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Please read the press release below center for basic information on this case.
may 2012 : and so...rosberg v. lunquist
Organic inspectors are the eyes, ears and noses of the organic certification agencies and the USDA National Organic Program, a critical part of the foundation for anything certified organic.
This case is of concern for all organic inspectors, organic certification agencies and consumers of organic goods. At its heart is the harassment of an inspector who reported an organic farmer who did not disclose his certification history when applying to multiple organic certification agencies. The NOP followed up with an independent investigation and found all information reported by the inspector to be accurate. The NOP revoked the farmer's organic certificate.
We own & operate a small certified organic & Biodynamic farm in Lancaster County, Nebraska. Evrett has done organic & Biodynamic farm & processor inspections for many different agencies as a small sideline for about 11 years. As our farm & farming endeavors have grown, he has done much less inspection. The case below stems from inspections done many years ago.
Upon hearing of this legal case, quite a few folks suggested a website to accept contributions to help out - a newer-fangled way of passing-the-hat.
As there are updates to the case, we will post them. The case may move along quickly or slowly...we don't know.
We are grateful for the interest & support from the community, however defined in this context, both near & far.
Thank you. Truly.
Evrett Lunquist & Ruth Chantry
original press release
For Immediate release: May 9, 2012
FIRST EVER FARMER v. INDEPENDENT ORGANIC INSPECTOR SUIT FILED
On February 13, 2012, Paul Rosberg of Randolph, Nebraska filed a suit in the Lancaster County (Nebraska) District Court against Evrett Lunquist, an independent organic inspector of Raymond, Nebraska. In the suit, Rosberg claims that information Lunquist provided to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) caused the NOP to revoke Rosberg’s organic certification. Rosberg seeks damages of more than $3 million dollars.
This case is notable because it is the first known case of an (organic) farmer bringing suit against an organic inspector. Lunquist had inspected Rosberg as an independent organic inspector several years previously for two different organic certifying agencies. Certified organic farms and processors, under regulation of the NOP, must have an on-site inspection annually. Many certifying agencies use independently contracted inspectors to perform this service after they have had intensive training focused on anything ranging from inspection of farms, livestock, processors and a variety of more specific situations. IOIA, the Montana-based International Organic Inspectors Association, works throughout the world to lead training sessions independently and in collaboration with a wide range of organic certifying agencies.
Upon receipt of the information provided by Lunquist, the NOP began an investigation of Rosberg. Based upon their independent investigation, the NOP found that Rosberg “did not disclose his prior certification history, notices of non-compliances, or notices of denial when applying for organic certification with four consecutive (organic) certifying agents.”1 Although Lunquist’s report to the NOP should have been kept confidential under NOP policy, Lunquist’s identity was inadvertently released when Rosberg requested copies of documents from the NOP as part of Rosberg’s appeal of his organic certificate revocation. While Lunquist was not acting in the role of an inspector at that time of his complaint to the NOP, Lunquist is a member of IOIA and required by their Inspector Code of Ethics to report suspected fraud to the appropriate authorities.
The case has not been scheduled for hearing at this time; additional information regarding pending court dates as scheduled may be found through the District Court of Lancaster County, Nebraska website at http://lancaster.ne.gov/districtcourt/index.htm.
Lunquist and his wife’s own farm is certified organic and Biodynamic®. Lunquist and family have created a website (lunquistlegalfund.org) to accept contributions for the mounting costs of the legal defense in this case.
1 In re: Paul A. Rosberg, Administrator’s Decision, APL-012-10 (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service).
april 29, 2013: still waiting for the judge's order....
march 20, 2013: The hearing for summary judgment took place today. The judge will write up his decision after considering all the evidence that was entered by both parties. A decision could be written by the judge in a matter of weeks or it could take months. Thanks to everyone for their continued support & good wishes!
march 19, 2013: The hearing for summary judgment is scheduled March 20, 2013 at 2 pm at the Lancaster County Courthouse, Lincoln, NE. We will post an update as soon as we have additional information or a decision after the hearing. It is not an immediate decision given by the judge during the courtroom proceedings.
february 25, 2013: We have been waiting to update the total expenses until we received more recent billings, but based on information from our attorneys' accounting office, we can estimate that total expenses by mid-February 2013 were about $42,000. We've also updated the court documents page with some notations to make things more clear on what actions were taken by the judge in regards to each of the motions (moot, denied, granted).
jan 22, 2013: After the Lincoln Journal Star article ran last week, the Associated Press picked up the article & sent out the story with several significant factual errors, including stating that the suit is in the appeal stage, that our farm had it's organic certification revoked and Evrett was a former inspector. All three are completely false. The AP sent out a correction which ran in most print newspapers & on-line editions that ran the incorrect story.
jan 18, 2013: There was a hearing held on January 15, 2013 on at least five motions filed by the plaintiff. Most of the motions or certain aspects of the motions were denied, but a couple were granted by the judge. One of the motions was to continue (delay) the hearing for summary judgment, which was granted. The new hearing date has been scheduled for March 20, 2013 at 2 pm at the Lancaster County Courthouse.
Through the end of December 2012, legal expenses total $29,061.
Some recent press:
www.journalstar.com: Organic whistle-blower lands in legal soup
dec 26, 2012: Legal expenses through the end of November total $28,457. Just before the end of December, the plaintiff's opposing brief is due, then we have the opportunity to respond with a reply brief by early January.
Some related press & activities:
www.savecommongoodfarm.com (our local food co-op's legal fund mirror site & donation effort to help our farm!)
nov 19, 2012: Legal expenses through end of October total $27,547. We are in the process of pre-hearing document preparation.
nov 9, 2012 : The International Organic Inspectors Association released a public letter regarding this litigation. A copy of the letter can be viewed at the bottom of this page.
oct 22, 2012 : We again filed a motion for summary judgement. A new court hearing date for summary judgement is scheduled for January 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm at the Lancaster County Courthouse, Lincoln, NE.
Legal expenses through end of September total $26,539. A recent round of donations have helped tremendously to increase the total contributions to about 30% of the legal expenses so far.
sept 10, 2012 : Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding International Certification Services (ICS) and unnamed others as Defendants. The amended complaint and exhibits can be found on the Court Documents page. Be advised: the pdf files for the amended complaint and exhibits are large and will take some time to download. Up to end-of-August 2012 billings, we have incurred $24,656 for legal costs & attorney fees for Evrett's defense in this case. We will update the total when we receive the next billing.
august 27, 2012 : The hearing held on this day was originally scheduled for consideration of our motion for summary judgment. It became instead, through a course of events & filings by the plaintiff prior to today, a hearing to deal with other motions & amendments. In short, the court granted the plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint (adding International Certification Services and John and Jane Does 1-100 as defendants). The Court then granted ICS's motion to strike the amended petition as the plaintiff included abusive and profane language in his amended petition and did not seek leave of the court to file an amended complaint. Citing pro se leniency, the Court allowed the plaintiff 30 days to file an amended complaint and conduct discovery/gather evidence. Last, the Court continued (stalled) the summary judgment hearing. We have 20 days to respond once an amended complaint is filed. We have updated the Court Documents to reflect the day's actions. We should have more news & developments within about six weeks.