A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Supreme Court hears arguments in California raisins case

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments Wednesday in Horne v. Department of Agriculture [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on whether a party can raise the Fifth Amendment [text] takings clause as a defense when charged by the government to transfer funds, rather than raising the claim after already complying with the government's mandate. In this case, a group of vineyard owners sold raisins directly to bypass a US Department of Agriculture [official website] regulation that would take a percentage of the raisins crops, and raised the takings clause as a defense. The attorney for the vineyard owners argued both taking the percentage of profits and the raisins were in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

So, in the demand letter from the Department of Agriculture addressed to the Hornes, they asked the Hornes to deliver California raisins, or the dollar equivalent. So that's the fact upon which all of this case is—is built.

Now, what is the legal significance of that, California raisins or the dollar equivalent? It is our legal position, or it will be our legal position on the merits that when the government seeks a specific physical property, a res, or its monetary equivalent, that that is a taking of the res itself.

The Solicitor General argued that as property, both raisins and money failed to pass the takings threshold.

The court also heard arguments in Dan's City Used Cars, Inc. v. Pelkey [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] to consider if several actions against state tow-motor carriers are preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) [49 USC § 14501(c)(1) text]. Dan's City Used Cars towed Robert Pelkey's car while he was in the hospital for two months. Pelkey attempted state claims, common law negligence claims, and consumer protection claims to get his car back, to no avail due to the vagueness of the FAAAA. Dan's City Used Cars' attorney argued that "[T]hese claims are preempted because they are directed at the conduct—the type of conduct that tow truck companies all over this country every day engage in, in dealing with a particular type of tow that's referred to in the business as nonconsensual tows." The attorney for Robert Pelkey argued that there was a clear violation of Mr. Pelkey's rights that were not pre-empted by Federal law. "Transferring title and disposing of Mr. Pelkey's car against his will and not compensating him for the loss of his personal property is not a service of a motor carrier with respect to transportation of property. The regulation of State-created property interests is a field of traditional State regulation, and the broad sweep advocated by Dan's City Used Auto in this case would create a regulatory vacuum because there are no Federal laws that allow the sale of a motor vehicle."

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.