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Robbins v. New York Corn & Soybean Growers Association, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 21, 2017

RONALD ROBBINS et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW YORK CORN & SOYBEAN GROWERS ASSOCIATION, INC., Defendant.

          FOR THE PLAINTIFFS:Cullenberg, Tensen Law Firm

          AREND R. TENSEN, ESQ KATHERINE E. GAVETT, ESQ.

          FOR THE DEFENDANT: Ferrara Fiorenza P.C.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          GARY L. SHARPE SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiffs Ronald Robbins and James Czub commenced this action against defendant New York Corn & Soybean Growers Association, Inc. (NYCSGA) seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the Freedom of Information Act[1] and the Soybean Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act.[2] (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Pending is NYCSGA's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 7.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

         II. Background

         A. Facts

         The Soybean Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information Act (hereinafter “Soybean Act”) promotes domestic soybean production and research financed from assessments charged on a per unit basis of soybeans sold to a first purchaser. See 7 U.S.C. §§ 6301, 6304(l). This Act also established a United Soybean Board (USB), which decides how the assessments will be invested. See Id. § 6304(b)-(f). The assessments are collected by a Qualified State Soybean Board, which the Act defines as “a [s]tate soybean promotion entity that is authorized by [s]tate law.” Id. § 6302(14). Assessments are collected by QSSBs in which they retain one-half and then remit the remainder to USB. See Id. § 6304(l)(1)(A)-(B), (m).NYCSGA is a not-for-profit corporation established under New York law to promote the interests of state corn and soybean farmers through marketing and research. (Dkt. No. 7, Attachs. 4, 5.) NYCSGA is also a QSSB under the Soybean Act, which administers funds for the assessment program. (Dkt. No. 7, Attach. 2 ¶ 4.) NYCSGA remits the assessments to USB and is subject to annual audits to demonstrate compliance with the Soybean Act's research and promotion goals. (Id. ¶ 7.) Robbins and Czub are both corn and soybean farmers who are members of NYCSGA and pay assessments. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-2.)

         USB does not conduct or oversee the daily operations of NYCSGA. (Dkt. No. 7, Attach. 2 ¶ 10.) NYCSGA makes its own personnel, real estate, collection, and investment decisions, none of which require USB approval. (Id. ¶ 11.) USB's supervisory role is limited to annual audits of assessments received by NYCSGA. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         Robbins served as the Vice President of the board of NYCSGA until December 2014 when he resigned because of alleged conflicts of interests. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Julia Robbins, Robbins's daughter, served as the Executive Director of NYCSGA. (Id. ¶ 20.) At some point, NYCSGA apparently disagreed with USB about the allocation of assessments. (Id.¶ 21.) After the disagreement, USB raised concerns about an apparent conflict of interest as Robbins and his daughter served as Vice President and Executive Director at the same time. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) In February 2015, the board held a special meeting at which they voted to terminate J. Robbins, and she was informed of her termination later that month. (Id. ¶¶ 23-25.) It is alleged that the procedure used to organize the special meeting and to vote to terminate J. Robbins violated NYCSGA's bylaws. (Id.)

         On March 13, 2015, Robbins and Czub sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to NYCSGA seeking emails, correspondence, board meeting minutes, and notices sent to its board members around the time of J. Robbins's termination. (Compl. ¶ 30.) NYCSGA denied the request stating that it did not have to comply with FOIA. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 28.) Robbins and Czub allege that NYCSGA is subject to FOIA because it receives assessments from the federal program. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 33.)

         B. Procedural History

         On August 10, 2015, Robbins and Czub commenced this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under FOIA and the Soybean Act. (Compl.) They allege that the court has federal question jurisdiction on the basis of mandamus, [3] the Soybean Act, FOIA, and the Administrative Procedure Act.[4] (Id. ¶ 4.) Thereafter, NYCSGA filed the pending pre-answer motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 7.)

         III. Standards of Review

         A. R ...


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