Skip to Content
Domina Law Group pc llo Domina Law Group pc llo
Call Us Today! 888-387-4134

Decade Law Struggle Ends in Victory for Farmers v USDA. Domina Law Clients Score Major Win in U.S. Supreme Court


"It was a cold, brief, but bright January day in 2005 when Marvin and Laura Horne, Kerman CA 1st called talk about their problem with the USDA." Dave Domina of Domina Law Group recalls the conversation.

"We raise raisins. The government takes just about half the crop away from us under a federal regulation in the Raisin Marketing Order left over from 1947. We are going broke. We want to resist the taking of our raisins and need help." That is what Domina recalls of Mr. Horne's description of his legal problem.

Domina went to California. "I learned the raisin business as best I could, and learned of the raisin law in the Marketing Order." We decided to take USDA to task by defending against an enforcement action it brought administratively to impose fines and penalties on Mr. and Mrs. Horne." The Hornes decided to divide the marketing order and refused to pay levied fines or set aside raisins. Instead, they joined with a handful of neighbors, purchased processing equipment, and began to clean, bag, and sell their own reasons to the public.

"But USDA said this was illegal too," Domina noted. "So, we went to court. We knew the case would have to be settled on appeal and could never be ended at the trial court level. We expected a complex process."

And the Horne's got a complex process! But, in the end they won… after two victories … yes two… in the Supreme Court of the United States! The first win was 9-0 in 2013. It set the stage for an even bigger, and highly extraordinary return to the Supreme Court for a second time in the same case!

Final and full victory came for the Horne's on June 22, 2015. Horne v USDA, an 8-1 decision adopted the same arguments Dave Domina made in the trial court in 2005, on appeal on the first round of appeals, and after Domina's handoff to Brian Leighton of Clovis CA. "Brian did a great job! He never gave up on the case or clients and was a pleasure to work with and to support from long distance." Domina Law did not handle the case in the Supreme Court.

The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires the government to pay just compensation when it takes private property for a public use. But the 1949 Raisin Marketing Order" allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to demand a portion of each year's California raisin crop, free of charge. The title to those raisins passes to the Raisin Administrative Committee, which is allowed to use the raisins for government purposes. Those purposes include giving the raisins away for free to school lunch programs or selling them for foreign export. If it sells them, the government gets to use the proceeds to fund its own operations.

In the Supreme Court decision issued on June 22, 2015 in Horne v. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Raisin Marketing Order's regulatory set aside or reserve program as an unconstitutional violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Opinions of the Justices may be read HERE.

"The reserve requirement imposed by the Raisin Committee is a clear physical taking," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the Majority Opinion for the Court. Roberts continued, "Actual raisins are transferred from the growers to the Government. Title to the raisins passes to the Raisin Committee."

The Court also makes unequivocally clear the categorical duty of government to pay just compensation when it takes personal property… just as when it takes real estate. Any distinction between the two was vaporized by the Horne decision. "Government has a categorical duty to pay just compensation when it takes your car, just as when it takes your home."

Roberts' opinion was joined in full by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Sotomayor filed a solo dissent, in which she sided entirely with the USDA. "The government may condition the ability to offer goods in the market on the giving-up of certain property interests without effecting a per se taking," Sotomayor asserted.

"I am delighted for the Horne family, and the raisin industry," Dave Domina said. Trying this case and establishing the entire record of proceedings, with issues highlighted, briefed, argued and preserved for two successful appearances in the United States Supreme Court, was a professional highlight, for Domina. It likely would be for any lawyer.

For more information, listen to NPR's coverage of the issue.

Share To: