Ongoing beef dispute: Judge dismisses checkoff challenge


CENTENNIAL, Colo. – A suit brought by Steve and Jeanne Charter challenging the constitutionality of the beef checkoff program was dismissed Oct. 21, as a result of a request by the plaintiffs.
Defendants in the case include the USDA and a group of producers who intervened on behalf of the checkoff.
As a result of the dismissal, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull’s prior order requiring the Charters to pay $417.79 in unpaid checkoff assessments and late fees to the Montana Beef Council was reinstated.
The beginning. The Charter case originated as a compliance issue in 1998, when Montana ranchers Steve and Jeanne Charter refused to pay the mandated $1-per-head beef checkoff on the sale of their cattle.
A USDA administrative law judge enforced the checkoff and assessed a civil penalty on the Charters for refusal to pay.
Upon further review by the USDA’s judicial officer, at the request of the Charters, assessments of those penalties were upheld.
Appeals. The Charters then appealed their case to the Federal District Court in Billings, Mont., where Cebull ruled in favor of USDA, declaring the beef checkoff constitutional, but reversing the assessment of civil penalties.
The Charters appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California, where a ruling was held in abeyance while the U.S. Supreme Court considered a similar case brought by the Livestock Marketing Association, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, and three individuals.
Upon the Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the checkoff program in the Livestock Marketing Association case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the Charter case back to Cebull’s court in Billings.
Established. The beef checkoff program was established as part of the 1985 farm bill.
The checkoff assesses $1 per head on the sale of live domestic and imported cattle, in addition to a comparable assessment on imported beef and beef products. States retain up to 50 cents on the dollar.

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