Farmers Win Property Rights Case

California Farmers Win Property Rights Case Over Union Organizer Access

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
Connect with Chris:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in a 6-3 decision that a California regulation granting union organizers access to farms throughout the year constitutes a physical taking of property. The ruling will limit the ability of the government to force people to allow third parties on their property. (DTN file photo by Elaine Shein)

California farmers do not have to allow union organizers on their property unless state officials provide compensation for the temporary "physical taking" of property, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The 6-3 ruling overturns a regulation in California law that granted the United Farm Workers union access to a farm property for three hours a day for up to 120 days a year. The majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts stated, "The access regulation grants labor organizations a right to invade the growers' property. It therefore constitutes a per se physical taking."

The case is Cedar Point Nursery v Hassid. It began in 2015 when Cedar Point Nursery, a strawberry farm in northern California with about 400 season employees and 100 full-time workers, charged that union organizers were showing up at the farm early in the morning, using bullhorns and disturbing the farm operations. Fowler Packing Co., a grower and shipper of grapes and other fruits in Fresno, Calif., employees up to 2,500 field worker sand 500 in its packing facility. Fowler also had refused to let union organizers on its property, leading to the union to initially file an unfair labor charge against Fowler Packing.

Both Cedar Point and Fowler sued in federal court against the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and its members, including the board chair, Victoria Hassid to challenge the state regulation that goes back to 1975.

The decision reversed a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal and remanded the case back to the district court to implement the Supreme Court decision.

California officials had argued the regulation only allowed limited and intermittent access for a narrow purpose. Roberts cited the language of the rule that grans labor unions a "right to take access" of a grower's property to solicit union members. Roberts stated that allowing union organizers on the farm for up to three hours a day, for 120 days "to invade the growers' premises" takes away the rights of the growers to exclude the union organizers from their property.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had dismissed the physical taking argument because the access is temporary. Roberts wrote, "That position is unsupportable as a matter of precedent and common sense." Roberts cited that the High Court has held in the past that a taking of property can be permanent or temporary. Precedents have established that "compensation is mandated when a leasehold is taken and the government occupies property for its own purposes, even though that use is temporary."

In their dissent, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor stated that by concluding that access for union organizers is a taking, then that could translate into every government inspection or entrance onto property as a physical taking. The California provision is a regulation and not an appropriation, the three dissenters wrote.

Roberts dismissed the dissent, stating that permits and other regulatory tools would give government officials access to property when needed.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also wrote a separate concurrent opinion agreeing with the majority.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents landowners in property-rights cases, had represented the two growers in the case. The group said Wednesday's ruling affirmed that the government cannot force people to allow third parties onto their property.

"Today's ruling is a huge victory for property rights," said Pacific Legal Foundation senior attorney Joshua Thompson, who argued the case before the Supreme Court. "Today's decision affirms that one of the most fundamental aspects of property is the right to decide who can and can't access your property. Pacific Legal Foundation is proud to have represented Cedar Point Nursery and Fowler Packing Company at the Supreme Court."

United Farm Workers did not immediately issue a comment on the ruling Wednesday.

TO see more on the Supreme Court decision, Cedar Point Nursery v Hassid, go to: https://www.supremecourt.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Chris Clayton