United States District Court, N.D. New York
THE PLAINTIFFS:Cullenberg, Tensen Law Firm
R. TENSEN, ESQ KATHERINE E. GAVETT, ESQ.
THE DEFENDANT: Ferrara Fiorenza P.C.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
L. SHARPE SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.
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 and the Soybean
Promotion, Research, and Consumer Information
(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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.)
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,
Soybean Act, FOIA, and the Administrative Procedure
(Id. ¶ 4.) Thereafter, NYCSGA filed the pending
pre-answer motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. (Dkt. No. 7.)
Standards of Review