May 2013 – Significant Developments

May 1, 2013 | Roger McEowen

There were several significant developments in May of relevance to agricultural law and taxation.  Of course, the various scandals in Washington, D.C. have captured a lot of attention.  The one involving the IRS merits watching simply because of the possible impact on tax reform and future implementation of the health care law, for which the IRS currently has tremendous responsibility.  Politicians of all stripes are now questioning that strategy.  But, there was another major scandal out West.  In May, a federal judge ruled that the Bureau of Land Management  (BLM) had engaged in a conspiracy beginning in 1993 to deny ranchers their grazing and water rights on BLM land.  The court said the BLM’s conduct “shocked the conscience” and issued an injunction against the BLM ordering them to allow the ranchers to reapply for their grazing permits.  That’s on top of news stories about how the Environmental Protection Agency was abusing its power in a similar fashion.  So it’s a real mess with respects to various aspects of the federal government.   Hopefully you won’t be directly impacted.

In late May, the ag world was given news of the discovery in Oregon of GMO wheat.  Now a lawsuit has been filed against Monsanto for alleged damages arising from the contamination of the U.S. wheat supply and the loss of markets.  We summarize the complaint here.  Relatedly, during May a federal court upheld the USDA-APHIS decision to fully deregulate Roundup-Ready Alfalfa.  Still there hasn’t been a single court that has determined that GMO products have any harmful effect on the environment or consumers. 

We also updated our article on Iowa legislation.  The big news this session is that both bodies of the Iowa legislature unanimously passed legislation to, in essence, overturn a February Iowa Supreme Court decision involving the Iowa Recreational Use Statute.  The Court’s decision would have made it extremely difficult for ag landowners to receive the liability protection of the statute.  Now, the statute has been strengthened.  There is no need for a covered person to be directly involved in the recreational activity for the landowner to be covered, an educational activity is expressly included in the definition of “recreational use,” there is liability protection for persons acting as “tour guides.”  Also, the legislation makes it clear that the land need not be opened to the general public for the landowner to get the liability protection of the statute, and chaperones are covered.   

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a farmer couldn’t “copy” Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready technology by buying commercial seed at an elevator and replanting it.  The Court’s decision involved the patent exhaustion doctrine.  

Of course, the relevant Iowa appellate-level court opinions were summarized.