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Johnson v. Paynesville Farmers Union Coop. Oil Co. - 817 N.W.2d 693 (Minn. 2012)

Rule:

Reading the phrase "applied to it" in 7 C.F.R. § 205.202(b), within the context of the focus of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, 7 U.S.C.S. §§ 6501-6523 (2006) (OFPA), on regulating the practices of the producer of organic products, the phrase unambiguously regulates behavior by the producer. In other words, in order for products to be sold as organic, the organic farmer must not have applied prohibited substances to the field from which the product was harvested for a period of three years preceding the harvest.

Facts:

Appellant Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Company (“Cooperative”) was a member owned farm products and services provider that, among other things, applied pesticides to farm fields. Respondents Oluf and Debra Johnson (“Johnsons”) were organic farmers. The Johnsons claimed that while the Cooperative was spraying pesticide onto conventionally farmed fields adjacent to the Johnsons’ fields, some pesticide drifted onto and contaminated the Johnsons’ organic fields. Thereafter, the Johnsons sued the Cooperative, on theories including trespass, nuisance, and negligence per se and sought damages and injunctive relief. The Johnsons claimed that the pesticide drift caused them economic damages because they had to take the contaminated fields out of organic production for three years pursuant to 7 C.F.R. § 205.202(b) (2012). The Cooperative filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The appellate court reversed. Consequently, the Cooperative sought a review of the judgment. 

Issue:

Did to 7 C.F.R. § 205.202(b) (2012) cover instances of pesticide drift, thereby, justifying certain of plaintiff organic farmers Johnsons’ nuisance and negligence per se claims for damages?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court noted that under 7 C.F.R. § 205.202(b) (2012), a producer's intentional placement of pesticides onto fields from which crops were intended to be harvested and sold as organic was prohibited, but section 205.202(b) did not regulate the drift of pesticides onto those fields. Hence, the district court did not err in dismissing respondents' nuisance and negligence per se claims based on section 205.202(b). The Court however held that the district court erred when it dismissed the Johnsons’ nuisance and negligence per se claims that were not grounded on section 205.202(b).

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