Central Valley raisin growers win at Supreme Court
June 10, 2013
• Will get a chance to reargue their case
• A new wrinkle in a lengthy dispute
Are raisin growers “handlers” of raisins and thus subject to marketing orders from an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or are they just the guys who grow the grapes that turn into raisins?
The U.S. Supreme Court says unanimously Monday that the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals has jurisdiction and must review its decision against the growers.
Fresno raisin growers Marvin and Laura Horne, owners of Raisin Valley Farms, a general partnership, and others had been ordered to surrender part of some three million pounds of raisin grapes they grew and had refused to put into the raisin marketing order. The growers argued this was a “taking” of their property in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The marketing order, dating back to the grim days of the Great Depression, holds back some raisins from the market to keep supplies and prices at an established level to help farmers.
Mr. Horne’s group of some 60 growers has sought to sell their raisins outside of the marketing order. They say marketing orders as written three-quarters of a century ago apply to “handlers” and not “producers,” such as them.
Instead of going through a traditional handler, the Hornes entered into a partnership with Mrs. Horne’s parents called Lassen Vineyards. In addition to its grape-growing activities, Lassen Vineyards purchased equipment to clean, stem, sort, and package the raisins from Raisin Valley Farms and Lassen Vineyards. It also contracted with more than 60 other raisin growers to clean, stem, sort, and, in some cases, box and stack their raisins for a fee.
To the USDA, however, all that cleaning, stemming, sorting, boxing and stacking sure looked like the Hornes and their fellow growers were handlers. Fines, penalties and lawyers ensued.
“The Ninth Circuit has jurisdiction to decide whether the USDA’s imposition of fines and civil penalties on petitioners, in their capacity as handlers, violated the Fifth Amendment,” says the unanimous Supreme Court ruling. “The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is reversed.”
The ultimate outcome has a hefty price tag, for the growers are already facing some $650,000 in fines and penalties – and this year’s crop is on the vines.