Summary judgment issued against R-CALF in checkoff case

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
State beef councils win crucial step in court case against beef checkoff.

The beef industry is claiming victory following a summary judgement by a Montana magistrate judge on Jan. 29, saying the opinion will ensure cattle producers will continue to direct how checkoff investments are made at the state level.

The federal government and 15 qualified state beef councils – including Wisconsin – were named in the R-CALF vs. Sonny Perdue case. 

“We are pleased with today’s opinion, which allows state beef councils to continue the important work of beef promotion and research. Although this case is far from complete, this was a crucial step toward ensuring state beef councils retain the important ability to direct their investments at the grassroots level,” said Colin Woodall, NCBA Chief Executive Officer in a news release.

The legal wrangling began back in May 2019 when the plaintiff R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America), a national, non-profit organization representing U.S. cattle and sheep producers on domestic and international trade and marketing issues, asked the federal district court to rule that the beef checkoff is unconstitutional due to the 15 state beef councils being private council private entities that uses half of the mandatory checkoff monies to fund its private speech.

The decision of the magistrate judge will now be forwarded to the federal district court for a final ruling. It could continue to be appealed by either party after the district court judge issues an opinion, a process that will continue over the next several months or longer.

R-CALF USA’s legal council Public Justice, told Tri-State Livestock News that the summary judgement was just one step in the legal process.

“The Magistrate held that for decades USDA had been violating producers’ rights and the Constitution by turning over money to unaccountable state beef councils. He also concluded that after R-CALF filed suit and exposed this misconduct in the checkoff program, USDA was able to change the program and bring it into compliance with the First Amendment," the counsel stated.

Public Justice noted that it would be arguing that checkoff money is still flowing to unaccountable private entities run by the meat packers

Woodhall stated that the The beef checkoff continues to provide important benefits for cattle producers in the form of research and promotion that returns nearly $12 for every dollar invested in the program.

"The Beef Checkoff is weakened, and the benefits it provides our industry are put in jeopardy, by lawsuits such as this one,” said Woodall. “We’re committed to defending state beef councils from these attacks and ensuring producers at the grassroots level continue to determine how checkoff dollars are invested in their states.”

State beef councils listed in the case are: Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin.