Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms

PETITIONER: Monsanto Co., et al.
RESPONDENT: Geerston Seed Farms, et al.
LOCATION:

DOCKET NO.: 09-475
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 561 US 139 (2010)
GRANTED: Jan 15, 2010
ARGUED: Apr 27, 2010
DECIDED: Jun 21, 2010

ADVOCATES:
Gregory G. Garre - for the petitioners
Lawrence S. Robbins - for respondent Geertson Seed Farms et al.
Malcolm L. Stewart - Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the federal respondents supporting the petitioners

Facts of the case

Geertson Seed Farms ("Geertson") and Trask Family Seeds ("Trask") sought an injunction against Monsanto Company ("Monsanto") in a California federal district court. Geertson and Trask feared that the wide-scale sale of a new Monsanto alfalfa variety, resistant to one of the company's herbicides, would lead to cross-pollination with Geertson's and Trask's conventional alfalfa variety and thereby lead to its disappearance. The district court granted the injunction pending an Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") about the effect of Monsanto's new alfalfa variety.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed holding that the injunction was appropriate and that an evidentiary hearing was not required before the issuance of the injunction.

Question

1) Did the Ninth Circuit err in holding that the plaintiffs are exempt from showing a "likelihood of irreparable harm" to obtain an injunction?

2) Did the Ninth Circuit err in holding that a district court may enter an injunction without conducting an evidentiary hearing?

Media for Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 2010 in Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 21, 2010 in Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has the Opinion of the Court today in case 09-475, Monsanto Company Versus Geertson Seed Farm.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

This Case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The case involves a challenge to a decision by the United States Department of Agriculture to deregulate completely a particular variety of genetically engineered alfalfa.

The District Court held that the department violated the National Environmental Policy Act by issuing its deregulation decision without first completing a detailed assessment of the decisions likely environmental impact.

To remedy that violation the District Court vacated the agency's decision enjoined the agency from deregulating the alfalfa in whole or in part pending completion of the mandated environmental review and prohibited virtually all planting of the alfalfa on an interim basis.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's entry of permanent injunctive relief.

We hold that the District Court should not have enjoined the agency from affecting any deregulation of matter how limited pending its environmental review.

At this point, we do not know whether and to what extent, the agency will seek to effect a partial deregulation if it is free to do so.

We do know that subject to certain exceptions not relevant here, the genetically engineered alfalfa cannot be grown or sold commercially and thus poses no threat to the environment until such time as the agency issues a new deregulation decision, and we also know that if and when the agency makes such a decision any party aggrieved by that decision may file a new suit challenging that decision and seeking appropriate preliminary relief.

Because it was premature to foreclose even the possibility of a limited deregulation, it was likewise inappropriate to enjoin any and all parties from planting the alfalfa in accordance with such a deregulation decision.

For these and other reasons set out more fully in our opinion, we reverse and remand for further proceed.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.

Justice Breyer took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.