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Schultz Family Farms LLC v. Jackson County

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

May 29, 2015

SCHULTZ FAMILY FARMS LLC, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
JACKSON COUNTY, Defendant, CHRISTOPHER HARDY, et al, Intervenor-defendants.

ORDER

MARK D. CLARKE, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on cross motions for partial summary judgment filed by Schultz Family Farms, LLC, James Frink, Marilyn Frink, and Frink Family Trust (collectively, "Plaintiffs") (#46), defendant Jackson County ("the County") (#47), and intervenor defendants Christopher Hardy, Oshala Farm, Our Family Farms Coalition (OFFC), and the Center For Food Safety (CFS), (collectively, "intervenors") (#57). For the reasons discussed below, the County's motion and the intervenors' motion are GRANTED and the Plaintiffs' motion is DENIED. Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' first claim for relief.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs originally filed this action in the Circuit Court for the State of Oregon for the County of Jackson on November 18, 2014. On December 10, Defendant Jackson County removed the action to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Plaintiffs' action challenges Proposed Jackson County Ordinance 635, which voters approved as ballot measure 15-119 on May 20, 2014, to ban the growing of genetically engineered plants in Jackson County. The ordinance is set to go into effect in June 5, 2015.

Plaintiffs Shultz Family Farms LLC, James Frink and Marilyn Frink, and Frink Family Trust are Oregon farmers who currently reside in Jackson County, Oregon. They have all previously grown and have currently planted crops of Roundup Ready® Alfalfa (RRA), which is grown from genetically engineered seeds. Plaintiffs claim that Ordinance 635 conflicts with Oregon's Right to Farm Act, ORS § 30.930-947, and that it will require plaintiffs to destroy valuable crops they have already planted, cultivated, and planned to sell, without just compensation, in violation of the Oregon and United States Constitution. Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief and injunctive relief to permanently enjoin enforcement of the ordinance. Alternatively, plaintiffs seek damages as compensation for the destruction of their property as a result of the ordinance.

Defendant Jackson County claims the ordinance was passed in compliance with the Right to Farm Act, and additionally claims that Oregon's Senate Bill 863, recently signed into law, regulates the use of agricultural seeds and agricultural seed products (crops) and is a clear indication that the Oregon Legislature meant to allow Jackson County to pass the ordinance at issue in this case.

Intervenors Christopher Hardy and Oshala Farms are Oregon farmers who currently reside in Jackson County and grow traditional (non-genetically engineered) crops. Intervenors OFFC and CFS are public interest groups who similarly represent local Oregon farmers, as well as other supporters of Ordinance 635. Intervenors claim that Ordinance 635 was passed in order to protect their farms and crops from transgenic contamination from crops of genetically engineered plants. Intervenors allege that their local customers will not purchase seeds or plants that have been contaminated with genetically engineered pollen because consumers do not want to eat genetically engineered foods and crops. Additionally, intervenors claim that once transgenic contamination occurs, it becomes difficult if not impossible to contain it, thereby causing irreparable damage to their crops.

SUMMARY

This case, and the issue of genetically engineered plants in general, involves a number of competing interests, as well as important considerations about basic questions fundamental to our everyday lives. Where does our food come from? What is our food made of? What are the long term effects of consuming genetically engineered food products? What are the long term impacts on global food scarcity if GE crops are banned? The Court's decision today, however, does not attempt to answer any of these complex and difficult questions. Today's decision is simply about the statutory construction of the Right to Farm Act, Jackson County Ordinance 635, and Oregon Senate Bill 863. Ultimately, the Court has determined that the Ordinance is not preempted by the Right to Farm Act, and it is specifically authorized by SB 863. Therefore the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs first claim.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs bring claims seeking to overturn Jackson County Ordinance 635. All parties have moved for summary judgment on the Plaintiff's first claim, which includes two requests for relief. Plaintiffs ask the Court to enter an order "(1) [d]eclaring the Ordinance invalid, unlawful, and null and void; and (2) [g]ranting preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to enjoin the County from taking any action to enforce the Ordinance." Compl. 22 (#1-1).

Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment is based on the assertion that the Ordinance is invalid based on Oregon's Right to Farm Act. Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 30.930, et al. The defendants, by contrast, assert that they are entitled to summary judgment on this claim because (1) the Ordinance is valid under the Right to Farm Act, and (2) the Ordinance is specifically authorized by another, more recent, Oregon law, Senate Bill 863. The Court agrees with the defendants.

I. Oregon Rules of Statutory Construction

A federal court interpreting Oregon law should "interpret the law as would the [Oregon] Supreme Court." Powell's Books, Inc. v. Kroger, 622 F.3d 1202, 1209 (9th Cir. 2010) (alteration in original). Therefore, the court applies the framework for statutory interpretation established in PGE v. Bureau of Labor and Industries, 317 Or. 606, 859 P.2d 1143 (1993), and subsequently modified by State v. Gaines, 346 Or. 160, 206 P.3d 1042 (2009). See Sundermier v. State ex rel. Pub. Employees Ret. Sys., 269 Or.App. 586, 595, 344 P.3d 1142, 1147 (2015). Under that framework, the goal of statutory interpretation is to discern the intent of the legislature that enacted the statute. Gaines, 346 Or. at 171, 206 P.3d 1042. The most persuasive evidence for determining the legislature's intent is the "text and context" of the statute itself. Id . A statutory term's "context" includes both its immediate context-the "phrase or sentence in which the term appears"-and the "broader context, " which includes other statutes "on the same subject." State v. Stamper, 197 Or.App. 413, 417-18, 106 P.3d 172, rev. den., 339 Or. 230, 119 P.3d 790 (2005).

Statements of statutory policy are also considered useful context for interpreting a statute. Providence Health System v. Walker, 252 Or.App. 489, 500, 289 P.3d 256 (2012), rev. den., 353 Or. 867, 306 P.3d 639 (2013). Such statements, however, "should not provide an excuse for delineating specific policies not articulated in the statutes[.]" Warburton v. Harney County, 174 Or.App. 322, 329, 25 P.3d 978, rev. den., 332 Or. 559, 34 P.3d 1177 (2001). After consulting a statute's text and context, we consider any "pertinent legislative history." Gaines, 346 Or. at 177, 206 P.3d 1042. ...


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