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Alston HuntSuit alleges the ordinance would cause irreparable harm to the local economy

HONOLULU – On November 13, 2014, Monsanto Company along with Maui and Molokai businesses and organizations representing residents and farmers filed suit in federal court to invalidate the ordinance banning genetically engineered crops passed as a Maui County ballot initiative earlier this month.

The suit claims that although styled as a moratorium, the ordinance is in effect a complete ban on the planting and testing of GE crops, commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A complete ban would cause immediate and irreparable harm to the local economy, to the individuals who rely on GE crops to support themselves and their families, to local businesses, as well as to the seed companies which rely on the unique Maui County climate to breed high quality seeds for domestic and international agriculture.

Plaintiffs in Robert Ito Farm, Inc., et al v. County of Maui, No. 14 CV 00511 (BMK), seek declaratory and injunctive relief. Representing the plaintiffs are Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing attorneys Kenneth Robbins and Nick Kacprowski (representing Monsanto, Concerned Citizens of Molokai and Maui, Friendly Isle Auto Parts, Makoa Trucking and Services, Hikiola Cooperative); Margery Bronster, Rex Fujichaku and Donna Marron of Bronster Hoshibata (representing Robert Ito Farm, Inc., Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation of Maui County, Molokai Chamber of Commerce, Agrigenetics); and Philip Perry and Andrew Prins of Latham & Watkins (representing Monsanto). U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry M. Kurren blocked Maui County from implementing the ban until March 31, 2015, in order to give adequate time for the parties to brief and argue and for the Court to rule on the legality of the ordinance.

The suit also alleges that the ordinance stands in direct conflict with the federal court ruling in Syngenta Seeds, Inc., v. County of Kauai, No. 14-CV-0014-BMK, 2014 WL 4216022 (D. Haw. Aug. 25, 2014), which holds that only the State of Hawai`i and its Department of Agriculture ‑ not the individual counties ‑ may regulate in this area.

In that suit, a coalition of four GE seed companies successfully sought an injunction barring the County of Kauai from implementing Ordinance 960, a law that would have prohibited plaintiffs from growing any crops (GE or not) within arbitrarily drawn buffer zones; restricted pesticide use within those buffer zones; and imposed unwarranted disclosure requirements relating to pesticide usage. The suit claimed that the law exceeded the County's regulatory authority, was preempted by existing state and federal laws, and violated state and federal constitutional rights by targeting the seed companies while exempting other pesticide users. Judge Kurren invalidated the ordinance as preempted by state law; the County of Kauai has appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit. The plaintiffs’ counsel include Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing attorneys Paul Alston and Claire Wong Black (representing Syngenta Seeds and Syngenta Hawaii), and Kenneth Robbins and John-Anderson Meyer (representing BASF Plant Science).

See the KHON2 coverage here.

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Founded in 1991, Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing counsels and represents clients in all types of civil matters, including business disputes, real property matters, bankruptcy and insolvency, civil rights, healthcare law, employment law, government contracts, government relations, and strategic planning.

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