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In its most recent round of decisions, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of our favorite raisin farmers in Horne v. USDA and determined that the raisin reserve requirement mandated by the California Raisin Marketing Order did indeed constitute a taking under the Fifth Amendment (read our previous blog on Horne v. USDA here). This ruling is a welcome move in the right direction to better protect individual property rights.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the Court’s 8-1 opinion in which Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito concurred in full and Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a solo dissent.

“The reserve requirement imposed by the Raisin Committee is a clear physical taking,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Actual raisins are transferred from the growers to the Government. Title to the raisins passes to the Raisin Committee.”

As with almost any government taking, the original property owner is entitled to just compensation for his or her property. The Supreme Court majority determined the amount initially assessed by the government as a fine for the Horne’s withholding their raisins from the reserve constituted the fair-market price for the Horne’s raisins.

“The Government has already calculated the amount of just compensation in this case, when it fined the Hornes the fair market value of the raisins: $483,843.53,” Roberts wrote. “There is accordingly no need for a remand; the Hornes should simply be relieved of the obligation to pay the fine and associated civil penalty they were assessed when they resisted the Government’s effort to take their raisins. This case, in litigation for more than a decade, has gone on long enough” (citations omitted).

This point of the ruling garnered a dissent in part by Breyer, who reasoned that a lower court should be the proper venue for determining compensation for the Hornes.

In her dissent, Sotomayor reasoned that the marketing order does not constitute a per se taking and was, instead, a reasonable government regulation on partaking in the raisin market. Sotomayor also construed the marketing order as a regulatory taking rather than a total, per se taking because the Hornes held a residual interest in the reserve raisins. She reasoned they would receive a portion of the proceeds if the government sold those raisins and, therefore, had not lost all of their property rights to those raisins.

Her reasoning did not prevail in this case, and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Horne v. USDA sets a precedent that will help better protect property owners from unjust takings.

Marvin Horne, who has been entangled with this matter for more than a decade, said he was astounded by this victory, the LA Times reported.

“It’s been 11 years, and a lot of water over the dam,” he said.

Co-authored by Justin Hodge and Ayla Syed.