Allred's Produce v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, No. 98-60187

CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
Writing for the CourtBefore POLITZ, HIGGINBOTHAM and DAVIS; W. EUGENE DAVIS
Citation178 F.3d 743
PartiesALLRED'S PRODUCE, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 98-60187
Decision Date01 July 1999

Page 743

178 F.3d 743
ALLRED'S PRODUCE, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, Respondent.
No. 98-60187.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
July 1, 1999.

Mark William Romney, Boswell

Page 393650

& Kober, Dallas, TX, Kelly Elizabeth DeBerry, Boswell & Kober, Fort Worth, TX, for Petitioner.

Stephen Michael Reilly, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Petition for Review from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Before POLITZ, HIGGINBOTHAM and DAVIS, Circuit Judges.

W. EUGENE DAVIS, Circuit Judge:

Petitioner Allred's Produce ("Allred's") appeals a final order of the Secretary of Agriculture revoking its license under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act ("PACA"), 7 U.S.C. §§ 499a-499s, for willful, repeated, and flagrant failure to make full payment promptly to various sellers of perishable agricultural commodities. Allred's contends that the Secretary's findings and sanction were arbitrary and capricious, that Allred's was singled out for selective enforcement, and that the Secretary failed to observe various procedural requirements under the PACA. For reasons that follow, the Secretary's order is affirmed.

I.

Before proceeding to the specific facts and issues of this case, it is useful to review the applicable statutory and regulatory framework. Congress enacted the PACA in 1930 "for the purpose of regulating the interstate business of shipping and handling perishable agricultural commodities such as fresh fruit and vegetables." George Steinberg and Son, Inc. v. Butz, 491 F.2d 988 (2nd Cir.1974). It was designed "to provide a measure of control over a branch of industry which is almost exclusively in interstate commerce, is highly competitive, and presents many opportunities for sharp practice and irresponsible business conduct." Zwick v. Freeman, 373 F.2d 110, 116 (2nd Cir.1967). To that end, the PACA establishes a strict licensing system with often severe sanctions for violations of its requirements.

Under the PACA, every dealer of perishable agricultural commodities is required to be licensed by the Secretary of Agriculture. 7 U.S.C. § 499c(a). These dealers are subject to a number of statutory requirements, the most basic of which is that they make "full payment promptly" for all purchases of perishable agricultural commodities. 7 U.S.C. § 499b(4). The Secretary has defined "full payment promptly" to mean "[p]ayment for produce purchased by a buyer, within 10 days after the day on which the produce is accepted." 7 C.F.R. § 46.2(aa)(5). Parties may agree to a different time limit, provided that they reduce such an agreement to writing before entering into the transaction and maintain a copy of the agreement in their records. 7 C.F.R. § 46.2(aa)(11). The party claiming the existence of such an agreement has the burden of proof. Id.

The PACA authorizes stiff penalties for violation of the prompt payment requirement. Upon determining that any dealer has violated any of the PACA's statutory requirements, the Secretary may publish the facts and circumstances of the violation and suspend the license of the offender for up to 90 days. 7 U.S.C. § 499h(a). Moreover, if the violation is flagrant or repeated, the Secretary may revoke the license of the offender. Id. Alternatively, under the 1995 amendments to the PACA, the Secretary may impose a civil penalty not to exceed $2,000 per violation or $2,000 each day a violation continues. 7 U.S.C. § 499h(e).

II.

Allred's is a partnership formed in 1966, composed of Raymond M. Allred and his son, Ronald D. Allred. Its sole business is the purchase and sale of produce. Allred's has been licensed under the PACA continuously, without suspension or revocation, since 1977.

The PACA Branch of the United States Department of Agriculture ("PACA Branch") conducted three investigations of Allred's between 1994 and 1997. The first investigation was in 1994, and resulted in no formal complaint against Allred's. The second investigation, a compliance review, was in February 1996. It revealed that, during the period from May 1993 through February 1996, Allred's failed to make full payment promptly to 19 sellers for 86 lots of perishable agricultural commodities in the total amount of $336,153.40. Based on these findings, PACA Branch initiated a complaint against Allred's in July 1996. The third investigation, an audit to ascertain whether Allred's had brought its operation into compliance with the PACA prior to hearing, was in May 1997. The audit revealed that $149,329.66 of the original $336,153.40 remained unpaid. The audit further found that the firm's total interstate and foreign commerce past due debt had risen to $463,328.61, owed to 25 sellers for 125 lots of perishable agricultural commodities.

A hearing was conducted before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in June 1997. Additional testimony was taken during a telephone hearing in August 1997. The ALJ issued his decision from the bench at the close of the hearing. He found that Allred's Produce had failed to make full payment promptly to 19 sellers for 86 lots of perishable agricultural commodities in the amount of $336,153.40 during the period from May 1993 through February 1996. He further found that these violations were willful, repeated, and flagrant. Based on these findings, the ALJ revoked the firm's PACA license.

Allred's filed an administrative appeal of the ALJ's decision and order in September 1997. The Judicial Officer ("JO"), acting for the Secretary, issued a final decision and order in December 1997 adopting the ALJ's decision and adding several more conclusions. Allred's sought reconsideration, which the JO denied in February 1998. The JO did, however, stay his order pending the outcome of judicial review. This appeal followed.

III.

Judicial review of the decision of an administrative agency is narrow. Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe, 401 U.S. 402, 91 S.Ct. 814, 28 L.Ed.2d 136 (1971). The decision will be upheld unless it is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law...." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). An appellate court may not substitute its own judgment for that of the Secretary. American Fruit Purveyors, Inc. v. United States, 630 F.2d 370, 373 (5th Cir.1980). The Secretary's decision may only be overturned if it is unwarranted in law or without justification in fact. Butz v. Glover Livestock Comm'n Co., 411 U.S. 182, 185-86, 93 S.Ct. 1455, 36 L.Ed.2d 142 (1973). Likewise, judicial review of a sanction imposed under the PACA is extremely limited. Wayne Cusimano, Inc. v. Block, 692 F.2d 1025, 1030 (5th Cir.1982). "The choice of sanctions imposed by the Secretary of Agriculture, through his Judicial Officer, may not be overturned in the absence of a patent abuse of discretion." American Fruit Purveyors, 630 F.2d at 374.

Allred's challenges the Secretary's final order on the following six grounds: (1) the sanction awarded was arbitrary and capricious; (2) the findings and conclusions of the Secretary were arbitrary and capricious; (3) Allred's was singled out for selective enforcement; (4) the allowance of the introduction of new claims at the agency hearing was in excess of the agency's authority and...

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22 practice notes
  • Lindquist v. City of Pasadena, Tex., Civil Action No. H-06-1975.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • September 10, 2009
    ...Page 685 the higher evidentiary burden applied to those claims. Id. at 381 n. 4 (citing Allred's Produce v. United States Dep't of Agric., 178 F.3d 743, 748 (5th Cir.1999) ("selective enforcement"); Esmail v. Macrane, 53 F.3d 176, 179 (7th Cir.1995) ("personal vindictiveness"); Bryan v. Cit......
  • Knapp v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., No. 14-60002
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 31, 2015
    ...an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A); Allred's Produce v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 178 F.3d 743, 746 (5th Cir. 1999). The arbitrary and capricious standard is "highly deferential." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. Wilson N. Jones Mem'l Hosp., 374......
  • Knapp v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., No. 14–60002.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 31, 2015
    ...an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) ; Allred's Produce v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 178 F.3d 743, 746 (5th Cir.1999). The arbitrary and capricious standard is “highly deferential.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. Wilson N. Jones Mem'l Hosp., 374......
  • Exxonmobil Pipeline Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., No. 16-60448
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • August 14, 2017
    ...abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) ; see also Allred's Produce v. U.S. Dep't of Agric. , 178 F.3d 743, 746 (5th Cir. 1999). "Arbitrary and capricious review focuses on whether an agency articulated a rational connection between the facts foun......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Lindquist v. City of Pasadena, Tex., Civil Action No. H-06-1975.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • September 10, 2009
    ...Page 685 the higher evidentiary burden applied to those claims. Id. at 381 n. 4 (citing Allred's Produce v. United States Dep't of Agric., 178 F.3d 743, 748 (5th Cir.1999) ("selective enforcement"); Esmail v. Macrane, 53 F.3d 176, 179 (7th Cir.1995) ("personal vindictiveness"); Bryan v. Cit......
  • Knapp v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., No. 14-60002
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 31, 2015
    ...an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A); Allred's Produce v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 178 F.3d 743, 746 (5th Cir. 1999). The arbitrary and capricious standard is "highly deferential." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. Wilson N. Jones Mem'l Hosp., 374......
  • Knapp v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., No. 14–60002.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • July 31, 2015
    ...an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) ; Allred's Produce v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 178 F.3d 743, 746 (5th Cir.1999). The arbitrary and capricious standard is “highly deferential.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. Wilson N. Jones Mem'l Hosp., 374......
  • Exxonmobil Pipeline Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., No. 16-60448
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • August 14, 2017
    ...abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) ; see also Allred's Produce v. U.S. Dep't of Agric. , 178 F.3d 743, 746 (5th Cir. 1999). "Arbitrary and capricious review focuses on whether an agency articulated a rational connection between the facts foun......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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