Monday, August 17, 2015

D.C. Court Reverses Prior Dismissal in National Pork Board Case

Written by Katharine Richter

On August 14, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a prior decision, which dismissed for lack of standing, a claim that alleged the National Pork Board misappropriated funds when it purchased rights to four trademarks from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

According to the August 14 decision, “the National Pork Board is a quasi-governmental entity” whose purpose is “to promote pork in the marketplace,” and in exchange pork producers will “pay the Board a special assessment on each hog they import or sell.”  The decision states the special assessment fee is mandatory for pork producers.  According to the decision, the Board in 2006 purchased for $60 million from the NPPC, “four trademarks associated with the slogan Pork: The Other White Meat.”  The Board agreed to pay $3 million each year for 20 years and held the right to stop payment at any time with a year’s notice, but all rights to the trademark would then revert back to the NPPC.  In 2011, the Board replaced the slogan with Pork: Be Inspired, ending the agreement.

The plaintiffs bringing the suit are Harvey Dillenburg, a pork producer, the Humane Society, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.  According to the decision, the plaintiffs argued that the Board overpaid for the trademarks and only made the deal “to keep the Council in business and support its lobbying efforts.”  The plaintiffs brought the suit against the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and were asking to enjoin the Board from making further payments and “directing the Secretary to claw back what payments he can from the deal.”

The previous court decision had held that there was no “injury in fact fairly traceable to the actions of the defendant.”  The Appellate Court found that the appellant, Harvey Dillenburg, had presented enough factual evidence that there was actual economic loss and therefore had standing.

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