Checkoff Suit Can Expand to More States, Court Says
The federal district court in Montana has granted the motion by Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) to expand its beef checkoff lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to include at least 13 states in addition to Montana.
In August, R-CALF asked District Court Judge Brian Morris, Great Falls, MT, to expand the injunction to include checkoff funds in Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wisconsin.
The injunction against the checkoff in Montana was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in April, and only applies to Montana. Under the injunction, the $1 beef checkoff is still collected, and the money is sent to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. Montana ranchers who wish for half of their dollar to go to the Montana Beef Council must complete a producer consent form, and the CBB then sends the money back to Montana.
Monday’s ruling on R-CALF’s motion does not apply the temporary injunction in effect in Montana to the additional states. Instead, it allows R-CALF USA to proceed with its original case in which it seeks a permanent injunction. The court granted the USDA 14 days to file an answer to R-CALF USA’s complaint and the case now proceeds with the additional states.
Challenging the checkoff on First Amendment grounds, R-CALF alleges the Montana Beef Council (MBC) is a private entity, and therefore checkoff money spent by the MBC fund private speech and should be deemed unconstitutional.