Branstad v. Glickman

Decision Date25 September 2000
Docket NumberNo. C00-3072-MWB.,C00-3072-MWB.
Citation118 F.Supp.2d 925
PartiesEdward A. BRANSTAD, and Monroe Branstad, Plaintiffs, v. Daniel R. GLICKMAN, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

Moines, IA, Thomas A. Lawler, Lawler & Swanson, P.L.C., Parkersburg, IA, for Edward A. Branstad, Monroe Branstad.

Kandice Wilcox, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Cedar Rapids, IA, for Daniel R. Glickman.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A "TEMPORARY INJUNCTION"

BENNETT, Chief Judge.

                TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I.    INTRODUCTION .......................................................................  
                A. Legal Background ...............................................................  
                B. Factual Background .............................................................  
                C. Procedural Background ..........................................................  
                1. Administrative proceedings .................................................  
                2. The present action for judicial review .....................................  
                II.   LEGAL ANALYSIS .....................................................................  
                A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction ....................................................  
                B. TRO Or Preliminary Injunction? .................................................  
                C. Standards For Issuance Of A Preliminary Injunction .............................  
                D. Consideration Of The "Dataphase Factors" .......................................  
                1. Likelihood of success on the merits .......................................  
                a. "Likelihood of success" and the judicial review standard ..............  
                b. Likelihood of success under applicable law ............................  
                2. Irreparable harm ..........................................................  
                3. Balance of harms ..........................................................  
                4. The public interest .......................................................  
                E. Rule 65's Bond Requirement .....................................................  
                III.  CONCLUSION .........................................................................  
                

Are the plaintiff farmers entitled to temporary or preliminary injunctive relief from enforcement actions by the USDA for violations of the "Swampbuster" Act while they pursue judicial review of administrative determinations? The USDA's enforcement actions were prompted by its finding that the farmers had "converted" "wetlands" and failed to complete a timely "good faith restoration" of those wetlands pursuant to an agreement between the parties reached during the pendency of administrative proceedings. The farmers assert that failure to enjoin enforcement actions will bring about the immediate and permanent end of their farming operations. The Secretary of Agriculture argues that the farmers stalled compliance with their "good faith restoration agreement" at their peril while pursuing administrative appeals; therefore, the farmers cannot now claim any "harm" from imposition of the penalties for noncompliance contemplated by that agreement. The court must decide whether to maintain the status quo while it considers the farmers' action for judicial review of the USDA's determinations or to permit USDA enforcement actions to proceed.

I. INTRODUCTION
A. Legal Background

The court finds that some legal context for the factual and procedural background to follow would be particularly helpful in this case. As the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained,

"In order to combat the disappearance of wetlands through their conversion into crop lands, Congress passed a law known commonly as `Swampbuster.'" Gunn [v. USDA], 118 F.3d [1233,] 1235 [(8th Cir.1997) ], cert. denied, , 118 S.Ct. 1042 (1998) (citing Food Security Act of 1985 §§ 1201, 1221-23, 16 U.S.C. §§ 3801, 3821-24). The law denies eligibility for several federal farm-assistance programs if wetlands are converted to agricultural use. See National Wildlife Fed'n v. Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Serv., 955 F.2d 1199, 1200 (8th Cir.1992). In addition, the law provides for exemptions, namely wetlands that were converted before December 23, 1985 — the effective date of the law. See Gunn, 118 F.3d at 1235. Land meeting this exemption can be maintained as it was prior to the effective date of the Act without loss of federal benefits.

Barthel v. USDA, 181 F.3d 934, 936 (8th Cir.1999) (footnotes omitted); Gunn v. USDA, 118 F.3d 1233, 1235 (8th Cir.1997) ("This law did not make illegal the conversion of wetlands to agricultural use, but did provide that any agricultural production on a converted wetland would cause the farmer to forfeit his eligibility for a number of federal farmer-assistance programs."), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1111, 118 S.Ct. 1042, 140 L.Ed.2d 108 (1998); Downer v. United States by USDA, 97 F.3d 999, 1002 (8th Cir.1996) ("Under Swampbuster, persons who plant agricultural commodities on converted wetlands in violation of Swampbuster become ineligible for government price support payments."); Von Eye v. United States, 92 F.3d 681, 685 (8th Cir.1996) ("Under the Swampbuster Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 3821-24, anyone who produces an agricultural commodity on a converted wetland or converts a wetland ... is ineligible for enumerated USDA benefits, including price supports, loans, disaster payments, and crop insurance.").

In short, "[t]he Act's proclaimed purpose is to preserve wetlands, or, if wetlands are altered, to preserve the conditions as altered." Id. at 937. Where a farmer improperly alters wetlands that existed prior to December 23, 1985, the USDA can impose penalties including ineligibility for farm program benefits from the date of the violation "in an amount determined by the Secretary to be proportionate to the severity of the violation." See 16 U.S.C. § 3821(a); see also Barthel, 181 F.3d at 936 & n. 4; Gunn, 118 F.3d at 1235; Downer, 97 F.3d at 1002; Von Eye, 92 F.3d at 685. However, "[a]mong the exemptions to the provisions of Swampbuster is one for wetlands that had been converted to agricultural production before December 23, 1985. The farming of such previously converted wetlands does not make the farmer ineligible for benefits." See Gunn, 118 F.3d at 1235 (citing 16 U.S.C. § 3821(d)) (internal citations omitted); Von Eye, 92 F.3d at 685.

With this brief legal context, the court turns to the factual and procedural background of the Branstads' motion for a "temporary injunction."

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff Monroe Branstad purchased real estate in Winnebago County, Iowa, in 1995, which is operated as a farm that produces corn and soybeans. The real estate in question is designated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as Farm Tract # 2024. Plaintiff Edward Branstad is an "operator" of the farmland, with Monroe Branstad, for purposes of the pertinent statute and USDA regulations.

The administrative record reveals that a tile drainage system was installed on Tract # 2024 sometime in the early 1900s. The tract was used for row crops until the 1930s, then again in the 1950s, but thereafter was used primarily for pasture. The prior owner of the tract was unable to maintain the tile drainage system and did not contest "wetlands" determinations by the USDA in 1987 and 1991. At some point after Monroe Branstad purchased the farmland, the Branstads sought and received permission from the USDA to repair the existing tile drainage system on Tract # 2024, so long as the repairs did not exceed the original size and depth of the existing tile. The Branstads repaired the tile drainage system, presumably in 1997,1 with smaller plastic drain tile that the Branstads contend did not exceed the original tile system's drainage field. The USDA inspected the installation of the repaired tile system. However, the Branstads allege that, on September 29, 1998, a neighbor filed a complaint with the USDA regarding the repair of the tile drainage system on Tract # 2024.

C. Procedural Background
1. Administrative proceedings

The Branstads allege that, as a result of the neighbor's complaint, the USDA commenced administrative proceedings against them for "converting" wetlands.2 In those administrative proceedings, on October 26, 1999, the District Conservationist for Winnebago County, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), USDA, issued a determination that the Branstads had "converted" 18.4 acres of wetland in 1997. Specifically, the District Conservationist found that the Branstads' "manipulation by installing a drainage tile system on this wetland area is considered an alteration that makes the area more farmable." Preliminary Injunction Hearing Supplemental Exhibit 2, October 26, 1999, letter from District Conservationist (District Conservationist's Determination), at 1. The District Conservationist warned that this determination would likely result in the loss of the Branstads' eligibility for USDA program benefits for 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Id.

The Branstads appealed the NRCS determination to the Winnebago County Farm Service Agency Committee (FSA) on November 2, 2000. The FSA held a hearing on November 9, 1999. By letter dated November 15, 2000, to the State Conservationist of the NRCS, the FSA advised the NRCS that it had determined that the NRCS had not considered all of the evidence before making its determination that the Branstads had converted wetlands and recommended that the NRCS review its decision. Preliminary Injunction Hearing Supplemental Exhibit 3, November 15, 1999, letter from FSA to NRCS (FSA Recommendation). However, by letter dated February 7, 2000, the FSA notified the Branstads that the state office of the NRCS had advised the FSA that no further review of the matter was necessary and that the prior determination by the NRCS — that the Branstads had...

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