Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation177 L.Ed.2d 461,130 S.Ct. 2743,561 U.S. 139
Docket NumberNo. 09–475.,09–475.
PartiesMONSANTO CO. et al., v. GEERTSON SEED FARMS et al.
Decision Date21 June 2010

561 U.S. 139
130 S.Ct. 2743
177 L.Ed.2d 461

MONSANTO CO. et al.,

No. 09–475.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued April 27, 2010.
Decided June 21, 2010.

Gregory G. Garre, Washington, DC, for petitioners.

Malcolm L. Stewart, for federal respondents, supporting the petitioners.

Lawrence S. Robbins, for respondents.

130 S.Ct. 2749

B. Andrew Brown, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Minneapolis, MN, for Forage Genetics International, LLC, Daniel Mederos and Mark Watte, Gregory G. Garre, Counsel of Record, Maureen E. Mahoney, Richard P. Bress, Philip J. Perry, J. Scott Ballenger, Drew C. Ensign, Latham & Watkins LLP, Washington, DC, for Monsanto Co., Charles B. Von Feldt, Forage Genetics International, LLC, Shoreview, MN, for Forage Genetics International, LLC.

Elena Kagan, Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Federal Respondents Supporting Petitioners.

George A. Kimbrell, Kevin S. Golden, Center for Food Safety, San Francisco, CA, Richard J. Lazarus, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, Lawrence S. Robbins, Counsel of Record, Donald J. Russell, Alan E. Untereiner, Eva A. Temkin, Lisa K. Helvin, Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP, Washington, DC, Counsel for Respondents Geertson Seed Farms, et al.

Elena Kagan, Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General, Anna T. Katselas, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Federal Respondents in Opposition.


Justice ALITO delivered the opinion of the Court.

561 U.S. 144

This case arises out of a decision by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to deregulate a variety of genetically engineered alfalfa. The District Court held that APHIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 83 Stat. 852, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq., by issuing its deregulation decision without first completing a detailed assessment of the environmental consequences of its proposed course of action. To remedy that violation, the District Court vacated the agency's decision completely deregulating the alfalfa variety in question; ordered APHIS not to act on the deregulation petition in whole or in part until it had completed a detailed environmental review; and enjoined almost all future planting of the genetically engineered alfalfa pending the completion of that review. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's entry of permanent injunctive relief. The main issue now in dispute concerns the breadth of that relief. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.



The Plant Protection Act (PPA), 114 Stat. 438, 7 U.S.C. § 7701 et seq., provides that the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) may issue regulations “to prevent the introduction of plant pests into the United States or the dissemination of plant pests within the United States.” § 7711(a). The Secretary has delegated that authority to APHIS, a division of the USDA. 7 CFR §§ 2.22(a), 2.80(a)(36) (2010). Acting pursuant to that delegation, APHIS has promulgated regulations governing “the introduction of organisms and products altered or produced through genetic engineering that are plant pests or are believed to be plant pests.” See § 340.0(a)(2) and n. 1. Under those regulations, certain genetically engineered plants are presumed to be “plant pests”—and thus “regulated articles”

561 U.S. 145

under the PPA—

130 S.Ct. 2750

until APHIS determines otherwise. See ibid.; §§ 340.1, 340.2, 340.6; SEE also app. 183. howevEr, any person may petition APHIS for a determination that a regulated article does not present a plant pest risk and therefore should not be subject to the applicable regulations. 7 U.S.C. § 7711(c)(2); 7 CFR § 340.6. APHIS may grant such a petition in whole or in part. § 340.6(d)(3).

In deciding whether to grant nonregulated status to a genetically engineered plant variety, APHIS must comply with NEPA, which requires federal agencies “to the fullest extent possible” to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for “every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actio[n] significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C). The statutory text “speaks solely in terms of proposed actions; it does not require an agency to consider the possible environmental impacts of less imminent actions when preparing the impact statement on proposed actions.” Kleppe v. Sierra Club, 427 U.S. 390, 410, n. 20, 96 S.Ct. 2718, 49 L.Ed.2d 576 (1976).

An agency need not complete an EIS for a particular proposal if it finds, on the basis of a shorter “environmental assessment” (EA), that the proposed action will not have a significant impact on the environment. 40 CFR §§ 1508.9(a), 1508.13 (2009). Even if a particular agency proposal requires an EIS, applicable regulations allow the agency to take at least some action in furtherance of that proposal while the EIS is being prepared. See § 1506.1(a) (“no action concerning the proposal shall be taken which would: (1) Have an adverse environmental impact; or (2) Limit the choice of reasonable alternatives”); § 1506.1(c) (“While work on a required program environmental impact statement is in progress and the action is not covered by an existing program statement, agencies shall not undertake in the interim any major Federal action covered by the program which may significantly affect the quality of the human environment unless such action” satisfies certain requirements).

561 U.S. 146


This case involves Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA), a kind of alfalfa crop that has been genetically engineered to be tolerant of glyphosate, the active ingredient of the herbicide Roundup. Petitioner Monsanto Company (Monsanto) owns the intellectual property rights to RRA. Monsanto licenses those rights to co-petitioner Forage Genetics International (FGI), which is the exclusive developer of RRA seed.

APHIS initially classified RRA as a regulated article, but in 2004 petitioners sought nonregulated status for two strains of RRA. In response, APHIS prepared a draft EA assessing the likely environmental impact of the requested deregulation. It then published a notice in the Federal Register advising the public of the deregulation petition and soliciting public comments on its draft EA. After considering the hundreds of public comments that it received, APHIS issued a Finding of No Significant Impact and decided to deregulate RRA unconditionally and without preparing an EIS. Prior to this decision, APHIS had authorized almost 300 field trials of RRA conducted over a period of eight years. App. 348.

Approximately eight months after APHIS granted RRA nonregulated status, respondents (two conventional alfalfa seed farms and environmental groups concerned with food safety) filed this action against the Secretary of Agriculture and certain other officials in Federal District Court, challenging APHIS's decision to

130 S.Ct. 2751

completely deregulate RRA. Their complaint alleged violations of NEPA, the Endangered Species Act of 1973(ESA), 87 Stat. 884, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq., and the PPA. Respondents did not seek preliminary injunctive relief pending resolution of those claims. Hence, RRA enjoyed nonregulated status for approximately two years. During that period, more than 3,000 farmers in 48 States planted an estimated 220,000 acres of RRA.App. 350.

561 U.S. 147

In resolving respondents' NEPA claim, the District Court accepted APHIS's determination that RRA does not have any harmful health effects on humans or livestock. App. to Pet. for Cert. 43a; accord, id., at 45a. Nevertheless, the District Court held that APHIS violated NEPA by deregulating RRA without first preparing an EIS. In particular, the court found that APHIS's EA failed to answer substantial questions concerning two broad consequences of its proposed action: first, the extent to which complete deregulation would lead to the transmission of the gene conferring glyphosate tolerance from RRA to organic and conventional alfalfa; and, second, the extent to which the introduction of RRA would contribute to the development of Roundup-resistant weeds. Id., at 52a. In light of its determination that the deregulation decision ran afoul of NEPA, the District Court dismissed without prejudice respondents' claims under the ESA and PPA.

After these rulings, the District Court granted petitioners permission to intervene in the remedial phase of the lawsuit. The court then asked the parties to submit proposed judgments embodying their preferred means of remedying the NEPA violation. APHIS's proposed judgment would have ordered the agency to prepare an EIS, vacated the agency's deregulation decision, and replaced that decision with the terms of the judgment itself. Id., at 184a (proposed judgment providing that “[the federal] defendants' [June 14,] 2005 Determination of Nonregulated Status for Alfalfa Genetically Engineered for Tolerance to the Herbicide Glyphosate...

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