Written by: Amie Alexander, JD/MPS Candidate, William H. Bowen School of Law
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a motion to dismiss a challenge to USDA’s Final Rule allowing Argentine lemon imports on October 24, 2017. The U.S. Citrus Science Council and several Citrus Growers brought suit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to challenge the rule. USDA and APHIS moved to dismiss the suit based on the plaintiffs’ lack of standing and the court’s lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the Court denied. You can read the order here.
The suit was originally filed in May 2017. Plaintiffs allege that the USDA and APHIS failed to disclose specific information for public comment as required by the Plant Protection Act (PPA) and Administrative Procedure Act (APA), failed to consider the Argentine government’s inspection agency (SENASA)’s failed history and was unjustified in relying on its work plan, and failed to provide reasoned decision-making in amending the rule to restrict imports to the Northeast United States. Plaintiffs further alleged that USDA and APHIS failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA).
Background on the Final Rule
The importation of lemons and other citrus from Argentina to the U.S. has been barred since 1947 under the PPA, which delegates rulemaking authority to the USDA to “prevent the introduction of plant pests into the United States or the dissemination of plant pests within the United States.” 7 U.S.C. § 7711(a).
APHIS promulgated a rule in 2000 to lift the ban on lemon imports from Argentina, but the regulation was vacated after judicial review. APHIS promulgated the proposed regulation, “Importation of Lemons from Northwest Argentina” in May 2016. 81 Fed. Reg. 28,758. The Proposed Rule considered the presence of potential problem pests but concluded that these risks could be managed by procedures outlined by the rule. A regulatory flexibility analysis accompanying the Proposed Rule estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 metric tons of lemons would be imported annually, and the price of fresh lemons would drop between 2% and 4%. The analysis predicted a loss to California and Arizona growers between $10.9 and $22 million each year, but eventually concluded these economic effects were not significant. After notice and comment, the Final Rule was published at 81 Fed. Reg. 94,217, concluding the importation of fresh lemons from northwest Argentina would be allowed subject to conditions outlined in the Final Rule. The rule was amended on May 1 declaring that for 2017 and 2018, Argentine lemons would only be imported into the Northeastern U.S.. The rule went into effect on May 26, 2017.
The Court’s Legal Analysis
The USDA and APHIS argued that the Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring this suit. Standing requires a plaintiff to show (1) it has suffered an injury in fact that is concrete and particularized and actual or imminent, (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and (3) it is likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision by the court. Where an organization is bringing suit on behalf of its members, the organization must show that at least one of its members would have had standing to sue on their own right, the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization’s purpose, and that the claim nor relief requested requires the participation of individual members.
The Court first recognized that according to the agency’s regulatory flexibility analysis, plaintiffs’ production would be directly competing with Argentine imports. The court was unpersuaded by the amendment to limit imports to the Northeast U.S., as this limitation will expire in 2018, and this limitation would still affect the citrus market nationally. Further, these products may still be sold on the West Coast even if not initially imported there. The Court found these considerations sufficient to establish an economic injury for the purposes of standing to the Plaintiffs. The Court also concluded that Plaintiffs had environmental standing to challenge the rule, as they showed a significant risk of environmental injury that could be caused by the importation of Argentine citrus. Finally, the Court agreed that Plaintiffs had standing to challenge the rule under the RFA.
USDA and APHIS argued that even if the Plaintiffs had standing to challenge the Final Rule, they did not have sufficient standing to challenge the amendment to limit imports to the Northeast based off of improper procedure, since they would not actually suffer an injury from the amendment. The Court agreed, finding that Plaintiffs had no standing to challenge the amendment limiting imports to the Northeast.
Finding that Plaintiffs had established sufficient standing to challenge the Final Rule, the Court denied the USDA and APHIS’s motion to dismiss the challenge to the Final Rule.