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Farmer loses latest round over raisin marketing order

Mateusz Perkowski
A California raisin grower plans to appeal a 9th Circuit ruling that threw out his lawsuit, which questioned the constitutionality of a federal crop marketing order.

A California farmer vows to continue fighting a federal raisin marketing order despite an unfavorable court ruling.

Marvin Horne of Kerman, Calif., claims the USDA program unconstitutionally takes his raisins without just compensation.

However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected his arguments, saying he should seek changes to the marketing order from USDA or Congress.

The ruling is an “abortion” and Horne plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or ask a broader panel of 9th Circuit judges to reconsider, said Brian Leighton, his attorney.

“It’s just bizarre,” Leighton said of the opinion.

Under the program, a certain proportion of each raisin farmer’s crop is diverted into a reserve pool to limit supplies on the open market, thus stabilizing prices.

The Raisin Administrative Committee, which oversees the marketing order for USDA, sells those raisins in non-competing markets, like foreign countries and school lunch programs.

The revenues are used to fund the committee’s operations but leftover money is returned to growers.

Horne argued that in some years the committee takes a substantial percentage of his crop but never returns any funds.

The 9th Circuit found that Horne and other farmers nonetheless gain from giving up a portion of their raisins because the program smooths out price fluctuations.

“Indeed, the structure of the diversion program ensures the reserved raisins continue to work to the Hornes’ benefit after they are diverted to RAC, even in years in which producers receive no equitable distribution of the RAC’s net profits,” the ruling said.

Horne sought to avoid the marketing order by processing his own raisins and those of other farmers on a fee basis.

When the USDA found out about his activities, it ordered Horne to pay nearly $700,000, which represented revenues from raisins that were supposed to be diverted and fines.

Leighton disputes the 9th Circuit’s notion that his client and other farmers retain a benefit from the diverted raisins.

“That is a freaking joke,” he said.

The 9th Circuit’s ruling misapplies legal precedents related to property rights and contradicts the conclusions of another federal appeals court, Leighton said.

“They’re the most reversed circuit,” he said, noting that the case is ripe for another review by the Supreme Court.

Horne’s lawsuit was already considered by the nation’s highest court, which ruled in his favor last year.

At that point, the legal battle centered on which federal court held jurisdiction over Horne’s claims and whether he had to pay the $700,000 in penalties before challenging the marketing order.

The Supreme Court held that he could fight the program’s constitutionality without first paying the government.



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