US Supreme Court Confirms Farmers’ Private Property Rights

June 25, 2021

Food and Agriculture Law

On June 23, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid held in a 6–3 decision that Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 20900(e)(1)(c)—which granted union organizers a right of access to private farm property for 120 days per year, up to three hours a day—constituted a per se taking of the farmer’s property in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The dispute arose when the owners of Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company sued California officials arguing the regulation constituted a government taking – meaning the government took away the growers’ property without just compensation. The District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found the regulation did not amount to a per se taking, but the owners appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case back to the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings. This means that the Ninth Circuit will decide the owners’ appeal again in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision, which found the regulation constituted a per se physical taking because the regulation restricted the owners’ “fundamental” right to exclude others from their land for the benefit of union representatives.

It remains unclear how the case will proceed from here, including whether the Ninth Circuit will send the case back to the District Court with instructions on how to proceed on the landowners’ request for an injunction preventing the union representatives from gaining access. A court could grant this injunction remedy, however courts in these types of takings cases generally provide the owner with only compensation—such as money or other things of value. Generally, where monetary relief is available, courts will not issue an injunction. On this point, the Court noted that “[t]he government may require property owners to cede a right of access as a condition of receiving certain benefits, without causing a taking.” Here, the Supreme Court hinted to California state representatives that the regulation could be constitutional if they provide the growers with compensation. In fact, the Chair of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, Victoria Hassid, has already announced that the State is considering “potential workarounds” that would allow labor representatives to continue to access farm properties. Therefore, although this decision could deal a potentially crippling blow to labor representatives’ organizational efforts, the regulation may return from the grave if California finds a way to compensate farm owners for requiring union access to their land.

Stay tuned for further updates on this issue.