af­ter us these last few years. It just was dirty pool.”

Barry Kriebel, pres­i­dent of Sun- Maid Grow­ers, a co­op­er­a­tive of 750 raisin grape grow­ers that op­posed Horne in the case, said the in­dus­try has moved away from us­ing re­serve pools for the last f ive years or so. He ex­pects lit­tle new ef­fect on the price of raisins, which has been some­what volatile with­out the re­serve pool in place.

“I don’t re­ally see it hav­ing any sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect,” Kriebel said. “We haven’t used any of these re­serve pools for a long time.”

Raisin grape acreage has de­creased, he said, re­placed ei­ther with other types of grapes or by al­monds and other nuts.

Over the last three years, the amount of ma­ture raisin-grape acreage de­clined 5% statewide, while younger vine­yards that aren’t bear­ing fruit yet plum­meted 33%, ac­cord­ing to the USDA.

Last year, over­all, 928,000 acres were planted with raisin grapes in Cal­i­for­nia, of which 865,000 were bear­ing vines, ac­cord­ing to the USDA.

There was no love lost with Horne over the case, how­ever.

“He kind of thumbed his nose at the in­dus­try for a long time,” Kriebel said. “I’m not dis­ap­pointed that the re­serve pools are gone. I’m just dis­ap­pointed that some­body that doesn’t abide with the sys­tem gets a free ride.

“I’d have no com­plaint what­so­ever if he had com­plied and ac­tu­ally had par­tic­i­pated in in­dus­try meet­ings,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to com­plain about what the in­dus­try is do­ing if you never show up at an in­dus­try meet­ing.”

Gary Kazan­jian As­so­ci­ated Press

MARVIN HORNE, shown in 2006, ac­cused the Raisin Ad­min­is­tra­tive Com­mit­tee of “steal­ing his crop” to re­duce over­all sup­ply. Court said he must be paid in full.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.