Supreme Court strikes down injunction against genetically modified seed

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday ruled [opinion, PDF] 7-1 in Monsanto Company v. Geerston Seed Farms [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the district court abused its discretion when it issued a nationwide injunction against a genetically modified alfalfa seed. The district court sought to remedy a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [EPA materials] violation based on only a remote possibility of reparable harm. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that NEPA plaintiffs are specially exempt from the requirement of showing a likelihood of irreparable harm to obtain an injunction, affirming the nationwide injunction. Justice Samuel Alito, writing the opinion of the court, reversed the circuit court's ruling, stating that NEPA violations, absent unusual circumstances, are not exempt from the standard four-factor test to determine the availability of injunctive relief. The test requires the plaintiff has suffered an irreparable injury, adequate alternative remedies are not available, a remedy of equity is warranted and it serves the public interest. Alito concluded that the respondent plaintiffs were unable to show that a partial deregulation would pose any appreciable risk of environmental harm if the scope of the regulation is sufficiently limited:

The District Court ... erred in entering the nationwide injunction ... for two independent reasons. First, because it was inappropriate for the District Court to foreclose even the possibility of a partial and temporary deregulation, it follows that it was inappropriate to enjoin planting in accordance with such a deregulation decision. Second, an injunction is a drastic and extraordinary remedy, which should not be granted as a matter of course. If, as respondents now concede, a less drastic remedy (such as partial...deregulation decision) was sufficient to redress their injury, no recourse to the additional and extraordinary relief of an injunction was warranted.
The court also upheld that both the respondent and petitioner had constitutional standing for injunctive relief and judicial review respectively. Alito stated that each party's claims address a particular and imminent injury that was substantially related to the challenged action, and was redressable by the court. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented from the opinion, and Justice Stephen Breyer took no part.

The case arose over an injunction against the planting of Monsanto's "Roundup Ready alfalfa" (RRA), pending an environmental impact statement (EIS). Conventional alfalfa growers and environmental groups filed an action against an decision by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) [official website] to deregulate RRA unconditionally and without preparing a detailed EIS. The plaintiffs claimed that the decision violated NEPA, which requires federal agencies "to the fullest extent possible" to prepare a detailed EIS for "every ... major Federal actio[n] significantly affecting the quality of the human environment." The district court found for the plaintiffs and vacated the agency's decision completely deregulating RRA. The court also enjoined APHIS from deregulating RRA, in whole or in part, pending completion of the EIS and entered a nationwide permanent injunction prohibiting almost all future planting of RRA during the pendency of the EIS process.

 

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