R-CALF USA has filed a new lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the Beef Checkoff over amendments made to the program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Filed Friday through attorneys at Public Justice, the lawsuit comes as a result of R-CALF’s Montana litigation which challenged the constitutionality of Checkoff funds by state beef councils. The Montana case was dismissed in January when the U.S. District Court of Montana ruled in favor of USDA and the Montana Beef Council in the matter of R-CALF vs. Sonny Perdue and USDA.
That would have ended a three-year legal battle that involved 15 state beef councils, until R-CALF announced it would appeal the decision.
In the Montana suit, USDA entered into memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with the 15 state beef councils involved in the suit. R-CALF claims those MOUs were an attempt to correct violations of the constitution, and they argue on appeal the government’s MOUs that purport to convert the 15 private state beef councils’ “private speech into government speech” are not subject to First Amendment protections and are do not solve the Checkoff’s constitutional violations.
In a statement, R-CALF said the new lawsuit goes further in its challenge to the MOUs, asserting that the government unlawfully amended the legal and regulatory framework within which the state beef councils have been operating in without first initiating a public rulemaking process that affords the public with notice of its proposed amendments and provides the public with an opportunity to provide comments before the amendments are implemented.
R-CALF contends that by entering the MOUs, USDA violated legal procedure mandated by the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to allow for public comment. This violation has denied R-CALF USA’s members—and ranchers everywhere—their right to weigh in on a federal program they are forced to fund.
R-CALF’s new lawsuit asks the court to declare unlawful the MOUs entered into by USDA.
“The lawsuit filed by R-CALF USA Friday challenges an illegal practice by USDA meant to paper over an unconstitutional one,” claims Kellan Smith, an Associate Attorney with the Public Justice Food Project. “We will prove that USDA entered into these MOU’s illegally by skipping a true public input process, which is essential to government transparency. From there, we will go on to stop the Beef Checkoff program from using independent rancher money to fund speech that props up multinational beef corporations.”
In addition to its Checkoff suits, R-CALF filed a class action lawsuit in April against America's four largest beef packing companies. The suit alleges violations of U.S. antitrust laws, the Packers and Stockyards Act, and the Commodity Exchange Act by unlawfully depressing the prices paid to American ranchers by Tyson Foods, JBS USA, National Beef and Cargill Meat Solutions.