Sunday, February 28, 2021

Ag Law and Taxation - 2019 Bibliography

Overview

Today's post is a bibliography of my ag law and tax blog articles of 2019.  Many of you have requested that I provide something like this to make it easier to find the articles, and last month I posted the bibliography of the 2020 articles.  Soon I will post the bibliography of the 2018 articles and then 2017 and 2016. 

The library of content is piling up.

Cataloging the 2019 ag law and tax blog articles - it's the topic of today's post.

BANKRUPTCY

Non-Dischargeable Debts in Bankruptcy

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/non-dischargeable-debts-in-bankruptcy.html

Developments in Agricultural Law and Taxation

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/developments-in-agricultural-law-and-taxation.html

More Recent Developments in Agricultural Law

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/more-recent-developments-in-agricultural-law.html

More Ag Law and Tax Developments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/more-ag-law-and-tax-developments.html

Farmers, Bankruptcy and the “Absolute Priority” Rule

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/farmers-bankruptcy-and-the-absolute-priority-rule.html

Ag in the Courtroom

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/ag-in-the-courtroom.html

Key Farm Bankruptcy Modification on the Horizon?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/key-farm-bankruptcy-modification-on-the-horizon.html

Ag Legal Issues in the Courts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/ag-legal-issues-in-the-courts.html

Are Taxes Dischargeable in Bankruptcy?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/are-taxes-dischargeable-in-bankruptcy.html

The “Almost Top Ten” Ag Law and Ag Tax Developments of 2019

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/the-almost-top-ten-ag-law-and-ag-tax-developments-of-2019.html 

BUSINESS PLANNING

Can a State Tax a Trust with No Contact with the State?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/can-a-state-tax-a-trust-with-no-contact-with-the-state.html

Real Estate Professionals and Aggregation – The Passive Loss Rules

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/real-estate-professionals-and-aggregation-the-passive-loss-rules.html  

More Recent Developments in Agricultural Law

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/more-recent-developments-in-agricultural-law.html

Self-Rentals and the Passive Loss Rules

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/self-rentals-and-the-passive-loss-rules.html    

What’s the Best Entity Structure for the Farm or Ranch Business?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/whats-the-best-entity-structure-for-the-farm-or-ranch-business.html

Where Does Life Insurance Fit in an Estate Plan for a Farmer or Rancher?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/where-does-life-insurance-fit-in-an-estate-plan-for-a-farmer-or-rancher.html

Recent Developments in Farm and Ranch Business Planning

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/recent-developments-in-farm-and-ranch-business-planning.html

ESOPs and Ag Businesses – Part One

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/esops-and-ag-businesses-part-one.html

ESOPs and Ag Businesses – Part Two

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/esops-and-ag-businesses-part-two.html

Is a Discount for The BIG Tax Available?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/is-a-discount-for-the-big-tax-available.html

Tax Consequences of Forgiving Installment Payment Debt

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/tax-consequences-of-forgiving-installment-payment-debt.html

Ag Law and Tax in the Courts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/ag-law-and-tax-in-the-courts.html

Shareholder Loans and S Corporation Stock Basis

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/shareholder-loans-and-s-corporation-stock-basis.html

The Family Limited Partnership – Part One

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/the-family-limited-partnership-part-one.html

The Family Limited Partnership – Part Two

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/the-family-limited-partnership-part-two.html

Does the Sale of Farmland Trigger Net Investment Income Tax?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/does-the-sale-of-farmland-trigger-net-investment-income-tax.html

Some Thoughts on Ag Estate/Business/Succession Planning

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/some-thoughts-on-ag-estatebusinesssuccession-planning.html

S Corporation Considerations

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/s-corporation-considerations.html

CIVIL LIABILITIES

When is an Employer Liable for the Conduct of Workers?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/when-is-an-employer-liable-for-the-conduct-of-workers.html

Selected Recent Cases Involving Agricultural Law

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/selected-recent-cases-involving-agricultural-law.html

Ag Nuisances – Basic Principles

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/ag-nuisances-basic-principles.html

Do the Roundup Jury Verdicts Have Meaning For My Farming Operation?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/do-the-roundup-jury-verdicts-have-meaning-for-my-farming-operation.html

What Does a “Reasonable Farmer” Know?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/what-does-a-reasonable-farmer-know.html

Product Liability Down on the Farm - Modifications

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/product-liability-down-on-the-farm-modifications.html

Coming-To-The-Nuisance By Staying Put – Or, When 200 Equals 8,000

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/coming-to-the-nuisance-by-staying-put-or-when-200-equals-8000.html

More Ag Law and Tax Developments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/more-ag-law-and-tax-developments.html

Public Trust vs. Private Rights – Where’s the Line?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/public-trust-vs-private-rights-wheres-the-line.html

Ag Law in the Courts

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/ag-law-in-the-courts.html

Fence Law Basics

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/fence-law-basics.html

CONTRACTS

Negotiating Cell/Wireless Tower Agreements

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/negotiating-cellwireless-tower-agreements.html

Developments in Agricultural Law and Taxation

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/developments-in-agricultural-law-and-taxation.html

Ag Contracts – What if Goods Don’t Conform to the Contract?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/ag-contracts-what-if-goods-dont-conform-to-the-contract.html

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

Top 10 Developments in Ag Law and Tax for 2018 – Numbers 10 and 9

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-10-developments-in-ag-law-and-tax-for-2018-numbers-10-and-9.html

Top 10 Developments in Ag Law and Tax for 2018 – Numbers 8 and 7

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-10-developments-in-ag-law-and-tax-for-2018-numbers-8-and-7.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2018 – Numbers 6, 5, and 4

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2018-numbers-6-5-and-4.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2018 – Numbers 3, 2, and 1

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2018-numbers-3-2-and-1.html

Big EPA Developments – WOTUS and Advisory Committees

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/big-epa-developments-wotus-and-advisory-committees.html

Does Soil Erosion Pose a Constitutional Issue?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/does-soil-erosion-pose-a-constitutional-issue.html

Public Trust vs. Private Rights – Where’s the Line?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/public-trust-vs-private-rights-wheres-the-line.html

More Ag Law and Tax Developments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/more-ag-law-and-tax-developments.html

Eminent Domain and Agriculture

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/eminent-domain-and-agriculture.html

Court Decisions Illustrates USDA’s Swampbuster “Incompetence”

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/court-decision-illustrates-usdas-swampbuster-incompetence.html

Regulatory Changes to the Endangered Species Act

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/regulatory-changes-to-the-endangered-species-act.html

Irrigation Return Flows and the Clean Water Act

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/irrigation-return-flows-and-the-clean-water-act.html

Ag Law in the Courts

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/ag-law-in-the-courts.html

Regulatory Takings – Pursuing a Remedy

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/regulatory-takings-pursuing-a-remedy.html

Does a Pollutant Discharge From Groundwater into a WOTUS Require a Federal Permit?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/does-a-pollutant-discharge-from-groundwater-into-a-wotus-require-a-federal-permit.html

Groundwater Discharges of Pollutants and the Supreme Court

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/groundwater-discharges-of-pollutants-and-the-supreme-court.html

The “Almost Top Ten” Ag Law and Ag Tax Developments of 2019

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/the-almost-top-ten-ag-law-and-ag-tax-developments-of-2019.html

ESTATE PLANNING

Tax Filing Season Update and Summer Seminar!

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/tax-filing-season-update-and-summer-seminar.html

Time to Review Estate Planning Documents?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/time-to-review-of-estate-planning-documents.html

Can a State Tax a Trust with No Contact with the State?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/can-a-state-tax-a-trust-with-no-contact-with-the-state.html

Estate Planning in Second Marriage Situations

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/estate-planning-in-second-marriage-situations.html

Valuing Non-Cash Charitable Gifts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/valuing-non-cash-charitable-gifts.html

Real Estate Professionals and Aggregation – The Passive Loss Rules

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/real-estate-professionals-and-aggregation-the-passive-loss-rules.html

Can the IRS Collect Unpaid Estate Tax From the Beneficiaries?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/can-the-irs-collect-unpaid-estate-tax-from-the-beneficiaries.html

Sale of the Personal Residence After Death

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/sale-of-the-personal-residence-after-death.html

More Recent Developments in Agricultural Law

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/more-recent-developments-in-agricultural-law.html

Thrills with Wills – When is a Will “Unduly Influenced”?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/thrills-with-wills-when-is-a-will-unduly-influenced.html

Heirs Liable for Unpaid Federal Estate Tax 28 Years After Death

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/heirs-liable-for-unpaid-federal-estate-tax-28-years-after-death.html

What’s the Best Entity Structure for the Farm or Ranch Business?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/whats-the-best-entity-structure-for-the-farm-or-ranch-business.html

Where Does Life Insurance Fit in an Estate Plan for a Farmer or Rancher?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/where-does-life-insurance-fit-in-an-estate-plan-for-a-farmer-or-rancher.html

Recent Developments in Farm and Ranch Business Planning

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/recent-developments-in-farm-and-ranch-business-planning.html

Wayfair Does Not Mean That a State Can Always Tax a Trust Beneficiary

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/wayfair-does-not-mean-that-a-state-can-always-tax-a-trust-beneficiary.html

ESOPs and Ag Businesses – Part One

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/esops-and-ag-businesses-part-one.html

Issues in Estate Planning – Agents, Promises, and Trustees

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/issues-in-estate-planning-agents-promises-and-trustees.html

The Importance of Income Tax Basis “Step-Up” at Death

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/the-importance-of-income-tax-basis-step-up-at-death.html

Ag Law in the Courts

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/ag-law-in-the-courts.html

Co-Tenancy or Joint Tenancy – Does it Really Matter?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/co-tenancy-or-joint-tenancy-does-it-really-matter.html

Year-End Legislation Contains Tax Extenders, Repealers, and Modifications to Retirement Provisions

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/year-end-legislation-contains-tax-extenders-repealers-and-modification-to-retirement-provisions.html

INCOME TAX

Top 10 Developments in Ag Law and Tax for 2018 – Numbers 10 and 9

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-10-developments-in-ag-law-and-tax-for-2018-numbers-10-and-9.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2018 – Numbers 6, 5, and 4

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2018-numbers-6-5-and-4.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2018 – Numbers 3, 2, and 1

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2018-numbers-3-2-and-1.html

Tax Filing Season Update and Summer Seminar!

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/tax-filing-season-update-and-summer-seminar.html

QBID Final Regulations on Aggregation and Rents – The Meaning for Farm and Ranch Businesses

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/qbid-final-regulations-on-aggregation-and-rents-the-meaning-for-farm-and-ranch-businesses.html

The QBID Final Regulations – The “Rest of the Story”

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/the-qbid-final-regulations-the-rest-of-the-story.html

Can a State Tax a Trust with No Contact with the State?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/can-a-state-tax-a-trust-with-no-contact-with-the-state.html

Tax Matters – Where Are We Now?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/tax-matters-where-are-we-now.html

New Developments on Exclusion of Employer-Provided Meals

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/new-development-on-exclusion-of-employer-provided-meals.html

Valuing Non-Cash Charitable Gifts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/valuing-non-cash-charitable-gifts.html

Passive Losses and Material Participation

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/passive-losses-and-material-participation.html

Passive Losses and Real Estate Professionals

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/passive-losses-and-real-estate-professionals.html

Developments in Agricultural Law and Taxation

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/developments-in-agricultural-law-and-taxation.html

Real Estate Professionals and Aggregation – The Passive Loss Rules

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/real-estate-professionals-and-aggregation-the-passive-loss-rules.html

Sale of the Personal Residence After Death

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/sale-of-the-personal-residence-after-death.html

Cost Segregation Study – Do You Need One for Your Farm?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/cost-segregation-study-do-you-need-one-for-your-farm.html

Cost Segregation – Risk and Benefits

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/cost-segregation-risks-and-benefits.html

Permanent Conservation Easement Donation Transactions Find Their Way to the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/permanent-conservation-easement-donation-transactions-find-their-way-to-the-irs-dirty-dozen-list.html

Self-Rentals and the Passive Loss Rules

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/self-rentals-and-the-passive-loss-rules.html

More on Self-Rentals

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/more-on-self-rentals.html

Of Black-Holes, Tax Refunds, and Statutory Construction

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/of-black-holes-tax-refunds-and-statutory-construction.html

What Happened in Tax During Tax Season?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/what-happened-in-tax-during-tax-season.html

Cost Segregation and the Recapture Issue

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/cost-segregation-and-the-recapture-issue.html

S.E. Tax and Contract Production Income

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/se-tax-and-contract-production-income.html

Recent Developments in Farm and Ranch Business Planning

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/recent-developments-in-farm-and-ranch-business-planning.html

Ag Cooperatives and the QBID – Initial Guidance

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/ag-cooperatives-and-the-qbid-initial-guidance.html

Wayfair Does Not Mean That a State Can Always Tax a Trust Beneficiary

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/wayfair-does-not-mean-that-a-state-can-always-tax-a-trust-beneficiary.html

Start Me Up! – Tax Treatment of Start-Up Expenses

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/start-me-up-tax-treatment-of-start-up-expenses.html

More on Real Estate Exchanges

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/more-on-real-estate-exchanges.html

2019 Tax Planning for Midwest/Great Plains Farmers and Ranchers

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/2019-tax-planning-for-midwestgreat-plains-farmers-and-ranchers.html

Tax Treatment of Settlements and Court Judgments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/tax-treatment-of-settlements-and-court-judgments.html

ESOPs and Ag Businesses – Part One

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/esops-and-ag-businesses-part-one.html 

Tax “Math” on Jury Verdicts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/tax-math-on-jury-verdicts.html

Kansas Revenue Department Takes Aggressive Position Against Remote Sellers

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/kansas-revenue-department-take-aggressive-position-against-remote-sellers.html

Tax-Deferred Exchanges and Conservation Easements

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/tax-deferred-exchanges-and-conservation-easements.html

Proper Handling of Breeding Fees

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/proper-handling-of-breeding-fees.html

Proper Tax Reporting of Commodity Wages

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/proper-tax-reporting-of-commodity-wages.html

Tax Consequences of Forgiving Installment Payment Debt

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/tax-consequences-of-forgiving-installment-payment-debt.html

Are Taxes Dischargeable in Bankruptcy?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/are-taxes-dischargeable-in-bankruptcy.html

Ag Law and Tax in the Courts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/ag-law-and-tax-in-the-courts.html

Refund Claim Relief Due to Financial Disability

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/refund-claim-relief-due-to-financial-disability.html

Shareholder Loans and S Corporation Stock Basis

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/shareholder-loans-and-s-corporation-stock-basis.html

The Family Limited Partnership – Part Two

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/the-family-limited-partnership-part-two.html

Hobby Losses Post-2017 and Pre-2026 – The Importance of Establishing a Profit Motive

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/hobby-losses-post-2017-and-pre-2026-the-importance-of-establishing-a-profit-motive.html

The Importance of Income Tax Basis “Step-Up” at Death

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/the-importance-of-income-tax-basis-step-up-at-death.html

Bad Debt Deduction

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/bad-debt-deduction.html

More on Cost Depletion – Bonus Payments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/more-on-cost-depletion-bonus-payments.html

Recapture – A Dirty Word in the Tax Code Lingo

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/recapture-a-dirty-word-in-tax-code-lingo.html

Does the Sale of Farmland Trigger Net Investment Income Tax?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/does-the-sale-of-farmland-trigger-net-investment-income-tax.html

Are Director Fees Subject to Self-Employment Tax?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/are-director-fees-subject-to-self-employment-tax.html

Are Windbreaks Depreciable?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/are-windbreaks-depreciable.html

Tax Issues Associated with Restructuring Credit Lines

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/tax-issues-associated-with-restructuring-credit-lines.html

Is a Tenancy-in-Common Interest Eligible for Like-Kind Exchange Treatment?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/is-a-tenancy-in-common-interest-eligible-for-like-kind-exchange-treatment.html

Year-End Legislation Contains Tax Extenders, Repealers, and Modifications to Retirement Provisions

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/year-end-legislation-contains-tax-extenders-repealers-and-modification-to-retirement-provisions.html

The “Almost Top Ten” Ag Law and Ag Tax Developments of 2019

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/the-almost-top-ten-ag-law-and-ag-tax-developments-of-2019.html

INSURANCE

Prevented Planting Payments – Potential Legal Issues?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/prevented-planting-payments-potential-legal-issues.html

Ag Law in the Courts

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/ag-law-in-the-courts.html

REAL PROPERTY

 Negotiating Cell/Wireless Tower Agreements

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/negotiating-cellwireless-tower-agreements.html

Selected Recent Cases Involving Agricultural Law

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/selected-recent-cases-involving-agricultural-law.html

The Accommodation Doctrine – More Court Action

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/the-accommodation-doctrine-more-court-action.html

Defects in Real Estate Deeds – Will Time Cure All?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/defects-in-real-estate-deeds-will-time-cure-all.html

Is there a Common-Law Right to Hunt (and Fish) Your Own Land?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/is-there-a-common-law-right-to-hunt-and-fish-your-own-land.html

Legal Issues Associated with Abandoned Railways

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/legal-issues-associated-with-abandoned-railways.html

Public Trust vs. Private Rights – Where’s the Line?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/public-trust-vs-private-rights-wheres-the-line.html

Ag in the Courtroom

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/ag-in-the-courtroom.html

More on Real Estate Exchanges

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/more-on-real-estate-exchanges.html

How Does the Rule Against Perpetuities Apply in the Oil and Gas Context?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/how-does-the-rule-against-perpetuities-apply-in-the-oil-and-gas-context.html

Ag Law in the Courts

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/ag-law-in-the-courts.html

Cost Depletion of Minerals

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/cost-depletion-of-minerals.html

Co-Tenancy or Joint Tenancy – Does it Really Matter?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/11/co-tenancy-or-joint-tenancy-does-it-really-matter.html

“Slip Slidin’ Away” – The Right of Lateral and Subjacent Support

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/slip-slidin-away-the-right-of-lateral-and-subjacent-support.html

Is a Tenancy-in-Common Interest Eligible for Like-Kind Exchange Treatment?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/is-a-tenancy-in-common-interest-eligible-for-like-kind-exchange-treatment.html

REGULATORY LAW

Top 10 Developments in Ag Law and Tax for 2018 – Numbers 10 and 9

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-10-developments-in-ag-law-and-tax-for-2018-numbers-10-and-9.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2018 – Numbers 6, 5, and 4

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2018-numbers-6-5-and-4.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2018 – Numbers 3, 2, and 1

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2018-numbers-3-2-and-1.html

Is There a Common-Law Right to Hunt (and Fish) Your Own Land?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/02/is-there-a-common-law-right-to-hunt-and-fish-your-own-land.html

Packers and Stockyards Act – Basic Provisions

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/packers-and-stockyards-act-basic-provisions.html

Packers and Stockyards Act Provisions for Unpaid Cash Sellers of Livestock

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/packers-and-stockyards-act-provisions-for-unpaid-cash-sellers-of-livestock.html

More Recent Developments in Agricultural Law

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/03/more-recent-developments-in-agricultural-law.html

Ag Antitrust – Is There a Crack in the Wall of the “Mighty-Mighty” (Illinois) Brick House?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/ag-antitrust-is-there-a-crack-in-the-wall-of-the-mighty-mighty-illinois-brick-house.html

Can Foreign Persons/Entities Own U.S. Agricultural Land?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/can-foreign-personsentities-own-us-agricultural-land.html

Prevented Planting Payments – Potential Legal Issues?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/prevented-planting-payments-potential-legal-issues.html

Eminent Domain and Agriculture

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/eminent-domain-and-agriculture.html

Classification of Seasonal Ag Workers – Why It Matters

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/classification-of-seasonal-ag-workers-why-it-matters.html

Administrative Agency Deference – Little Help for Ag From the Supreme Court

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/06/administrative-agency-deference-little-help-for-ag-from-the-supreme-court.html

Regulation of Food Products

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/regulation-of-food-products.html

Ag Legal Issues in the Courts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/ag-legal-issues-in-the-courts.html

Kansas Revenue Department Takes Aggressive Position Against Remote Sellers

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/kansas-revenue-department-take-aggressive-position-against-remote-sellers.html

Court Decision Illustrates USDA’s Swampbuster “Incompetence”

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/court-decision-illustrates-usdas-swampbuster-incompetence.html

Ag Law and Tax in the Courts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/09/ag-law-and-tax-in-the-courts.html

Regulatory Takings – Pursuing a Remedy

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/regulatory-takings-pursuing-a-remedy.html

The “Almost Top Ten” Ag Law and Ag Tax Developments of 2019

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/the-almost-top-ten-ag-law-and-ag-tax-developments-of-2019.html

SECURED TRANSACTIONS

Market Facilitation Program Pledged as Collateral – What are the Rights of a Lender?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/market-facilitation-program-payments-pledged-as-collateral-what-are-the-rights-of-a-lender.html

SEMINARS AND CONFERENCES

Summer 2019 Farm and Ranch Tax and Estate/Business Planning Seminar

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/04/summer-2019-farm-and-ranch-tax-and-estatebusiness-planning-seminar.html

2019 National Ag Tax/Estate and Business Planning Conference in Steamboat Springs!

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/05/2019-national-ag-taxestate-and-business-planning-conference-in-steamboat-springs.html

Summer Tax and Estate Planning Seminar!

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/07/summer-tax-and-estate-planning-seminar.html

2020 National Summer Ag Income Tax/Estate and Business Planning Seminar

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/2020-national-summer-ag-income-taxestate-and-business-planning-seminar.html

Fall Seminars

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/fall-seminars.html

WATER LAW

The Accommodation Doctrine – More Court Action

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/01/the-accommodation-doctrine-more-court-action.html

Ag Legal Issues in the Courts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/08/ag-legal-issues-in-the-courts.html

Ag Law in the Courts

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/ag-law-in-the-courts.html

Regulating Existing Water Rights – How Far Can State Government Go?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/10/regulating-existing-water-rights-how-far-can-state-government-go.html

The Politics of Prior Appropriation – Is a Senior Right Really Senior?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/the-politics-of-prior-appropriation-is-a-senior-right-really-senior.html

Changing Water Right Usage

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2019/12/changing-water-right-usage.html

February 28, 2021 in Bankruptcy, Business Planning, Civil Liabilities, Contracts, Cooperatives, Criminal Liabilities, Environmental Law, Estate Planning, Income Tax, Insurance, Real Property, Regulatory Law, Secured Transactions, Water Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Ag Zoning Potpourri

Overview

Zoning is largely a local issue.  That means that it is usually a matter of counties and towns to set zoning regulations and local ordinances.  Agricultural often receives favorable treatment – either as being exempt from county-level zoning or receiving a break on property tax, or both.

So, a key question is whether a particular activity constitutes “agriculture” such that the preferential treatment applies.  Likewise, there are many ways that owners of agricultural land can become involved in zoning disputes with respect to activities on that land.

Recent court cases on zoning matters involving agricultural land – it’s the topic of today’s post

Agritourism and Agriculture

Numerous states have enacted agritourism legislation designed to limit landowner liability to those persons engaging in an “agritourism activity.” Generally, the state laws related to agritourism use financial incentives via tax credits or cost-sharing to promote the creation of agritourism activities.  In addition, such state laws also are designed to protect the landowner (commonly defined as a “person who is engaged in the business of farming or ranching and provides one or more agritourism activities, whether or not for compensation”) from liability for injuries to participants or spectators associated with the inherent risks of a covered activity.  Under the Maine statute, for example, inherent risks associated with being on an active farm include hazards from the natural surface and subsurface conditions of land, vegetation, and waters; the behavior of wild and domestic animals; ordinary dangers of structures and equipment used in farming and ranching; and potential injuries caused by the participant’s or others’ failure to follow instructions given or in failing to exercise reasonable caution while engaging in activities.

But, is an agritourism activity “agriculture” for zoning purposes?  To answer the zoning question requires an examination of agritourism state agritourism statutes.  Many state statutes contain language designed to protect the ag real property tax classification.  But, agritourism statutes tend to be written very broadly and can apply to such things as corn mazes, hayrides and even hunting and fishing activities.  For example, in Columbia Township Board of Zoning v. Otis, 663 N.E.2d 377, 104 Ohio App. 3d 756 (Ohio 1995), the court held that haunted hayrides on farm property did not constitute the use of land for agricultural purposes because the addition of a Halloween theme with shrieks and flashing lights was completely inconsistent with traditional agricultural activity.

Also, in Shore v. Maple Lane Farms, LLC, 411 S.W.3d 405 (Tenn. Sup. Ct. 2013)the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed a determination by the court of appeals that music concerts on a farm were within the definition of farm activities within the scope of the agritourism statute and were exempt from a county zoning provision.  The Tennessee Supreme Court said the activity was not “agriculture” as defined by the statute.  Likewise, in Forster v. Town of Henniker, 167 N.H. 745 (2015). the court held that the use of a Christmas tree farm for weddings did not meet the definition of agritourism and, as a result, was not “agriculture” for zoning purposes. 

In another Ohio case decided last year, the court held that weddings and receptions taking place on agriculturally zoned land did not constitute agritourism.  In Lusardi v. Caesarscreek Township Board of Zoning Appeals, No. 2020-CA-8, 2020 Ohio App. LEXIS 3288 (Ohio Ct. App. Sept. 11, 2020), the plaintiffs owned 13.55 acres of farm property that was zoned as agricultural property. The only agricultural activity that the plaintiffs participated in was growing hay. The plaintiffs filed an application to conduct agritourism activities on their property with the defendant, the township board of zoning appeals. The plaintiffs’ application sought to conduct hayrides, corn mazes, and celebratory events, such as agriculturally themed weddings and receptions.

The zoning board granted the plaintiffs application, except for the proposed celebratory events. The zoning board determined that the plaintiffs’ proposed celebratory events did not meet the statutory definition of agritourism. As a result, the plaintiffs filed an administrative appeal at the trial court level. The trial court held that the zoning board’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious, and that the zoning board properly determined that the plaintiffs’ application for celebratory events did not bear a reasonable relationship to agriculture.

At the appellate court, the plaintiffs argued that the trial court failed to construe the statutory definition of agritourism and failed to analyze whether their proposed celebratory events satisfied the definition. The appellate court noted that the trial court was merely required to determine whether the zoning board’s administrative order was arbitrary or capricious. The appellate court also noted that the statute at issue defined agritourism as “an agriculturally-related educational, entertainment, historical, cultural, or recreational activity” conducted on a farm. The appellate court determined that the zoning board had properly concluded that plaintiffs’ proposal was for an event venue with an incidental agricultural theme, rather than an agricultural activity. The appellate court held that just because an activity is done on agriculturally zoned property does not make the activity agritourism. The appellate court declined to categorically decide whether celebratory events constituted agritourism, and only affirmed the zoning board’s decision that the plaintiffs’ proposed celebratory events were not agritourism.

Confined Livestock Operations

Another situation that can create issues with local zoning officials involves confined livestock operations.  Is a large-scale confinement operation “agriculture” or is it more like a commercial business operation?  The issue sometimes arises in counties that exempt agriculture from county zoning and the county attempts to zone the alleged commercial activity.  This issue came up in a recent case.

In Chambers v. Delaware-Muncie Metro. Board. of Zoning Appeals, 150 N.E.3d 603 (Ind. Ct. App. 2020), the petitioners owned property located in an area that was zoned as “agricultural.”  The petitioners sought and eventually obtained a permit from the county building commissioner to build several hog barns configured as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) on their property. Neighbors of the petitioners asked the zoning board to review the building commissioner’s decision to issue the permit. The zoning board voided the permit and determined that the farming zone did not recognize industrial agricultural uses, such as the petitioners’ proposed CAFO. The petitioners sought a review of the zoning board’s decision.  The trial court noted that the zoning ordinance specifically permitted animal husbandry, as well as raising and selling hogs and the erection of barns and similar farming building.

The trial court determined that the zoning ordinance clearly indicated that hog raising operations were a permitted use. The trial court noted that the county could have excluded CAFOs or put other restrictions in place to maintain more traditional farming operations. Additionally, the trial court noted that several CAFOs were located and permitted in other agricultural zones in the county. Thus, the trial court held that the zoning board’s decision was reversed and the building commissioner’s decision to issue the permit to the petitioners was reinstated.

On appeal, the neighbors of the petitioners argued that the zoning ordinance was ambiguous because it did not mention CAFOs. The appellate court agreed with the trial court and noted that the zoning ordinance set no limit on the scale of permitted uses in the agricultural zone. The appellate court determined that the plain language of the zoning ordinance was not ambiguous, and the petitioners were permitted to raise any number of hogs, subject to state and federal limitations.

Actual Use of the Property

Sometimes change in use of the property from one type of agriculture activity to another type of agricultural activity can become entangled in a zoning dispute.  That was the issue decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals earlier this month.

In Jefferson Cty. v. Wilmoth Family Properties, LLC, No. E201902283COAR3CV, 2021 Tenn. App. LEXIS  37 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 1, 2021), the defendants purchased a parcel in 2004.  At the time of purchase, the defendants believed that the property was zoned “agriculture” because its prior use had been as a dairy farm and slaughterhouse.  The defendants. The defendants began using the property for hay and chicken production, as well as hosting third party events and overnight stays.  The defendants later discovered that the property was zoned rural residential. In 2016, the county sent notice to defendants to stop using the property as an event venue, claiming that commercial events were prohibited by the rural residential zoning.  The defendants did not comply and the county sued.  The defendants claimed that their property satisfied the statutory definition of a “farming operation” that was protected by the state (TN) Right-To-Farm (RTF) law. 

The trial court agreed with the defendants that the tracts was being used as a farming operation and that the events were a secondary use.  On appeal, the appellate court affirmed.  The appellate court noted that the defendants had sold hay, cattle and poultry products from the property. 

Conclusion

Zoning issues arise often involving rural land use.  What might seem to be an agricultural activity may not be, and non-agricultural events on rural land might be questioned by zoning officials.  Also, being aware of the present (and perhaps planned) zoning status of land before acquiring it is a good idea. 

February 25, 2021 in Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 15, 2021

Prescribed Burning Legal Issues

Overview

The calendar indicates that the time for conducting open burns of agricultural land is approaching.  In the Great Plains (and also some areas of eastern Washington and Oregon), prescribed burning of pasture grass is a critical component of rangeland management.  It is an effective and affordable means of reversing and controlling the negative impacts of woody plant growth and its expansion that damages native grasslands.  It can also play a role in limiting wildfire risk.  But some landowners are reluctant to engage in prescribed (controlled) burns out of a concern for liability and casualty risks associated with escaped fire and smoke.  While some states in the Great Plains have “burn bans,” agricultural-related burns are typically not prohibited during such bans. 

The legal rules, regulations and liability risks associated with prescribed burning of agricultural lands – it’s the topic of today’s post.

Regulations – The Kansas Approach

The states that comprise the Great Plains have regulations governing the conduct of prescribed burns. The regulations among the states have commonalities, but there are distinctions from state-to-state.  In addition, in some states, open burning bans can be imposed in the interest of public safety but exempt agricultural-related burns.  For purposes of this article, I will look at the Kansas regulations. 

Kansas administrative regulations set forth the rules for conducting prescribed burns.  K.A.R. §28-19-645 et seq. In general, open burning is prohibited unless an exception applies.  K.A.R. §645. One of those exceptions is for open burning of agricultural lands that is done in accordance with the regulations.  K.A.R. §28-19-647(a)(3). Under that exception, open burning of vegetation such as grass, woody species, crop residue, and other dry plant growth for the purpose of crop, range, pasture, wildlife or watershed management is exempt from the general prohibition on open burning.  K.A.R. §28-19-648(a).  However, a prescribed burn of agricultural land must be conducted within certain guidelines.  For instance, before a burn is started the local fire control authority with jurisdiction in the area must be notified unless local government has specified that notification is not required.  K.A.R. §28-19-648(a)(1).  Also, the burn cannot create a traffic hazard.  If wind conditions might result in smoke blowing toward a public roadway, notice must be given to the highway patrol, county sheriff or local traffic officials before the burn is started. K.A.R. §28-19-648(a)(2).  Likewise, a burn cannot create a visibility safety hazard for airplanes that utilize a nearby airport. K.A.R. §28-19-648(a)(3).  If such a problem could potentially result, notice must be given to the airport officials before the burn begins.  Id.  In all situations, the burn must be supervised until the fire is extinguished. K.A.R. §28-19-648(a)(4).  Also, the Kansas burn regulations allow local jurisdictions to adopt more restrictive ordinance or resolutions governing prescribed burns of agricultural land.  K.A.R. §28-19-648(b). 

Kansas regulations also specify that the open burning of vegetation and wood waste, structures, or any other materials on any premises during the month of April is prohibited in the counties of  Butler, Chase, Chautauqua, Cowley, Elk, Geary, Greenwood, Johnson, Lyon, Marion, Morris, Pottawatomie, Riley, Sedgwick, Wabaunsee, and Wyandotte counties.  K.A.R. §28-19-645a(a). This is the Flint Hills region of Kansas – some of the most abundant pasture ground in the United States.  However, certain activities are allowed in these counties during April.  For instance, the prescribed burning of agricultural land for the purposes of range or pasture management is allowed, as is the burning of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land that is conducted in accordance with the requirements for a prescribed burn of agricultural land.  K.A.R. §28-19-645a(b)(1).  Open burning during April is also allowed in these counties if it is carried out on a residential premise containing five or less dwelling units and incidental to the normal habitation of the dwelling units, unless prohibited by any local authority with jurisdiction over the premises.  K.A.R. §28-19-645a(b)(2).    Also, open burning is allowed for cooking or ceremonial purposes, on public or private lands regularly used for recreational purposes. Id. 

Non-agricultural open burning activities must meet certain other requirements including a showing that the open burning is necessary, in the public interest and not otherwise prohibit by any local government or fire authority.  K.A.R. §28-19-647(b).   These types of open burning activities must also be conducted pursuant to an approved written request to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that details how the burn will be conducted, the parameters of the activity, and the location of public roadways within 1,000 feet as well as occupied dwelling within that same distance. K.A.R. §§28-19-647(d)(2)(E-F).  The open burning of heavy oils, tires and tarpaper and other heavy smoke-producing material is not permitted.  K.A.R. §28-19-647(e)(2).  A burn is not to be started at night (two hours before sunset until one hour after sunrise) and material is not to be added to a fire after two hours before sunset.  A burn is not to be conducted during foggy conditions or when wind speed is less than five miles-per-hour or greater than 15 miles-per-hour. K.A.R. §§28-19-647(e)(3-5).   

Legal Liability Principles

As noted above, Kansas regulations require that an agricultural prescribed burn is to be supervised until the fire is extinguished. But sometimes a fire will get out of control even after it is believed to be extinguished and burn an adjacent property resulting in property damage.  How does the law sort out liability in such a situation? 

Negligence.  In general, as applied to agricultural burning activities, the law applies one of three possible principles.  One principle is that of negligence and the other is that of strict liability.  The negligence system is a fault system.  For a person to be deemed legally negligent, certain conditions must exist. These conditions can be thought of as links in a chain. Each condition must be present before a finding of negligence can be obtained.  The first condition is that of a legal duty giving rise to a standard of care.  How is duty measured?  To be liable for a negligent tort, the defendant's conduct must have fallen below that of a “reasonable and prudent person” under the circumstances.  A reasonable and prudent person is what a jury has in mind when they measure an individual's conduct in retrospect - after the fact, when the case is in court. The conduct of a particular tortfeasor (the one causing the tort) who is not held out as a professional is compared with the mythical standard of conduct of the reasonable and prudent person in terms of judgment, knowledge, perception, experience, skill, physical, mental and emotional characteristics as well as age and sanity. For those held out as having the knowledge, skill, experience or education of a professional, the standard of care reflects those factors. For example, the standard applicable to a professional veterinarian in diagnosing or treating animals is what a reasonable and prudent veterinarian would have done under the circumstances, not what a reasonable and prudent person would do.

If a legal duty exists, it is necessary to determine whether the defendant's conduct fell short of the conduct of a “reasonable and prudent person (or professional) under the circumstances.”  This is called a breach, and is the second element of a negligent tort case.

Once a legal duty and breach of that duty are shown to exist, a causal connection (the third element) must be established between the defendant's act and (the fourth element) the plaintiff's injuries (whether to person or property). In other words, the resulting harm to the plaintiff must have been a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant's conduct at the time the conduct occurred. Reasonable foreseeability is the essence of causality (also known as proximate cause). For example, assume that a Kansas rancher has followed all of the rules to prepare for and conduct a prescribed pasture burn. After conducting the burn, the rancher banks the fire up and leaves it in what he thinks is a fairly safe condition before heading to the house for lunch.  Over lunch, the wind picks up and spreads the fire to an adjoining tract of real estate.  If the burning of the neighbor's property was not reasonably foreseeable, an action for negligence will likely not be successful.  However, if the wind was at a high velocity before lunch and all adjoining property was extremely dry, it probably was foreseeable that the fire would escape and burn a neighboring landowner's tract.

Note:  For a plaintiff to prevail in a negligence-type tort case, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof to all of the elements by a preponderance of the evidence (just over 50 percent). 

Intentional interference with real property.  Another legal principle that can apply in to open burning activities, is intentional interference with real property.  This principle is closely related to trespass.  Trespass is the unlawful or unauthorized entry upon another person's land that interferes with that person's exclusive possession or ownership of the land.   At its most basic level, an intentional trespass is the intrusion on to another person's land without the owner's consent.  However, many other types of physical invasions that cause injury to an owner's possessory rights abound in agriculture.  These types of trespass include dynamite blasting, flooding with water or residue from oil and gas drilling operations, erection of an encroaching fence, unauthorized grazing of cattle, raising of crops and cutting timber on another's land without authorization, and prescribed agricultural burning activities, among other things. 

In general, the privilege of an owner or possessor of land to utilize the land and exploit its potential natural resources is only a qualified privilege.  The owner or possessor must exercise reasonable care in conducting operations on the land so as to avoid injury to the possessory rights of neighboring landowners.  The owner or possessor must exercise reasonable care in conducting operations on the land so as to avoid injury to the possessory rights of neighboring landowners.  For example, if a prescribed burn of a pasture results in heavy smoke passing onto an adjoining property accompanied with a long-term residual smoke odor, the party conducting the burn could be held legally responsible for damages under the theory of intentional interference with real property even if the burn was conducted in accordance with applicable state regulations.  See, e.g., Ream v. Keen, 112 Ore. App. 197, 828 P.2d 1038 (1992), aff’d, 314 Ore. 370, 838 P.2d 1073 (Ore. 1992).

Strict liability.  Some activities are deemed to be so dangerous that a showing of negligence is not required to obtain a recovery.  Under a strict liability approach, the defendant is liable for injuries caused by the defendant's actions, even if the defendant was not negligent in any way or did not intend to injure the plaintiff. In general, those situations reserved for resolution under a strict liability approach involve those activities that are highly dangerous.  When these activities are engaged in, the defendant must be prepared to pay for all resulting consequences, regardless of the legal fault.

Kansas liability rule for prescribed burning.  A strict liability rule could apply to a prescribed burn of agricultural land if the activity were to be construed as an inherently (e.g., extremely) dangerous activity.    In Kansas, however, farmers and ranchers have a right to set controlled fires on their property for agricultural purposes and will not be liable for damages resulting if the fire is set and managed with ordinary care and prudence, depending on the conditions present.  See, e.g., Koger v. Ferrin, 23 Kan. App. 2d 47, 926 P.2d 680 (Kan. Ct. App. 1996).  In Kansas, at least at the present time, the courts have determined that there is no compelling argument for imposing strict liability on a property owner for damages resulting from a prescribed burn of agricultural land.  Id. 

Note:  The liability rule applied in Texas and Oklahoma is also negligence and not strict liability.  In these states, carefully following applicable prescribed burning regulations goes along way to defeating a lawsuit claiming that damages from a prescribed burn were the result of negligence. 

Certainly, for prescribed burns of agricultural land in Kansas, the regulations applicable to non-agricultural burns establish a good roadmap for establishing that a burn was conducted in a non-negligent manner.  Following those requirements could prove valuable in protecting against a damage liability claim if the fire gets out of control and damages adjacent property.

Conclusion

Prescribed burning of agricultural land in Kansas and elsewhere in the Great Plains is an excellent range management tool.  Practiced properly the ecological and economic benefits to the landowner can be substantial.  But a burn must be conducted within the framework of existing regulations with an eye toward the legal rule governing any potential liability. 

February 15, 2021 in Civil Liabilities, Real Property, Regulatory Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Ag Law and Taxation 2020 Bibliography

Overview

Today's post is a bibliography of my ag law and tax blog articles of 2020.  Many of you have requested that I provide something like this to make it easier to find the articles.  If possible, I will do the same for articles from prior years.  The library of content is piling up - I have written more than 500 detailed articles for the blog over the last four and one-half years.

Cataloging the 2020 ag law and tax blog articles - it's the topic of today's post.

BANKRUPTCY

Ag Law and Tax in the Courts – Bankruptcy Debt Discharge; Aerial Application of Chemicals; Start-Up Expenses and Lying as Protected Speech

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/ag-law-and-tax-in-the-courts-bankruptcy-debt-discharge-aerial-application-of-chemicals-start-up-expe.html

Unique, But Important Tax Issues – “Claim of Right;” Passive Loss Grouping; and Bankruptcy Taxation

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/unique-but-important-tax-issues-claim-of-right-passive-loss-grouping-and-bankruptcy-taxation.html

Disaster/Emergency Legislation – Summary of Provisions Related to Loan Relief; Small Business and Bankruptcy

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/disasteremergency-legislation-summary-of-provisions-related-to-loan-relief-small-business-and-bankruptcy.html

Retirement-Related Provisions of the CARES Act

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/retirement-related-provisions-of-the-cares-act.html

Farm Bankruptcy – “Stripping, “Claw-Black,” and the Tax Collecting Authorities

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/farm-bankruptcy-stripping-claw-back-and-the-tax-collecting-authorities.html

SBA Says Farmers in Chapter 12 Ineligible for PPP Loans

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/sba-says-farmers-in-chapter-12-ineligible-for-ppp-loans.html

The “Cramdown” Interest Rate in Chapter 12 Bankruptcy

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/the-cramdown-interest-rate-in-chapter-12-bankruptcy.html

Bankruptcy and the Preferential Payment Rule

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/12/bankruptcy-and-the-preferential-payment-rule.html

BUSINESS PLANNING

Partnership Tax Ponderings – Flow-Through and Basis

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/partnership-tax-ponderings-flow-through-and-basis.html

Farm and Ranch Estate and Business Planning in 2020 (Through 2025)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/farm-and-ranch-estate-and-business-planning-in-2020-through-2025.html

Transitioning the Farm or Ranch – Stock Redemption

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/transitioning-the-farm-or-ranch-stock-redemption.html

Estate and Business Planning for the Farm and Ranch Family – Use of the LLC (Part 1)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/estate-and-business-planning-for-the-farm-and-ranch-family-use-of-the-llc-part-1.html

Estate and Business Planning for the Farm and Ranch Family – Use of the LLC (Part 2)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/estate-and-business-planning-for-the-farm-and-ranch-family-use-of-the-llc-part-two.html

The Use of the LLC for the Farm or Ranch Business – Practical Application

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/08/the-use-of-the-llc-for-the-farm-or-ranch-business-practical-application.html

CIVIL LIABILITIES

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments from 2019 (Numbers 10 and 9)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-from-2019-numbers-10-and-9.html

Ag Law in the Courts – Feedlots; Dicamba Drift; and Inadvertent Disinheritance

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/ag-law-in-the-courts-feedlots-dicamba-drift-and-inadvertent-disinheritance.html

Ag Law and Tax in the Courts – Bankruptcy Debt Discharge; Aerial Application of Chemicals; Start-Up Expenses and Lying as Protected Speech

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/ag-law-and-tax-in-the-courts-bankruptcy-debt-discharge-aerial-application-of-chemicals-start-up-expe.html

Dicamba, Peaches and a Defective Ferrari; What’s the Connection?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/dicamba-peaches-and-a-defective-ferrari-whats-the-connection.html

Liability for Injuries Associated with Horses (and Other Farm Animals)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/liability-for-injuries-associated-with-horses-and-other-farm-animals.html

Issues with Noxious (and Other) Weeds and Seeds

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/issues-with-noxious-and-other-weeds-and-seeds.html

Of Nuisance, Overtime and Firearms – Potpourri of Ag Law Developments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/of-nuisance-overtime-and-firearms-potpourri-of-ag-law-developments.html

CONTRACTS

The Statute of Frauds and Sales of Goods

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/the-statute-of-frauds-and-sales-of-goods.html

Disrupted Economic Activity and Force Majeure – Avoiding Contractual Obligations in Time of Pandemic

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/disrupted-economic-activity-and-force-majeure-avoiding-contractual-obligations-in-time-of-pandemic.html

Is it a Farm Lease or Not? – And Why it Might Matter

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/is-it-a-farm-lease-or-not-and-why-it-might-matter.html

COOPERATIVES

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2019 (Numbers 2 and 1)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2019-numbers-2-and-1.html

Concentrated Ag Markets – Possible Producer Response?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/concentrated-ag-markets-possible-producer-response.html

CRIMINAL LIABILITIES

Is an Abandoned Farmhouse a “Dwelling”?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/is-an-abandoned-farmhouse-a-dwelling.html

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2019 (Numbers 8 and 7)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2019-numbers-8-and-7.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2019 (Numbers 6 and 5)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2019-numbers-six-and-five.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2019 (Numbers 4 and 3)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2019-numbers-4-and-3.html

Clean Water Act – Compliance Orders and “Normal Farming Activities”

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/clean-water-act-compliance-orders-and-normal-farming-activities.html

Groundwater Discharges of “Pollutants” and “Functional Equivalency”

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/groundwater-discharges-of-pollutants-and-functional-equivalency.html

NRCS Highly Erodible Land and Wetlands Conservation Final Rule – Clearer Guidance for Farmers or Erosion of Property Rights? – Part One

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/nrcs-highly-erodible-land-and-wetlands-conservation-final-rule-clearer-guidance-for-farmers-or-erosi.html

NRCS Highly Erodible Land and Wetlands Conservation Final Rule – Clearer Guidance for Farmers or Erosion of Property Rights? – Part Two

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/nrcs-highly-erodible-land-and-wetlands-conservation-final-rule-clearer-guidance-for-farmers-or-loss-of-property-rights.html

NRCS Highly Erodible Land and Wetlands Conservation Final Rule – Clearer Guidance for Farmers or Erosion of Property Rights? – Part Three

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/nrcs-highly-erodible-land-and-wetlands-conservation-final-rule-clearer-guidance-for-farmers-or-loss-of-property-rights-1.html

The Prior Converted Cropland Exception – More Troubles Ahead?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/the-prior-converted-cropland-exception-more-troubles-ahead.html

TMDL Requirements – The EPA’s Federalization of Agriculture

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/tmdl-requirements-.html

Eminent Domain and “Seriously Misleading” Financing Statements

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/eminent-domain-and-seriously-misleading-financing-statements.html

 

ESTATE PLANNING

Ag Law in the Courts – Feedlots; Dicamba Drift; and Inadvertent Disinheritance

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/ag-law-in-the-courts-feedlots-dicamba-drift-and-inadvertent-disinheritance.html

Recent Developments Involving Estates and Trusts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/recent-developments-involving-decedents-estates-and-trusts.html

What is a “Trade or Business” For Purposes of Installment Payment of Federal Estate Tax?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/what-is-a-trade-or-business-for-purposes-of-installment-payment-of-federal-estate-tax.html

Alternate Valuation – Useful Estate Tax Valuation Provision

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/alternate-valuation-useful-estate-tax-valuation-provision.html

Farm and Ranch Estate and Business Planning in 2020 (Through 2025)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/farm-and-ranch-estate-and-business-planning-in-2020-through-2025.html

Retirement-Related Provisions of the CARES Act

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/retirement-related-provisions-of-the-cares-act.html

Are Advances to Children Loans or Gifts?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/are-advances-to-children-loans-or-gifts.html

Tax Issues Associated with Options in Wills and Trusts

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/tax-issues-associated-with-options-in-wills-and-trusts.html

Valuing Farm Chattels and Marketing Rights of Farmers

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/valuing-farm-chattels-and-marketing-rights-of-farmers.html

Is it a Gift or Not a Gift? That is the Question

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/is-it-a-gift-or-not-a-gift-that-is-the-question.html

Does a Discretionary Trust Remove Fiduciary Duties a Trustee Owes Beneficiaries?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/does-a-discretionary-trust-remove-fiduciary-duties-a-trustee-owes-beneficiaries.html

Can I Write my Own Will? Should I?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/can-i-write-my-own-will-should-i.html

Income Taxation of Trusts – New Regulations

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/income-taxation-of-trusts.html

Merging a Revocable Trust at Death with an Estate – Tax Consequences

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/merging-a-revocable-trust-at-death-with-an-estate-tax-consequences.html

When is Transferred Property Pulled Back into the Estate at Death?  Be on Your Bongard!

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/when-is-transferred-property-pulled-back-into-the-estate-at-death-be-on-your-bongard.html

‘Tis the Season for Giving, But When is a Transfer a Gift?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/12/tis-the-season-for-giving-but-when-is-a-transfer-a-gift.html

 

INCOME TAX

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments of 2019 (Numbers 2 and 1)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2019-numbers-2-and-1.html

Does the Penalty Relief for a “Small Partnership” Still Apply?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/does-the-penalty-relief-for-a-small-partnership-still-apply.html

Substantiation – The Key to Tax Deductions

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/substantiation-the-key-to-tax-deductions.html

Ag Law and Tax in the Courts – Bankruptcy Debt Discharge; Aerial Application of Chemicals; Start-Up Expenses and Lying as Protected Speech

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/ag-law-and-tax-in-the-courts-bankruptcy-debt-discharge-aerial-application-of-chemicals-start-up-expe.html

Unique, But Important Tax Issues – “Claim of Right;” Passive Loss Grouping; and Bankruptcy Taxation

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/unique-but-important-tax-issues-claim-of-right-passive-loss-grouping-and-bankruptcy-taxation.html

Conservation Easements and the Perpetuity Requirement

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/conservation-easements-and-the-perpetuity-requirement.html

Tax Treatment Upon Death of Livestock

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/tax-treatment-upon-death-of-livestock.html

What is a “Trade or Business” For Purposes of I.R.C. §199A?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/what-is-a-trade-or-business-for-purposes-of-irc-199a.html

Tax Treatment of Meals and Entertainment

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/tax-treatment-of-meals-and-entertainment.html

Farm NOLs Post-2017

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/farm-nols-post-2017.html

Disaster/Emergency Legislation – Summary of Provisions Related to Loan Relief; Small Business and Bankruptcy

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/disasteremergency-legislation-summary-of-provisions-related-to-loan-relief-small-business-and-bankruptcy.html

Retirement-Related Provisions of the CARES Act

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/retirement-related-provisions-of-the-cares-act.html

Income Tax-Related Provisions of Emergency Relief Legislation

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/income-tax-related-provisions-of-emergency-relief-legislation.html

The Paycheck Protection Program – Still in Need of Clarity

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/the-paycheck-protection-program-still-in-need-of-clarity.html

Solar “Farms” and The Associated Tax Credit

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/solar-farms-and-the-associated-tax-credit.html

Obtaining Deferral for Non-Deferred Aspects of an I.R.C. §1031 Exchange

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/obtaining-deferral-for-non-deferred-aspects-of-an-irc-1031-exchange-.html

Conservation Easements – The Perpetuity Requirement and Extinguishment

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/conservation-easements-the-perpetuity-requirement-and-extinguishment.html

PPP and PATC Developments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/ppp-and-patc-developments.html

How Many Audit “Bites” of the Same Apple Does IRS Get?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/how-many-audit-bites-of-the-same-apple-does-irs-get.html

More Developments Concerning Conservation Easements

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/more-developments-concerning-conservation-easements.html

Imputation – When Can an Agent’s Activity Count?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/imputation-when-can-an-agents-activity-count.html

Exotic Game Activities and the Tax Code

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/08/exotic-game-activities-and-the-tax-code.html

Demolishing Farm Buildings and Structures – Any Tax Benefit?

         https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/08/demolishing-farm-buildings-and-structures-any-tax-benefit.html

Tax Incentives for Exported Ag Products

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/08/tax-incentives-for-exported-ag-products.html

Deducting Business Interest

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/deducting-business-interest.html

Recent Tax Court Opinions Make Key Point on S Corporations and Meals/Entertainment Deductions

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/recent-tax-court-opinions-make-key-points-on-s-corporations-and-mealsentertainment-deductions.html

Income Taxation of Trusts – New Regulations

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/income-taxation-of-trusts.html

Accrual Accounting – When Can a Deduction Be Claimed?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/accrual-accounting-when-can-a-deduction-be-claimed.html

Farmland Lease Income – Proper Tax Reporting

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/farmland-lease-income-proper-tax-reporting.html

Merging a Revocable Trust at Death with an Estate – Tax Consequences

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/merging-a-revocable-trust-at-death-with-an-estate-tax-consequences.html

The Use of Deferred Payment Contracts – Specifics Matter

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/the-use-of-deferred-payment-contracts-specific-matters.html

Is Real Estate Held in Trust Eligible for I.R.C. §1031 Exchange Treatment?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/is-real-estate-held-in-trust-eligible-for-irc-1031-exchange-treatment.html

 

INSURANCE

Recent Court Developments of Interest

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/recent-court-developments-of-interest.html

PUBLICATIONS

Principles of Agricultural Law

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/principles-of-agricultural-law.html

 

REAL PROPERTY

Signing and Delivery

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/deed-effectiveness-signing-and-delivery.html

Abandoned Railways and Issues for Adjacent Landowners

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/abandoned-railways-and-issues-for-adjacent-landowners.html

Obtaining Deferral for Non-Deferred Aspects of an I.R.C. §1031 Exchange

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/obtaining-deferral-for-non-deferred-aspects-of-an-irc-1031-exchange-.html

Are Dinosaur Fossils Minerals?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/are-dinosaur-fossils-minerals.html

Real Estate Concepts Involved in Recent Cases

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/real-estate-concepts-involved-in-recent-cases.html

Is it a Farm Lease or Not? – And Why it Might Matter

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/is-it-a-farm-lease-or-not-and-why-it-might-matter.html

 

REGULATORY LAW

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments from 2019 (Numbers 10 and 9)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-from-2019-numbers-10-and-9.html

Top Ten Agricultural Law and Tax Developments from 2019 (Number 8 and 7)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/top-ten-agricultural-law-and-tax-developments-of-2019-numbers-8-and-7.html

Ag Law and Tax in the Courts – Bankruptcy Debt Discharge; Aerial Application of Chemicals; Start-Up Expenses and Lying as Protected Speech

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/ag-law-and-tax-in-the-courts-bankruptcy-debt-discharge-aerial-application-of-chemicals-start-up-expe.html

Hemp Production – Regulation and Economics

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/hemp-production-regulation-and-economics.html

DOJ to Investigate Meatpackers – What’s it All About?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/doj-to-investigate-meatpackers-whats-it-all-about.html

Dicamba Registrations Cancelled – Or Are They?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/dicamba-registrations-cancelled-or-are-they.html

What Does a County Commissioner (Supervisor) Need to Know?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/06/what-does-a-county-commissioner-supervisor-need-to-know.html

The Supreme Court’s DACA Opinion and the Impact on Agriculture

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/the-supreme-courts-daca-opinion-and-the-impact-on-agriculture.html

Right-to-Farm Law Headed to the SCOTUS?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/08/right-to-farm-law-headed-to-the-scotus.html

The Public Trust Doctrine – A Camel’s Nose Under Agriculture’s Tent?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/the-public-trust-doctrine-a-camels-nose-under-agricultures-tent.html

Roadkill – It’s What’s for Dinner (Reprise)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/roadkill-its-whats-for-dinner-reprise.html

Beef May be for Dinner, but Where’s It From?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/beef-may-be-for-dinner-but-wheres-it-from.html

Of Nuisance, Overtime and Firearms – Potpourri of Ag Law Developments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/of-nuisance-overtime-and-firearms-potpourri-of-ag-law-developments.html

What Farm Records and Information Are Protected from a FOIA Request?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/12/what-farm-records-and-information-are-protected-from-a-foia-request.html

Can One State Dictate Agricultural Practices in Other States?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/12/can-one-state-dictate-agricultural-practices-in-other-states.html

SECURED TRANSACTIONS

Family Farming Arrangements and Liens; And, What’s a Name Worth?

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/family-farming-arrangements-and-liens-and-whats-a-name-worth.html

Conflicting Interests in Stored Grain

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/conflicting-interests-in-stored-grain.html

Eminent Domain and “Seriously Misleading” Financing Statement

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/eminent-domain-and-seriously-misleading-financing-statements.html

 

SEMINARS AND CONFERENCES

Summer 2020 Farm Income Tax/Estate and Business Planning Conference

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/summer-2020-farm-income-taxestate-and-business-planning-conference.html

Registration Open for Summer Ag Income Tax/Estate and Business Planning Seminar

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/registration-open-for-summer-ag-income-taxestate-and-business-planning-seminar.html

 

Summer 2020 – National Farm Income Tax/Estate and Business Planning Conference

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/summer-2020-national-farm-income-taxestate-and-business-planning-conference.html

Year-End CPE/CLE – Six More to Go

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/12/year-end-cpecle-six-more-to-go.html

2021 Summer National Farm and Ranch Income Tax/Estate and Business Planning Conference

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/12/2021-summer-national-farm-income-taxestate-business-planning-conference.html

WATER LAW

Principles of Agricultural Law

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/01/principles-of-agricultural-law.html

MISCELLANEOUS

More “Happenings” in Ag Law and Tax

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/02/more-happenings-in-ag-law-and-tax.html

Recent Cases of Interest

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/recent-cases-of-interest.html

More Selected Caselaw Developments of Relevance to Ag Producers

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/more-selected-caselaw-developments-of-relevance-to-ag-producers.html

Court Developments of Interest

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/04/court-developments-of-interest.html

Ag Law and Tax Developments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/05/ag-law-and-tax-developments.html

Recent Court Developments of Interest

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/07/recent-court-developments-of-interest.html

Court Developments in Agricultural Law and Taxation

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/08/court-developments-in-agricultural-law-and-taxation.html

Ag Law and Tax in the Courtroom

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/ag-law-and-tax-in-the-courtroom.html

Recent Tax Cases of Interest

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/09/recent-tax-cases-of-interest.html

Ag and Tax in the Courts

 https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/ag-and-tax-in-the-courts.html

Of Nuisance, Overtime and Firearms – Potpourri of Ag Law Developments

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/11/of-nuisance-overtime-and-firearms-potpourri-of-ag-law-developments.html

Bankruptcy Happenings

            https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/12/bankruptcy-happenings.html

January 20, 2021 in Bankruptcy, Business Planning, Civil Liabilities, Contracts, Cooperatives, Criminal Liabilities, Environmental Law, Estate Planning, Income Tax, Insurance, Real Property, Regulatory Law, Secured Transactions, Water Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Agricultural Law Online!

Overview

For the Spring 2021 academic semester, Kansas State University will be offering my Agricultural Law and Economics course online. No matter where you are located, you can enroll in the course and participate in it as if you were present with the students in the on-campus classroom.

Details of this spring semester’s online Ag Law course – that’s the topic of today’s post.

Course Coverage

The course provides a broad overview of many of the issues that a farmer, rancher, rural landowner, ag lender or other agribusiness will encounter on a daily basis. As a result, the course looks at contract issues for the purchase and sale of agricultural goods; the peril of oral contracts; the distinction between a lease and a contract (and why the distinction matters); and the key components of a farm lease, hunting lease, wind energy lease, oil and gas lease, and other types of common agricultural contractual matters. What are the rules surrounding ag goods purchased at auction?

Ag financing situations are also covered – what it takes to provide security to a lender when financing the purchase of personal property to be used in the farming business. In addition, the unique rules surrounding farm bankruptcy is covered, including the unique tax treatment provided to a farmer in Chapter 12 bankruptcy.

Of course, farm income tax is an important part of the course. Tax planning is perhaps the most important aspect of the farming business that every-day decisions have an impact on and are influenced by. As readers of this blog know well, farm tax issues are numerous and special rules apply in many instances. The new tax law impacts many areas of farm income tax.

Real property legal issues are also prevalent and are addressed in the course. The key elements of an installment land contract are covered, as well as legal issues associated with farm leases. Various types of interests in real estate are explained – easements; licenses; profits, fee simples, remainders, etc. Like-kind exchange rules are also covered as are the special tax rules (at the state level) that apply to farm real estate.

A big issue for some farmers and ranchers concerns abandoned railways, and those issues are covered in the course. What if an existing fence is not on the property line?

Farm estate and business planning is also a significant emphasis of the course. What’s the appropriate estate plan for a farm and ranch family? How should the farming business be structured? Should multiple entities be used? Why does it matter? These questions, and more, are addressed.

Agricultural cooperatives are important for the marketing of agricultural commodities. How a cooperative is structured and works and the special rules that apply are also discussed.

Because much agricultural property is out in the open, that means that personal liability rules come into play with respect to people that come onto the property or use farm property in the scope of their employment. What are the rules that apply in those situations? What about liability rules associated with genetically modified products? Ag chemicals also pose potential liability issues, as do improperly maintained fences? What about defective ag seed or purchased livestock that turns out to not live up to representations? These issues, and more, are covered in the scope of discussing civil liabilities.

Sometimes farmers and ranchers find themselves in violation of criminal laws. What are those common situations? What are the rules that apply? We will get into those issue too.

Water law is a very big issue, especially in the western two-thirds of the United States. We will survey the rules surrounding the allocation of surface water and ground water to agricultural operations.

Ag seems to always be in the midst of many environmental laws – the “Clean Water Rule” is just one of those that has been high-profile in recent years. We will talk about the environmental rules governing air, land, and water quality as they apply to farmers, ranchers and rural landowners.

Finally, we will address the federal (and state) administrative state and its rules that apply to farming operations. Not only will federal farm programs be addressed, but we will also look at other major federal regulations that apply to farmers and ranchers.

Further Information and How to Register

Information about the course and how to register is available here:  https://www.enrole.com/ksu/jsp/session.jsp?sessionId=442107&courseId=AGLAW&categoryId=ROOT

You can also find information about the text for the course at the following link:  https://washburnlaw.edu/practicalexperience/agriculturallaw/waltr/principlesofagriculturallaw/index.html

If you are an undergraduate student at an institution other than Kansas State, you should be able to enroll in this course and have it count as credit towards your degree at your institution.  Consult with your academic advisor to see how Ag Law and Economics will transfer and align with your degree completion goals.

If you have questions, you can contact me directly, or submit your questions to the KSU Global Campus staff at the link provided above.

I hope to see you in class beginning on January 26!

January 17, 2021 in Bankruptcy, Business Planning, Civil Liabilities, Contracts, Cooperatives, Criminal Liabilities, Environmental Law, Estate Planning, Income Tax, Insurance, Real Property, Regulatory Law, Secured Transactions, Water Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Continuing Education Events and Summer Conferences

Overview

There are a couple of online continuing education events that I will be conducting soon, and the dates are set for two summer national conferences in 2021. 

Upcoming continuing education events – it’s the topic of today’s post.

Top Developments in Agricultural Law and Tax

On Monday, January 11, beginning at 11:00 a.m. (cst), I will be hosting a two-hour CLE/CPE webinar on the top developments in agricultural law and agricultural taxation of 2020.  I will not only discuss the developments, but project how the developments will impact producers and others in the agricultural sector and what steps need to be taken as a result of the developments in the law and tax realm.  This is an event that is not only for practitioners, but producers also.  It’s an opportunity to hear the developments and provide input and discussion.  A special lower rate is provided for those not claiming continuing education credit.

You may learn more about the January 11 event and register here:  https://washburnlaw.edu/employers/cle/taxseasonupdate.html

Tax Update Webinar – CAA of 2021

On January 21, I will be hosting a two-hour webinar on the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.  This event will begin at 10:00 a.m. (cst) and run until noon.  The new law makes significant changes to the existing PPP and other SBA loan programs, CFAP, and contains many other provisions that apply to businesses and individuals.  Also, included in the new law are provisions that extend numerous provisions that were set to expire at the end of 2020.  The PPP discussion is of critical importance to many taxpayers at the present moment, especially the impact of PPP loans not being included in income and simultaneously being deductible if used to pay for qualified business expenses.  Associated income tax basis issues loom large and vary by entity type.

You may learn more about the January 21 event and register here:  https://agmanager.info/events/kansas-income-tax-institute

Summer National Conferences

Mark your calendars now for the law school’s two summer 2021 events that I conduct on farm income tax and farm estate and business planning.  Yes, there are two locations for 2021 – one east and one west.  Each event will be simulcast live over the web if you aren’t able to attend in-person.  The eastern conference is first and is set for June 7-8 at Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center near West Portsmouth, Ohio.  The location is about two hours east of Cincinnati, 90 minutes south of Columbus, Ohio, and just over two hours from Lexington, KY.  I am presently in the process of putting the agenda together.  A room block will be established for those interested in staying at the Lodge.  For more information about Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center, you made click here:  https://www.shawneeparklodge.com/

The second summer event will be held on August 2-3 in Missoula, Montana at the Hilton Garden Inn.  Missoula is beautifully situated on three rivers and in the midst of five mountain ranges.  It is also within three driving hours of Glacier National Park, and many other scenic and historic places.  The agenda will soon be available, and a room block will also be established at the hotel.  You may learn more about the location here:  https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/msogigi-hilton-garden-inn-missoula/

Conclusion

Take advantage of the upcoming webinars and mark you calendars for the summer national events.  I look for to seeing you at one or more of the events.

January 8, 2021 in Bankruptcy, Business Planning, Civil Liabilities, Contracts, Cooperatives, Criminal Liabilities, Environmental Law, Estate Planning, Income Tax, Insurance, Real Property, Regulatory Law, Secured Transactions, Water Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The “Almost Top Ten” Ag Law and Ag Tax Developments of 2020 – Part Three

Overview

Today’s post continues my trek through the “Almost Top 10” ag law and tax developments of 2020.  2020 was another big year for many illustrations of the law intersecting with agriculture.  In today’s final installation of the “Almost Top 10” I look at an Indiana case involving the state’s right-to-farm law; a Montana case involving the issue of whether dinosaur fossils are minerals and, thus, belong to the mineral estate owner; and force majeure clauses in contracts and their application to events that make contract performance impossible.

The final installment of the “Almost Top Ten” of 2020 – it’s the topic of today’s post.

Right-To-Farm Laws

Himsel v. Himsel, 122 N.E. 3d 395 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019); reh’g. den., No. 18A-PL-645, 2019 Ind App. LEXIS 314 (Ind. Ct. App. Jul. 12, 2019); rev. den., 143 N.E.3d 950 (Ind. 2020).

Every state has enacted a right-to-farm (RTF) law that is designed to protect existing agricultural operations by giving farmers and ranchers who meet the legal requirements a defense in nuisance suits. It may not be only traditional row crop or livestock operations that are protected.  But, the RTF laws vary widely from state-to-state.  One such law, the Indiana version (Ind. Code §32-30-6-9), was at issue in 2019 and 2020.

The Himsel Litigation

The Indiana Court of Appeals determined that the Indiana RTF law applied to protect the defendant because the change in the nature of the defendant’s hog operation from row crop farming to a large-scale confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) involving 8,000 hogs was “not a significant change” that would make the RTF law inapplicable.  In other words, 8,000 hogs in a confinement building raised by a contracting party that likely doesn’t make management decisions concerning the hogs, doesn’t report some the associated contract income as farm income on Schedule F, and cannot pledge the hogs as loan collateral due to a lack of an ownership interest in the hogs, was somehow not significantly different from a farmer raising 200 hogs and 200 head of cattle with associated crop ground who manages the diversified operation.  Just the sheer number of hogs alone stands out in stark contrast.  Indeed, the hog operation required a change in the existing zoning of the tract.

The plaintiffs in Himsel, members of the same family as the defendants, were found to have essentially come to the nuisance because one of them chose to retire from farming and remain on the land that he had lived on for nearly 80 years, and the other didn’t move from the rural home he built in 1971.  An 8,000-head hog confinement operation and the presence of 3.9 million gallons of untreated hog manure was deemed to be comparable to farming in this area in 1941.

The court also determined that a “taking” had not occurred because the plaintiff had not sold his home and moved away from the place where he grew up and lived all of his life, and the RTF law did not take the entire value of the plaintiffs’ property away.  The appellate court, however, did not address the implications of whether its opinion essentially granted the CAFO an easement to produce odors across the plaintiffs’ property.

The appellate court declined to rehear the case and the Indiana Supreme Court declined to review the appellate court’s decision by a single vote.  On July 17, 2020, a petition for certiorari was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.  On October 5, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. 

Following Indiana’s lead, several states have modified their state RTF laws to more closely align with the Indiana provision.

Dinosaur Fossils Are Not Minerals

Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 400 Mont. 135 (2020)

 A common granting clause in a mineral deed specifies that the grantor either conveys or reserves “the oil, gas and other minerals.”  That language can raise an issue concerning what “other minerals” means.  Does it include such things as gravel, clay granite, sandstone, limestone, coal, carbon dioxide, hot water and steam?  The courts have struggled with this issue and have reached differing conclusions.  Does the phrase mean anything that is in the soil that the surface estate owner doesn’t use for agricultural purposes?  Does is matter how the substance is extracted?  Does it matter if the material is located in the subsoil rather than the topsoil?  Is it material if the substance can be extracted without significant damage to the surface estate? 

The issue of whether dinosaur fossils are “minerals” for the purposes of a mineral reservation clause in a mineral deed was an issue in a recent Montana case.  In Murray, court dealt with the issue in a case with millions of dollars on the line.  Under the facts of the case, the plaintiffs (a married couple), leased farm and ranch land beginning in 1983.  Over a period of years, the owner of the land transferred portions of his interest in the property to his two sons and sold the balance to the plaintiffs.  From 1991 to 2005, the plaintiffs and the sons operated the property as a partnership.  In 2005, the sons severed the surface estate from the mineral estate and sold their remaining interests in the surface estate to the plaintiffs.  A mineral deed was to be executed at closing that apportioned one-third of the mineral rights to each son and one-third to the plaintiffs.  After the transactions were completed, the plaintiffs owned all of the surface estate of the 27,000-acre property and one-third of the mineral (subsurface) estate.  At the time, none of the parties suspected there were valuable dinosaur fossils on the property, and none of them gave any thought to whether dinosaur fossils were part of the mineral estate as defined in the mineral deed.  Likewise, none of the parties expressed any intent about who might own dinosaur fossils that might be found on the property. 

Specifically, the mineral deed stated that the parties would own, as tenants in common, “all right, title and interest in and to all of the oil, gas, hydrocarbons, and minerals in, on and under, and that may be produced from the [Ranch].”  The purchase agreement required the parties “to inform all of the other parties of any material event which may [affect] the mineral interests and [to] share all communications and contracts with all other Parties.” 

In 2006, the plaintiffs gave permission to a trio of fossil hunters to search (and later dig) for fossils on the property.  The hunters ultimately uncovered dinosaur fossils of great value including a nearly intact Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and two separate dinosaurs that died locked in battle.  The fossils turned out to be extremely rare and quite valuable, with the “Dueling Dinosaurs” valued at between $7 million and $9 million.  In 2014, the plaintiffs sold the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton to a Dutch museum for several million dollars.  A Triceratops foot was sold for $20,000 and a Triceratops skull was offered for sale for over $200,000.  The proceeds of sale were placed in an escrow account pending the outcome of a lawsuit that the sons filed.  The sons (the defendants in the present action) sued claiming that the fossils were “minerals” and that they were entitled to a portion of any sale proceeds.  The plaintiffs brought a declaratory judgment action in state court claiming that the fossils were theirs as owners of the surface estate.  The defendants removed the action to federal court and asserted a counterclaim on the basis that the fossils should be included in the mineral estate.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs on the basis that, under Montana law, fossils are not included in the ordinary and natural meaning of “mineral” and are thus not part of the mineral estate.

On appeal, the appellate court reversed.  The appellate court determined that the term “fossil” fit within the dictionary definition of “mineral.” Specifically, the appellate court noted that Black’s Law Dictionary defined “mineral” in terms of the “use” of a substance, but that defining “mineral” in that fashion did not exclude fossils.  The appellate court also noted that an earlier version of Black’s Law Dictionary defined “mineral” as including “all fossil bodies or matters dug out of mines or quarries, whence anything may be dug, such as beds of stone which may be quarried.”  Thus, the appellate court disagreed with the trial court that the deed did not encompass dinosaur fossils.  Turning to state court interpretations of the term “mineral”, the appellate court noted that the Montana Supreme Court had held certain substances other than oil and gas can be minerals if they are rare and exceptional.  Thus, the appellate court determined that to be a mineral under Montana law, the substance would have to meet the scientific definition of a “mineral” and be rare and exceptional.  The appellate court held that those standards had been met.  The plaintiffs sought a rehearing by the full Ninth Circuit and their request was granted.  The appellate court then determined that the issue was one of first impression under Montana law and certified the question of whether dinosaur fossils constitute “minerals” for the purpose of a mineral reservation under Montana law to the Montana Supreme Court.  

The Montana Supreme Court answered the certified question in the negative – dinosaur fossils are not “minerals” for the purpose of the mineral reservation at issue because they were not included in the expression, “oil, gas and hydrocarbons,” and could not be implied in the deed’s general grant of all other minerals.  “Fossils” and “minerals” were mutually exclusive terms as the parties used those terms in the mineral deed.  In making its determination, the Montana Supreme Court reasoned that whether a substance or material is a “mineral” is based on whether it is rare and valuable for its mineral properties, whether the conveying instrument expressed an intent to use the scientific definition of the term, and the relation of the substance or material to the land’s surface and the method and effect of its removal. The Court also noted that deeds are like contracts and should be interpreted in accordance with their plain and ordinary meaning to give effect to the parties’ mutual intent at the time of execution. 

The Court noted that the term “minerals” is defined in various areas of Montana statutory law (including tax provisions) and none include “fossils,” and that the only statutory provision mentioning fossils and minerals in the same statute referred to them separately.  The Court also noted that the U.S. Department of Interior (for purposes of federal law) had made an administrative decision in 1915 that dinosaur fossils are not “minerals.”  As such, the terms were mutually exclusive as used in the mineral deed between the parties, and the plaintiffs maintained ownership of any interests that the two sons had not specifically reserved in the mineral deed.  The deed simply did not contemplate including “fossils” under the mineral reservation clause.  Instead, the Court concluded that “minerals” under Montana law are a resource that is mined as a raw material for further processing, refinement and eventual economic exploitation.  Fossils are not mined, they are excavated, and they are not rare and valuable due to their mineral properties.  Therefore, unless specifically mentioned in the mineral deed, language identifying “minerals” would not “ordinarily and naturally” include fossils.

Based on the Montana Supreme Court’s answer to the certified question, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the federal district court’s order granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs and declaring them the sole owners of the dinosaur fossils.  

Force Majeure Clauses in Contracts

Governmental reaction to the China-originated virus in 2020 created legal and economic issues for many persons and businesses.  One of those legal issues involves existing contracts.  The issuance of various Executive Orders by state governors as a result of the anticipated impact of the virus shut down significant economic activity in those states and triggered problems up and down the food supply chain.  That raised numerous questions.  What happens when a supply chain is disrupted?  What recourse exists for a farmer that entered into a contract to sell corn to an ethanol plant, and now the ethanol price has collapsed and the plant refuses to pay?  What if a hog buyer won’t buy hogs because the processing plant is shut-down?  What if a milk buyer backs out of a milk contract because the milk market has disintegrated?  Grain can be stored and milk can be dumped, but what do you do with a 300-lb. fat hog?

A common provision in some agricultural contracts (particularly hog production contracts) is known as a “force majeure” provision. Under such a provision, a contracting party is not liable for damages due to the delay or failure to perform under the contract because of an event that is beyond the party’s control.  Performance is excused until it becomes possible for the party to perform under the contract.

Force Majeure means “superior force” or “unavoidable accident.”  It applies when there are circumstances beyond a party’s control that excuses the party from performing, such as an extraordinary event like war, riot, crime, pandemic, etc. Most often, a “force majeure” event involves an “act of God” (i.e. flooding, earthquakes, or volcanoes) or the failure of third parties (such as suppliers and subcontractors) to perform their obligations to a contracting party. However, sometimes a contracting party will attempt to use the clause to extract themselves from a contract that has turned out to not be profitable for them.

A force majeure clause is not uncommon in contracts.  It concerns how the parties allocate risk and, in essence, frees the contracting parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond their control prevents at least one party from fulfilling their contractual obligations.  The event or circumstance must be one that the parties couldn’t have anticipated at the time the contract was entered into; the party seeking to remove themselves from the contract must not have caused the problem; and the event or circumstance makes it impossible or impractical to perform the contract.  

The wording of a force majeure clause is critical and should be negotiated by the contracting parties so that it applies equally to all parties to the contract. Often, it is helpful if the clause includes examples of acts that will excuse performance under the provision.

A contract may distinguish between “acts of God” and force majeure, and a contract may include an “act of God” clause rather than a force majeure clause.  Many contracts contain language specifying that if a particular event occurs, then no performance is required.  That type of language tends to deal with “acts of God.”  Again, it’s a matter of how the parties allocated risk. Perhaps the virus is such an event that is comparable to those that fall under the category of an “act of God.”

Conclusion

In the next post, I will start the journey through the “Top Ten” of 2020 in ag law and ag tax.

January 5, 2021 in Civil Liabilities, Contracts, Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Boundaries and Surveys – What Are the Rules?

Overview

Boundary issues are rather common in rural settings.  Often boundary disputes arise because a survey doesn’t match an existing fence line.  In that situation, what controls?  How is the actual legal property boundary determined?  There are numerous legal rules and doctrines that can come into play and a later, accurate survey may not actually determine the outcome.  Over 25 years ago, I participated in a the writing of a book involving Kansas agricultural law with the late James Wadley of Washburn Law School and Sam Brownback who would later become a member of the U.S. Congress and then the U.S. Senate followed by being elected to two terms as the Governor of Kansas.  Today’s article involves some of the concepts we discussed in that book.

Boundaries involving rural properties – it’s the topic of today’s post.

Old Fences

Landowners generally consider existing fences to be the partition (boundary) between adjacent properties.  But the law may view things differently.  The actual boundary is an imaginary line that can be found by examining the deeds to the adjacent properties.  An existing fence line is merely evidence of where the boundary line between the properties is located.  It is immaterial whether the fence is a permanent fence or not.

However, there may be situations where the fence line has become part of the property description over time as the land changed hands.  This is particularly true in the eastern third of the United States where a metes and bounds property description is used that describes the perimeter of the land.  In other parts of the country where the Government Survey System is utilized, an existing fence line may be treated by the adjoining landowners as the physical boundary between adjacent tracts.  In either of these situations, the fence line may be considered to be the legal property boundary. 

In most situations a parcel of land will be identified described by mapping out survey lines.  This can result in an existing fence not being on the precise surveyed boundary.  The fence may have been constructed off of the true legal boundary as a matter of convenience.  For example, if the true boundary crosses a stream or goes through thick brush, maintenance of the fence is made simpler if there is no stream crossing or brush to clear.  This does not present any issues when the fence is not intended to be the boundary line.  But, when a fence is an old fence that has been in its present location for quite some time and the adjacent owners treat the fence line as the boundary line irrespective of whether it actually is the true legal boundary, problems can arise.  In that situation, the issue is whether the fence line can be substituted for the actual legal boundary and, if so, how it can become the true boundary. 

Adverse Possession

The mere passage of time, by itself, does not cause a fence line to be substituted for the actual property boundary.  But, the manner in which the adjacent owners have used the property over time may cause the fence line to become fixed as the boundary with the legal effect of changing the boundary as described in the deed to the property.  Under the legal doctrine of adverse possession title can be acquired to property that one doesn’t actually own via the usage of the property for a prescribed amount of time (e.g., 15 years in Kansas).  The party attempting to acquire title via adverse possession must know that the property that they are using does not belong to them.  In other words, the party asserting the doctrine knows that the existing fence line is not on the property boundary and uses the additional property between the true boundary and the fence line as their own, adverse to the true owner. 

If the true boundary is not known, courts typically examine the intent of the party holding property beyond the true line (i.e., the party benefitting from the misplaced fence).  If the property is occupied by mere mistake and with no intent to claim land that does not belong to the person, the occupation of the property will not be considered to be adverse.  Alternatively, if the occupant takes possession of the property believing the land to be his or her own up to the mistaken line and claiming title to it, the possession will be considered adverse if the true owner knows of the possession and assertion of ownership and does nothing to prevent it for the statutory timeframe.

A boundary that changes via adverse possession is formalized by a “quiet title” action in court.

Settling Disputes

Most efforts to resolve fence problems on the basis of adverse possession fail because both parties believe the existing fence is the boundary and, therefore, neither party intends to claim any more than they are legally entitled to.  Thus, their occupation is usually not considered to be adverse, and the boundary dispute will have to be settled via other means.

Written agreement.  One way in which the parties may settle the boundary dispute is by executing a written agreement followed by the issuing of corrective deeds.  With this approach, the property descriptions of the adjoining tracts can be changed to reflect the fence line.  This may require the execution of one or more deeds from one party to the other to transfer the area being adjusted.

Memorandum of uncertain boundary.  Another manner in which a boundary dispute may be resolved is by the parties executing a memorandum of understanding designating the existing fence line as the boundary.  The memorandum can be recorded in the land records.  Once recorded it will bind the present and subsequent owners of the property and their successors.  But, for the memorandum to be enforceable, the boundary must be uncertain or in dispute.  The memorandum, known as a “parol agreement” is not subject to state statutes that govern conveyances of land.  Even so, the memorandum should accurately describe the land at issue, and the parties should sign it.  The adjacent landowners, as parties to the agreement, should then treat the agreed-upon line as the boundary between the tracts. 

Note: If prior owners had agreed to a boundary but didn’t reduce it to writing or record it on the land records, the boundary may be relocated in accordance with the prior agreement if it can be proved. 

Doctrine of practical location.  Also knows as “boundary by acquiescence,” the “doctrine of practical location” applies when the adjoining landowners don’t know where the true legal boundary between their tracts is and one party occupies to the fence line.  In Kansas, if the other party acquiesces in that occupation for 15 years, the result is that the existing fence will become the true boundary.  The parties could also reach an agreement that the existing fence line is the true boundary.  However, if the parties know that the fence is not on the true boundary but do know where the true boundary is, neither parol agreements nor boundary by acquiescence will be applicable.

Equitable exchange.  Some courts will grant an “equitable exchange.”  With an equitable exchange, one party is ordered to trade property on one side of the line for property that is on the other side.  For a court to grant such a remedy, it must be shown that the true location of the boundary will present an unusual hardship or some other circumstance that would cause a court to take action. 

Conflicting Surveys

If a boundary remains in dispute because of conflicting surveys, any boundaries and markers set by the first survey control in a conflict with a subsequent survey.  This is true even if there were errors in the original survey.  When a subsequent survey is done, the issue is where the original survey located the boundary lines.  In other words, the goal of a subsequent survey is to locate the lost boundary line.  The objective is not to dispute the location of the boundary.  This rule applies to both government and private surveys.  The reason for the rule is to protect the property rights of parties who have purchased, occupied and enjoyed the land in reliance on the original survey.  But, if the reason for the rule doesn’t exist and no one has taken action based on the incorrect survey, there is no need to apply the rule.  In that instance, if the original survey is inaccurate, it may be corrected with an accurate, new survey.

Note:  Unfortunately, the rule is often overlooked by subsequent surveyors who mistakenly believe that the line should be located in accordance with the most accurate survey possible. 

When a boundary dispute involves a disagreement between surveys, it is necessary to consider how the use of the land has been affected by the original survey’s location of the boundary.  If the fence was erected along the old but erroneous survey line, and the parties have actively farmed to the fence line, the fence should not be moved.  If the fence does not follow either the original survey or the later survey, the true boundary line may need to be designated.  Whether the fence will need to be moved as a result will depend on the application of the other principles and doctrines discussed above. 

Recent Case

A recent case from Iowa illustrates some of the principles that commonly arise in a boundary disputed involving agricultural land.  In Black v. Jorgensen, No. 19-1576, 2020 Iowa App. LEXIS 1161 (Iowa Ct. App. Dec. 16, 2020), the plaintiff sought to quiet title related to a disputed area where her land adjoined the defendant’s property. The disputed property consisted of 6.44 acres between the boundary of record east to the fence that had been maintained by the parties’ predecessors. The boundary of record was a government survey line that ran through a drainage ditch that was densely wooded and vegetated. The parties’ predecessors had built a fence fifty years prior on the east side of the ditch to keep cattle from going into the ditch.  The defendant built a new fence that ran partially along the government survey line, curved around the eastern embankment of the ditch, and ended on the south end of the survey line. Two acres of land fell between where the old fence allegedly ran and the defendant’s new fence. The other four and a half acres were between the new fence line and the government survey line in the ditch.

The plaintiff claimed ownership of the land between the survey line and the old fence built by the parties’ predecessors. The plaintiff argued she had obtained title to the disputed land by boundary by acquiescence, practical location, and adverse possession.

The trial court held that the plaintiff did not prove a boundary by acquiescence, practical location, or adverse possession. On appeal, the plaintiff argued the trial court erred in failing to quiet title in her favor. The appellate court held that the plaintiff failed to establish a boundary by acquiescence. The appellate court noted that neither the plaintiff  or the defendant, nor the parties’ predecessors had ever discussed that the old fence was the boundary line, and the predecessors considered the government survey line to be the boundary line. On the issue of boundary by practical location, the appellate court held that the plaintiff had failed to establish the boundary was disputed, indefinite, or uncertain. The appellate court noted that county plat maps and the legal descriptions of the land all indicated a straight-line border between the properties through the drainage ditch.

On the issue of adverse possession, the appellate court held that the plaintiff failed to establish that she had exercised hostile, open, exclusive, and continuous possession of the disputed area for at least ten years (the Iowa statutory timeframe). The appellate court noted that the parties rarely used the disputed area, and that it was mainly used for hunting by both parties. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s rejection of the plaintiff’s boundary claims and confirmed that the defendant owned the disputed area.

Conclusion

Boundary disputes are not uncommon when farm and ranch land is involved.  Numerous principles can come into play when determining the true boundary.  In rural settings, usage of adjoining properties may more commonly determine the boundary between properties than does a survey.  That last point can come as a surprise to many, including surveyors.

December 27, 2020 in Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Is it a Farm Lease Or Not? – And Why it Might Matter

Overview

In the agricultural sector, agreements other than leases are sometimes utilized which authorize a person to conduct farming operations on behalf of the landowner.  The status of that person can differ.  The person may be classified as a farm tenant or an employee or a cropper.  What are the differences and why does the classification matter?     

The classification of persons conducting farming operations for a farm landowner – it’s the topic of today’s post.

Status of a Person Conducting Farming Operations

Some farming and ranching operations utilize employees, while other operations hire a farm management company or an individual as an independent contractor with compensation based on a certain number of dollars per acre to prepare, plant, cultivate and harvest. Custom cutters provide combine crews that follow the harvest each year from Texas to Canada. Usually, those who hire custom cutters treat them as independent contractors from a legal perspective.

While the status of a tenant or independent contractor is usually clear, the status of a cropper is less clear. A cropper occupies a legal position somewhere between the status of a tenant and an employee or independent contractor. A person is likely to be a cropper and not a tenant when the landowner supplies land and all the inputs, controls the operation of the farm and pays a portion of the crop to the person who actually raises and harvests the crop.

A cropper, unlike a tenant who has a possessory interest in the leased premises and control over the farming operation, only has permission to be on the land. A cropper does not have any legally enforceable interest in the crops and has only a contract right to be compensated in-kind for the cropper’s labor. This has bearing on whether the farmer is entitled to statutory notice of lease termination under state law.  Under Iowa law, for example, a “cropper” is distinguished from a “tenant.”  The relevant statute defines a person as a cropper rather than a tenant if the landowner supplies the land and the inputs, controls the operation of the farm and pays a portion of the crop to the person raising and harvesting the crop.  In that situation, the farmer has no legally enforceable interest in the crop or land involved, only has a contract right for compensation in-kind for labor provided, and is basically an employee of the landowner (i.e., a wage earner) that is hired to produce a crop. See Henney v. Lambert, 237 Iowa 146, 21 N.W.2d 301 (1946). Therefore, because a cropper does not have any property right in the leased premises, the cropper is not entitled to statutory notice of termination - there is no interest to be terminated.  Instead, a cropper’s “lease” terminates upon harvest of the crop. 

As opposed to a cropper, a farmer operating under a crop-share arrangement with the landowner is a crop-share tenant and not a cropper.  Thus, the statutory notice of termination requirement applies.  For example, in Hoffman v. Estate of Siler, 306 S.W.3d 854 (Mo. Ct. App. 2010), the plaintiff was held to be a year-to-year tenant under an oral farm lease rather than a cropper.  As a result, he was entitled to a statutory 60-day notice of termination of tenancy.  The arrangement was determined to be a typical 50/50 crop-share arrangement. The plaintiff supplied his own farming equipment, made all of the farming decisions, performed unpaid maintenance, applied for government programs and dealt with conservation agents. 

When a question arises with respect to the status of the parties, courts attempt to determine the intent of the parties as evidenced by the terms of the written or oral contract, circumstances surrounding the agreement, the action of the parties and the type of farming operation. Typically, no single factor controls. Instead, an examination of all the factors is necessary in most situations to determine the status of the parties. Indeed, most courts do not find controlling the parties’ characterization of the arrangement. But if a landowner gives exclusive possession of a farm to another party, some courts have held that act to establish a landlord-tenant relationship. As for croppers, a court could find them to be employees instead of independent contractors under a state workers’ compensation law.

Recent Case

The issue of the legal status of a farmer was involved in a recent Arizona case.  In F.S.T. Farms Inc. v. Vanderwey, 2019 Ariz. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1430 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2019), the plaintiff farmed for the defendant. The defendant leased farmland from a company and the plaintiff would farm the land, and both would split the crops produced. The state condemned the land and reached a settlement with the company, causing the defendant to be unable to furnish the land to the plaintiff. Neither the plaintiff nor defendant was a party to the condemnation action, and neither received any part of the settlement.

The plaintiff sued, alleging breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. At trial, the main point of contention was whether the sharecrop agreement was a lease giving the plaintiff a property interest or a cropper’s contract creating an employment-like relationship. The plaintiff argued the agreement was a lease entitling him to one-half of the amount allocated to crop loss in settling the condemnation matter – approximately $500,000. While the defendant admitted contractual liability, he argued the agreement was a cropper’s contract, therefore the plaintiff’s damages should be limited to its lost profits totaling $10,000. The trial court jury found the agreement was a cropper’s contract and awarded the plaintiff damages of $207,214.40, equivalent to one-fifth of the settlement allocation.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the jury’s conclusion that the sharecropper agreement was a cropper’s contract necessarily limited the plaintiff’s recovery to $10,000. The appellate court held that as a matter of contract law, the plaintiff’s recovery was limited to the $10,000 in lost profits. The appellate court noted that the agreement provided that the parties would share all crops produced on the property and income received on account of growing and sale of crops from the property, and that while both parties were aware of the condemnation action, neither received any income from the settlement. The appellate court held that contract damages are intended to compensate for what the claimant lost because of the other party’s non-performance, and additional recovery is only available in exceptional circumstances, which were not present in this case. On remand, the trial court must determine the amount of damages on the plaintiff’s claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Conclusion

It is important that parties to a farming arrangement clearly understand the legal nature of the relationship and the legal implications that flow from that relationship.  Disappointed expectations can lead to litigation, and that’s what farmers and others in rural areas desire to avoid.  

November 12, 2020 in Contracts, Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 6, 2020

Ag and Tax In the Courts

Overview

The courts keep issuing rulings of importance to agricultural producers and others involved in agriculture or who own agricultural land.  Also, tax issues of general relevance continue to be resolved in the courts.  In today’s post, I take a look at some recent cases involving farm bankruptcy; the “public trust” doctrine; the proper tax classification of a work relationship; on-farm sales of processed beef; and zoning. 

A potpourri of ag and tax legal issues – these are the topics of today’s post.

Court Denies Proposed Sale of Land by Chapter 12 Debtor

In re Holthaus, No. 20-40065, 2020 Bankr. LEXIS 3001 (Bankr. D. Kan. Oct. 26, 2020)

The debtors (a married couple) owned farmland in two counties. They filed Chapter 12 bankruptcy and sought to sell three tracts of land through two contracts. 11 U.S.C. §363(b)(1) provides that a trustee "after notice and a hearing, may use, sell or lease, other than in the ordinary course of business, property of the estate." In determining whether to approve a proposed sale under 11 U.S.C. §363, courts generally apply standards that, although stated various ways, represent essentially a business judgment test. The debtors had not filed a reorganization plan at the time of the proposed sale of the land.

The first contract consisted of two parcels totaling 200 acres which would be used as prime cropland. The second contract was for 120 acres of cropland in need of erosion remediation and not eligible for participation in government agricultural programs in its current condition. The debtors claimed that there was an oral agreement to lease the purchased properties back to the debtors for $175 per acre per year after the sale, as well as a right of first refusal if the buyer were to sell the properties, so that the debtors could continue to farm the land. Both contracts were silent as to the amount of rent to be paid and whether the right of first refusal applied to all three of the properties. The debtors proposed to sell the prime cropland for $4,000 per acre, based on a recent sale of another property in the county.

The creditors had mortgage liens on the properties and vigorously opposed the sale of the three properties. The creditors argued that the debtors were undervaluing all three tracts of land. Specifically, the creditors argued that the debtors erred in relying on a past sale in the county to arrive at $4,000 per acre. The creditor argued that the recent sale involved land that included a significant portion of pasture and wasteland, and that the debtors’ land was compromised of high-quality tillable land and no waste. As a result, the creditors argued that the sale price of the prime cropland should be $5,000 per acre.

The bankruptcy court agreed with the creditors and held that the debtors had inadequately priced the prime cropland. However, the bankruptcy court held that the second contract did not undervalue the less desirable cropland. The bankruptcy court noted that although the debtors’ sale did not require satisfaction of outstanding liens, there were significant concerns about some aspects of the proposed sale. First, the debtors’ ability to resume farming would be dependent upon the lease of the three tracts after the sale for rent that would be less than the debtor’s present debt service. Additionally, the debtors’ right to lease would only last as long as the proposed buyer owned the properties. Consequently, the bankruptcy court denied the debtors’ proposed sale primarily due to an inadequate sale price for the prime cropland. 

Observation:  Clearly, not having the prime cropland exposed to the market through a listing was a problem.  If that had been done, there likely would have been testimony (and other evidence) to support the price in addition to the debtor's testimony.  Having an appraiser testify could have helped the debtor.

Public Trust Doctrine Inapplicable to Natural Resources Allegedly Harmed by “Climate Change” 

Chernaik v. Brown, 367 Or. 143 (2020)

I wrote recently about attempts to expand the “public trust” doctrine and the impact such an expansion would have on agricultural production and land ownership.  You can read that article here:  https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/10/the-public-trust-doctrine-a-camels-nose-under-agricultures-tent.html.  In that article I discussed a Nevada Supreme Court opinion in which the Court refused to expand the doctrine.  Now, the Oregon Supreme Court has likewise refused to expand the doctrine. 

In the Oregon case, the plaintiffs claimed that the public trust doctrine required the State of Oregon to protect various natural resources in the state from harm due to greenhouse gas emissions, “climate change,” and ocean acidification. The public trust doctrine has historically only applied to submerged and submersible lands underlying navigable waters as well as the navigable waters. The trial court rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments. On appeal the state Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting the test for expanding the doctrine the plaintiffs proposed. Under that test, the doctrine would extend to any resource that is not easily held or improved and is of great value to the public. The state Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs’ test was too broad to be adopted. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court. 

Zoning Ordinance Bars Keeping of Farm Animals 

Maffeo v. Winder Borough Zoning Hearing Board, 220 A.3d 1210 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2019)

The plaintiff owned a two-acre property in an area zoned residential. She kept approximately 50 animals on the property including goats, donkeys, and chickens. The city manager’s office had received numerous noise and odor complaints regarding the animals. The city sent the plaintiff a cease and desist letter giving the plaintiff 20 days to remove the animals. A city ordinance prohibited any person from keeping goats, donkeys, and other farm animals on residentially zoned property. The plaintiff appealed the cease and desist letter to the defendant city, the zoning hearing board. The plaintiff admitted that most of her property was located within a residentially zoned district but argued that a small corner of the property was located in a conservation district allowing for agricultural uses. The zoning board denied the plaintiff’s argument and concluded that although part of the property was zoned for agricultural use, it was undisputed that the plaintiff’s animals were within 200 feet of a residential lot which violated a separate city ordinance.

The trial court affirmed. On appeal, the plaintiff argued the trial court failed to consider evidence that she properly cared for her animals and that her property had not been surveyed. Specifically, the plaintiff argued a letter from the county humane society should have been considered to show she properly cared for her animals. The appellate court held that although the letter was not in the record, both the zoning board and trial court had expressly considered the letter in making their respective rulings. The appellate court noted that the care for the animals was not at issue, but rather whether zoning rules and ordinance permitted the plaintiff to keep farm animals on her property. The appellate court also determined that a zoning survey of the property had been done recently, which showed that most of the property was within a residential district and only a small portion was zoned as conservation. The plaintiff failed to present any evidence to rebut the survey before the hearing board or trial court, therefore the appellate court held that the plaintiff was in violation of the city ordinance. Finally, the plaintiff argued the zoning board was unevenly enforcing its zoning ordinances because a neighbor had testified before the hearing board that he kept chickens on his property and a city officer had told him that doing so did not violate any city ordinance. The appellate court held that this evidence alone was insufficient to establish uneven enforcement without any other evidence presented. 

On-Farm Sales of Processed Beef Subject to Sales Tax 

Priv. Ltr. Rul. 8115 (Mo. Dept. of Rev., Sept. 25, 2020)

The taxpayer sought a ruling from the Missouri Department of Revenue (MDOR) concerning the sale of beef products from his farm. The taxpayer raises cattle, slaughters them, and then sends the beef out to be processed at a local processing plant. The taxpayer pays the processing plant for its services and then the taxpayer sells the resulting beef products to customers at his farm. The taxpayer’s question was whether the beef sales were subject to sales tax. The MDOR issued a ruling stating that the sales are subject to sales tax at the food tax rate of 1 percent. The MDOR noted that 7 U.S.C. §2012, defines “food” as "any food or food product for home consumption." The taxpayer was selling raw beef at retail for home consumption. 

Payments Received By CPA Were Wages and Not S.E. Income; Deductions Disallowed

Thoma v. Comr., T.C. Memo. 2020-67

The petitioner acquired a partial interest in an accounting firm and ultimately became the sole owner of the firm that he operated as a sole proprietorship. The petitioner later went into business with another accountant pursuant to two contracts. One contract purported to be a partnership agreement and the second contract “restated” the first contract. The plaintiff provided accounting services to the firm and also brought his own clients to the firm. He later sold his interest back to the business under an agreement stating that he didn’t retain any management or supervisory role in the business.

During the year of sale of his interest and the following year (2010 and 2011), the business made bi-weekly payments to the petitioner for accounting services. The business issued Schedules K-1 reporting the payments as guaranteed payments to a limited partner with no withholding. The petitioner did not receive any paid sick leave or paid vacation time. The business had a professional liability policy that included the petitioner. The petitioner received a letter from the Department of Justice requesting the records of a client and the petitioner responded to the letter without informing the business. That ultimately resulted in the business locking the petitioner out, barring him from the computer network and placing him on administrative leave and his relationship with the business being terminated.

The petitioner reported his income for 2010 and 2011 as self-employment income allowing him to claim deductions for deposits into his SIMPLE IRA and for health insurance premiums that he paid as well as for one-half of his self-employment tax liability. The IRS disallowed the deductions, recharacterizing the income as wages. That resulted in his expenses being treated as unreimbursed employee expenses deductible only as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the two-percent of adjusted gross income floor. Likewise, the petitioner’s health insurance deductions were only deductible as a medical expense deduction and the SIMPLE IRA deduction was disallowed. The IRS also imposed accuracy-related penalties.

The Tax Court agreed with the IRS position, concluding that the petitioner and the other accountant did not intend to carry on a business together or share profit and loss. Thus, they never formed a partnership. The 2010 agreement, the Tax Court determined resulted in an at-will employment arrangement with the petitioner having no management authority. The issuance of the Schedules K-1 were not controlling, but merely a factor in determining the existence of a partnership. The Tax Court also held that the petitioner was not an independent contractor because of the longstanding relationship of the petitioner and the other accountant. The accountant/firm retained the right to fire the petitioner and provided him with professional liability insurance, office space and tax prep software. The firm also retained control over the details of his work and he did not have any opportunity for profit or loss independent of the business. The IRS-imposed penalties were upheld. 

Conclusion

The courts again illustrate the numerous legal and tax issues that are relevant for farmers, ranchers rural landowners and taxpayers in general.  It’s always a good idea to have competent legal and tax counsel within arm’s reach.

November 6, 2020 in Bankruptcy, Income Tax, Real Property, Regulatory Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 12, 2020

Principles of Agricultural Law

PrinciplesForBlog2020Fall-cropped

Overview

The fields of agricultural law and agricultural taxation are dynamic.  Law and tax impacts the daily life of a farmer, rancher, agribusiness and rural landowner practically on a daily basis.  Whether that is good or bad is not really the question.  The point is that it’s the reality.  Lack of familiarity with the basic fundamental and applicable rules and principles can turn out to be very costly.  As a result of these numerous intersections, and the fact that the rules applicable to those engaged in farming are often different from non-farmers, I started out just over 25 years ago to develop a textbook that addressed the major issues that a farmer or rancher and their legal and tax counsel should be aware of.  After three years, the book was complete – Principles of Agricultural Law - and it’s been updated twice annually since that time. 

The 47th edition is now complete, and it’s the topic of today’s post – Principles of Agricultural Law.

Subject Areas

The text is designed to be useful to farmers and ranchers; agribusiness professionals; ag lenders; educational professionals; lawyers, CPAs and other tax preparers; undergraduate and law students; and those that simply want to learn more about legal and tax issues.  The text covers a wide range of topics.  Here’s just a sample of what is covered:

Ag contracts.  Farmers and ranchers engage in many contractual situations, including ag leases, to purchase contracts.  The potential perils of verbal contracts are numerous and can lead to unnecessary litigation. What if a commodity is sold under forward contract and a weather event destroys the crop before it is harvested?  When does the law require a contract to be in writing?  For purchases of goods, do any warranties apply?  What remedies are available upon breach? If a lawsuit needs to be brought to enforce a contract, how soon must it be filed? Is a liability release form necessary?  Is it valid?  What happens when a contract breach occurs?  What is the remedy? 

Ag financing.  Farmers and ranchers are often quite dependent on borrowing money for keeping their operations running.  What are the rules surrounding ag finance?  This is a big issue for lenders also?  What about dealing with an ag cooperative and the issue of liens?  What are the priority rules with respect to the various types of liens that a farmer might have to deal with? 

Ag bankruptcy.  A unique set of rules can apply to farmers that file bankruptcy.  Chapter 12 bankruptcy allows farmers to de-prioritize taxes.  That can be a huge benefit.  Knowing how best to utilize those rules is very beneficial.  That’s especially true with the unsettled issue of whether Payment Protection Program (PPP) funds can be utilized by a farmer in bankruptcy.  The courts are split on that issue.

Income tax.  Tax and tax planning permeate daily life.  Deferral contracts; depreciation; installment sales; like-kind exchanges; credits; losses; income averaging; reporting government payments; etc.  The list could go on and on.  Having a basic understanding of the rules and the opportunities available can add a lot to the bottom line of the farming or ranching operation as well as help minimize the bleeding when times are tough.

Real property.  Of course, land is typically the biggest asset in terms of value for a farming and ranching operation.  But, land ownership brings with it many potential legal issues.  Where is the property line?  How is a dispute over a boundary resolved?  Who is responsible for building and maintaining a fence?  What if there is an easement over part of the farm?  Does an abandoned rail line create an issue?  What if land is bought or sold under an installment contract?  How do the like-kind exchange rules work when farmland is traded? 

Estate planning.  While the federal estate tax is not a concern for most people and the vast majority of farming and ranching operations, when it does apply it’s a major issue that requires planning.  What are the rules governing property passage at death?  Should property be gifted during life?  What happens to property passage at death if there is no will?  How can family conflicts be minimized post-death?  Does the manner in which property is owned matter?  What are the applicable tax rules?  These are all important questions.

Business planning.  One of the biggest issues for many farm and ranch families is how to properly structure the business so that it can be passed on to subsequent generations and remain viable economically.  What’s the best entity choice?  What are the options?  Of course, tax planning is a critical part of the business transition process.

Cooperatives.  Many ag producers are patrons of cooperatives.  That relationship creates unique legal and tax issues.  Of course, the tax law enacted near the end of 2017 modified an existing deduction for patrons of ag cooperatives.  Those rules are very complex.  What are the responsibilities of cooperative board members? 

Civil liabilities.  The legal issues are enormous in this category.  Nuisance law; liability to trespassers and others on the property; rules governing conduct in a multitude of situations; liability for the spread of noxious weeds; liability for an employee’s on-the-job injuries; livestock trespass; and on and on the issues go.  Agritourism is a very big thing for some farmers, but does it increase liability potential?  Nuisance issues are also important in agriculture.  It’s useful to know how the courts handle these various situations.

Criminal liabilities.  This topic is not one that is often thought of, but the implications can be monstrous.  Often, for a farmer or rancher or rural landowner, the possibility of criminal allegations can arise upon (sometimes) inadvertent violation of environmental laws.  Even protecting livestock from predators can give rise to unexpected criminal liability.  Mail fraud can also arise with respect to the participation in federal farm programs.  The areas of life potentially impacted with criminal penalties are worth knowing, as well as knowing how to avoid tripping into them.

Water law.  Of course, water is essential to agricultural production.  Water issues vary across the country, but they tend to focus around being able to have rights to water in the time of shortage and moving the diversion point of water.  Also, water quality issues are important.  In essence, knowing whether a tract of land has a water right associated with it, how to acquire a water right, and the relative strength of that water rights are critical to understand.

Environmental law.  It seems that agricultural and the environment are constantly in the news.  The Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other federal (and state) laws and regulations can have a big impact on a farming or ranching operation.  Just think of the issues with the USDA’s Swampbuster rules that have arisen over the past 30-plus years.  What constitutes a regulatory taking of property that requires the payment of compensation under the Constitution?  It’s good to know where the lines are drawn and how to stay out of (expensive) trouble.

Regulatory law.  Agriculture is a very heavily regulated industry.  Animals and plants, commodities and food products are all subject to a great deal of regulation at both the federal and state level.  Antitrust laws are also important to agriculture because of the highly concentrated markets that farmers buy inputs from and sell commodities into.  Where are the lines drawn?  How can an ag operation best position itself to negotiate the myriad of rules?   

Conclusion

It is always encouraging to me to see students, farmers and ranchers, agribusiness and tax professionals get interested in the subject matter and see the relevance of material to their personal and business lives. Agricultural law and taxation is reality.  It’s not merely academic.  The Principles text is one that can be very helpful to not only those engaged in agriculture, but also for those advising agricultural producers.  It’s also a great reference tool for Extension educators. It’s also a great investment for any farmer – and it’s updated twice annually to keep the reader on top of current developments that impact agriculture.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy, perhaps even as a Christmas gift, you can visit the link here:  http://washburnlaw.edu/practicalexperience/agriculturallaw/waltr/principlesofagriculturallaw/index.html.  Instructors that adopt the text for a course are entitled to a free copy.  The book is available in print and CD versions.  Also, for instructors, a complete set of Powerpoint slides is available via separate purchase.  Sample exams and work problems are also available.  You may also contact me directly to obtain a copy.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy, you can visit the link here:  http://washburnlaw.edu/practicalexperience/agriculturallaw/waltr/principlesofagriculturallaw/index.html.  You may also contact me directly. 

October 12, 2020 in Bankruptcy, Business Planning, Civil Liabilities, Contracts, Cooperatives, Criminal Liabilities, Environmental Law, Estate Planning, Income Tax, Insurance, Real Property, Regulatory Law, Secured Transactions, Water Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Real Estate Concepts Involved In Recent Cases

Overview

Agricultural producers and rural landowners often deal with legal issues involving real estate.  That’s to be expected.  Land is often the major asset of a farming or ranching operation, and it is in the open and the action of third parties is often involved. 

Real estate law has many common, well-established legal principles and concepts.  They are frequently on display in the courts.  Real estate matters of importance to rural landowners – it’s the focus of today’s post.

County Can Exercise Eminent Domain For Purpose of Upgrading Road 

Hickman v. Ringgold County, 941 N.W.2d 38 (Iowa Ct. App. 2019)

Eminent domain is the power of a state or the federal government to take private property for public use while requiring "just" compensation to be given to the original owner.  U.S. Constitution, Fifth Amendment.  In some states, the state legislative body can delegate the power to municipalities, government subdivisions, or even to private persons or corporations for the taking of private property for a “public purpose.”  The exercise of this inherent power of government is a concern to rural landowners, and it came up in a recent Iowa case.

In Hickman, the defendant county served a notice of intent to condemn land the plaintiffs owned. The plaintiffs were informed that part of their land was needed for the construction of a new road for the future location of a new concrete batch plant. The plaintiffs argued the proposed condemnation violated Iowa law because it would be solely for the purpose of facilitating the incidental private use of the concrete batch plant. The trial court disagreed and dismissed the plaintiff’s suit.

On appeal, the plaintiffs again argued that the county’s decision to widen and improve the road was solely for the purpose of facilitating the construction and use of the concrete batch plant.  As a result, the plaintiff claimed that proposed condemnation was illegal under Iowa law because it was solely for the purpose of private economic development.  The appellate court held that the county could not rely on an economic development rationale to support its taking of the plaintiffs’ property because of a prior Iowa Supreme Court opinion in Puntenney v. Iowa Utilitie. Board, 928 N.W.2d 829, 844 (Iowa 2019).   However, the appellate court determined that the county could maintain its eminent domain action if it could show that improving the road served a public purpose. On that point, the appellate court noted that the county was statutorily authorized to upgrade the road. In addition, the county supervisor testified that without the condemnation and improvement of the road, the road would have been a hazard and could not have handled heavy truck traffic. Finally, the appellate court held that the county’s need to upgrade the road was a public purpose that supported its exercise of eminent domain over the plaintiffs’ land. 

Moving Cattle Establishes Boundary by Acquiescence

Brewer v. Plagman, 940 N.W.2d 792 (Iowa Ct. App. 2019)

By assumption, a partition fence is located on the property line. In the event a partition fence is not located on the property line, an erroneously located boundary may become the true boundary after a statutorily specified number of years of acquiescence.  The “doctrine of practical location,” as boundary by acquiescence is known, typically arises where, as a result of a dispute, one party occupies to a fence line and the other party acquiesces in that occupation for the required length of time. Another common scenario that gives rise to application of the doctrine is where adjoining landowners know that a particular fence or line in a field is not the true boundary, but do not know where the true boundary is located. After the statutory period of usage of the adjoining tracts in this manner, the fence or field line can become the legal boundary. Boundaries believed to be in error should be surveyed and, if not correctly located, an objection filed before the statutory time period has elapsed.  A boundary by acquiescence matter was before an Iowa court recently. 

In Brewer, the plaintiffs farmed land that had been in the family for nearly 150 years. Over time, parcels of the property were sold to the defendants. The plaintiffs owned two parcels on the northern and southern ends of the land and the defendants owned parcels in between the plaintiffs’ two parcels and directly adjacent to the west. A fenced corridor connected the plaintiffs’ north and south parcels so the plaintiffs could transport cattle from one property to the other. A boundary dispute arose when the defendants’ obtained a survey revealing the boundary between the farms was in between the fences. The plaintiffs sought to quiet title, alleging a boundary by acquiescence along the western fence line. The plaintiffs argued their family had been moving cattle between the two properties for more than a hundred years before the defendants’ bought their land.

The trial court held that the plaintiffs were able to establish a boundary by acquiescence along the western fence line. On appeal, the defendants argued that the trial court permitted inadmissible hearsay, by allowing the plaintiffs to testify about an oral land agreement a parent made that established the western fence line as the new boundary. The appellate court held that although boundaries are usually proven by reference to deeds, statements made by those in the community can often be the only evidence available concerning land boundaries. Further, the appellate court noted that even if it were to disregard the evidence of the oral land agreement, there was sufficient evidence to find that the plaintiffs had established a boundary by acquiescence. The appellate court held that acquiescence exists when both parties acknowledge and treat the line as the boundary. If the acquiescence persists for ten years (the statutory period of time in Iowa), the line becomes the true boundary even though a survey may show otherwise. The appellate court also noted that the evidence showed that the defendant had acquiesced in the plaintiffs’ use of the lane during the time the defendant owned the land. 

No County Road Without Formal Adoption

Reid v. Donithan, No. 2017-CA-001388-MR, 2019 Ky. App. Unpub. LEXIS 758 (Ky. Ct. App. Oct. 25, 2019)

Counties are responsible for county road maintenance.  Generally speaking, a county must maintain a county road in such a manner that protects public safety.  Issues can arise involving such things as road ditches, tree and brush maintenance, water flowage, abutments, and even fences.  Some road may be designated as low maintenance, and others may become abandoned over time for various reasons.  An abandoned rural road was at issue in a Kentucky case last year.

In Reid v. Donithan, the plaintiffs owned a farm that could only be accessed by a road that crosses defendants’ property. The plaintiffs claimed that the road was a county road and, as such, the defendants were not allowed to erect gates across the road. The plaintiffs further asserted that when they had purchased their farm, there was only one gate on the road and the gate remained open during the day.  The plaintiffs also claimed that the county maintained the road. After the defendants bought the neighboring farm, they added three more gates along the roadway. As a result, the county no longer maintained the road, which led to its deterioration. The defendants claimed that the gates were necessary for the use and protection of their property.

The trial court held that the road was not a county road and that one gate could be placed across the road but could only be locked at night. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that there was significant evidence that the road at issue was a county road. As proof, the plaintiffs showed that the road was listed as a county road in the county’s own road index and the state Department of Transportation had designated the road as a county road. In addition, the plaintiffs argued that the county had maintained the road in the past until the defendants built three additional gates.

The appellate court found that this evidence was inadequate under state law and held that Kentucky statutory law specified that county roads are only those which have been formally accepted by the fiscal court of the county as a part of the county road system. The appellate court noted the plaintiffs’ evidence failed to show that the road had been formally adopted by the county’s fiscal court as a county road. Thus, the road was treated as an abandoned road for which the county had no maintenance or other responsibility.   

Conclusion

Property law issues abound in agriculture.  Today’s brief article is just a sample of how some of the issues arise and how the courts sort them out.

October 3, 2020 in Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Ag Law and Tax in the Courtroom

Overview

In today’s post, I take a look at some recent court cases involving agricultural producers and rural landowners.

The next installment of “ag in the courtroom” – it’s the topic of today’s post.

Solar “Farm” Not a Nuisance

Yates v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, No. 6:17-cv-1819-AA, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160799 (D. Or. Sept. 20, 2019); Yates v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, No. 6:17-cv-01819-AA, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65949 (D. Or. Apr. 14, 2020)

A nuisance is an invasion of an individual's interest in the use and enjoyment of land rather than an interference with the exclusive possession or ownership of the land.  Nuisance law prohibits land uses that unreasonably and substantially interfere with another individual's quiet use and enjoyment of property.  The doctrine is based on two interrelated concepts: (1) landowners have the right to use and enjoy property free of unreasonable interferences by others; and (2) landowners must use property so as not to injure adjacent owners.

The two primary issues at stake in any agricultural nuisance dispute are whether the use alleged to be a nuisance is reasonable for the area and whether the use alleged to be a nuisance substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of neighboring land.  These concepts played out in a case last year involving the construction of a “solar farm” in Oregon. 

In the Oregon case, the plaintiff owned land zoned as “Exclusive Farm Use.” The plaintiff alleged that construction of a 12-acre collection of solar panels (solar array) built on an adjacent property constituted a nuisance by interfering with her use and enjoyment of her property.  The plaintiff also claimed that the construction during the summer of 2017 caused flooding on her property. The plaintiff’s suit was against the adjacent landowner; a company that held a conditional use permit for the solar array; and the construction company. The plaintiff alleged that all three defendants were responsible for the nuisance and trespass claims. The trial court granted summary judgment to all three defendants, finding that the plaintiff failed to offer any material evidence to establish either her nuisance or trespass claim. The court held that the defendant landowner did not engage in any activity constituting a nuisance or trespass. Landowners are generally not responsible for nuisances occurring after the execution of the lease, unless the landowner knew the activity being carried on would involve an unreasonable risk causing the nuisance or had control over the activities on the land. The trial court also noted that merely because the solar company obtained the permit that ultimately allowed construction to happen did not show they had any control over the construction workers’ actions. As for the actions of the construction company, the trial court held the plaintiff failed to allege evidence of an unreasonable interference with her private use or enjoyment of her land. Although the plaintiff complained of increased traffic and leftover debris, she was unable to establish that she had to adjust any daily habits or the manner in which she enjoyed her property as a result of the construction company’s conduct. The plaintiff alleged that a ditch built between the array and her property caused flooding on her property. However, the trial court noted the plaintiff could not show that the defendant construction company built the ditch or that the ditch directly diverted water onto her property. 

In a later action solely against the county, the trial court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claims of negligence per se and procedural due process.  The trial court determined that the county did not violate state law (a requirement for a nuisance per se) because state law didn’t require the county to provide actual notice to the plaintiff of its permitting decision, but merely an opportunity to appeal.  The appellate court also determined that the setback requirement of state law was complied with and that the waster runoff or flooding allegedly caused by the ditch did not constitute a trespass by water. 

Recreational Use Statute Provides Landowner Protection

Nolan v. Fishman, 218 A.3d 1034 (Vt. 2019)

Many states have what is known as a recreational use statute.  Under such a statute, an owner or occupier owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for entry or use by others for recreational purposes, or to give any warning of dangerous conditions, uses, structures, or activities to persons entering the premises for such recreational purposes. Similarly, if an owner, directly or indirectly, invites or permits any person without charge to use the property for recreational purposes, the owner does not extend any assurance the premises are safe for any purpose, confer the status of licensee or invitee on the person using the property, or assume responsibility or incur liability for any injury to persons or property caused by any act or omission of persons who are on the property.  But, if injury to recreational users is caused by the willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity, the protection of the statute is lost. Likewise, if the owner imposes a charge on the user of the property, the liability protection is lost under many state provisions.  In a 2019 case, the Vermont recreational use statute was at issue.

The facts of the Vermont case revealed that the plaintiff is the administrator of the estate of a three-year-old who drowned in a brook on the defendants’ property. The defendants are the parents of the owners of the daycare facility where the decedent had been attending when the accident occurred. The defendants’ land was connected to the daycare property, and the daycare would regularly use a small area of the defendants’ land to access a brook beach and used the defendants’ land for various outdoor activities. The defendants did not profit from the daycare and were not involved in any of the daycare’s business activities. The defendant’s land was not posted, and they had always held it open to the public for recreational use.

The plaintiff sued the defendants alleging their negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the incident. The state recreational use law encourages owners to make their land and water available to the public for no consideration for recreational uses without increasing liability potential for the owner. Under the statute, a recreational user is treated as an adult trespasser, meaning that the landowner must only avoid willfully or wantonly injuring a recreational entrant. 

The trial court found that the activities engaged in by the daycare on defendants’ land were both recreational and educational, therefore qualifying as a recreational use. However, the trial court dismissed the defendant’s motion for summary judgment because questions remained as to whether the defendants’ property was open and undeveloped land that qualified for protection under the statute. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court and held that the statute applied. The appellate court held that the daycare’s use of the defendants’ property was without consideration, qualified as a recreational use, and  that the land was open and undeveloped - the general public was freely permitted to use defendants’ land, along with the daycare. Although the defendants had placed a sandbox and brook bridge on their land, the appellate court noted that the legislature had expressly stated that the presence of such objects on land would not, by itself, preclude land from being open and undeveloped. Therefore, the defendants were covered under the recreational use statute.

Tract Properly Zoned as “Residential.” 

Miller v. Scott County Board of Review, No. 19-1038, 2020 Iowa App. LEXIS 436 (Iowa Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2020)

The rural-urban fringe provides its own unique set of legal issues.  One of those, is an attempt by landowners who aren’t really farmers to qualify their small tracts as “agriculture” for purposes of achieving a lower property tax assessment.  The issue came up recently in an Iowa case.

The plaintiff, a computer services consultant, bought a 10.2-acre tract in 2008. It consisted of approximately two acres of a home and improvements; five acres of deep mud/bog; and 3.6 acres of cropland. The cropland is in a 100-year floodplain. From 2009-2011 the plaintiff grew hay on the cropland, and in 2012 and 2013 he grew corn on it. No crops were grown in 2014 due to weather, and in 2015 he grew corn and pumpkins. He challenged his 2015 property tax assessment and the 2017 assessment as inequitable and on the basis that it misclassified the property as “residential” rather than “agricultural.”

The county zoning board denied his petition and he appealed to the local trial court. At a trial court hearing the county’s assessor noted that the property had multiple uses, but that the plaintiff’s farming operation was “a secondary use.” The county did adjust the valuation downward by 16 percent and granted a “slough bill” exemption for the 2017 tax year. However, the trial court upheld the county’s designation of the property as “residential” on the basis that the plaintiff was a hobby farmer. As such, the trial court determined that the plaintiff’s property taxes should be based on a valuation amount $100,000 greater than the plaintiff desired.

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed, noting that the burden was on the plaintiff to establish the predominant agricultural use of the property. The court agreed with the trial court’s findings that the ag use of the property had never been profitable, and that if it were sold it would be marketed as a residential property rather than a farm property. Indeed, the plaintiff purchased the property as a residential property, and it is surrounded by residential housing. In addition, the largest valued asset on the property is the residence. The plaintiff also testified that he benefited from tax savings as a result of the cropping activities on his tract. He also testified to spending $90,000 for ag equipment and $55,000 to construct a barn but had farm income never exceeding $1,200 annually. That’s a classic “hobby farm” activity.

Conclusion

The legal issues involving rural landowners keep rolling in.  It’s always best to have a well-trained ag lawyer at the ready when needed. 

September 10, 2020 in Civil Liabilities, Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 24, 2020

Court Developments in Agricultural Law and Taxation

Overview

The cases and rulings involving agriculture keep on coming.  In today’s post, I pick out just a few involving some rather common issues.

Ag law in the courts – it’s the topic of today’s post.

Railroad Responsible For Faulty Railroad Fence 

Leslie v. BNSF Railway. Co., No. Civ. 1:16-cv-1208-JCH-JHR, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154460 (D. N.M. Sept. 10, 2019)

Railroads are responsible for building and maintaining railroad fences.  But, the nuances of each state’s fence law involving railroads can cause some interesting arguments.  In a New Mexico case last year, the court was faced with addressing a previously unanswered application of the state fence law as applied to a railroad.   

The plaintiffs collided with a cow on a public highway.  The defendant was responsible for building and maintaining the adjacent fence along a ranch that it had a right-of-way through. The plaintiffs alleged that the railroad company negligently maintained the fence, which allowed a cow to escape onto the highway. The defendant claimed that it did not own the cow that escaped, and that the plaintiff’s theory for recovery hinged on the defendant first being found liable in an action against the owner of the livestock. The defendant removed the action from New Mexico state court to federal court and sought a judgment with respect to both of the plaintiffs’ negligence claims.

 The court interpreted the New Mexico legislature’s intent of whether the plaintiffs were a protected class under the state’s fence law and determined that the plaintiff failed to establish a negligence per se claim requiring railroads to build fence lines. The purpose of the railroad fencing portion of the fence law, the court determined, was to protect owners of livestock rather than the motoring public.  The plaintiffs’ second claim was that the defendant was per se negligent by permitting the cow to wander upon the road. The statute at issue stated that it was unlawful for “any person” to “negligently permit” livestock to wander upon any unfenced highway. The defendant argued that the term “permit” required that the negligence of the owner of the livestock must be established before liability would attach. Although the court determined that the phrase “any person” had not been construed to mean persons other than owners of livestock, it concluded that the New Mexico legislature had limited the application of similar statutes and failed to do so in this instance. According to the court, the failure to limit the statute by the state legislature meant the statute was intended to be interpreted broadly in order to protect a broader class of people.  The court held that the plaintiffs had established themselves as members of the class sought to be protected by the fence law and that the defendant had permitted the cow to wander on the road. Upon further consideration, the plaintiff must establish whether the defendant had negligently permitted the cow to wander upon the road.

Paying Principal Amount Within Redemption Period is Insufficient to Redeem Property

Sibley State Bank v. Zylstra, No. 19-0126, 2020 Iowa App. LEXIS 830 (Iowa Ct. App. Aug. 19, 2020)

When farmland is foreclosed upon, the owner is given a period of time to redeem the property by paying the price the property brought at the foreclosure sale plus costs.  But details matter.  In this case, the plaintiff purchased one of two parcels of land at a foreclosure action and another business purchased the other parcel. Under state (Iowa) law, the buyers took the property subject to the prior owner’s one-year right of redemption from the date of the sale. The prior owner assigned its redemption rights to the defendant 364 days after the foreclosure sale. The next day (the final day of the redemption period) the defendant tendered a check to the county court clerk for the principal amount of the two foreclosure bids and received a receipt from the clerk showing a “balance due” of zero.

Two days later, the plaintiff applied for a hearing on the redemption issue to refund the defendant’s check and sought a finding that no redemption had occurred because the amount tendered by the defendant did not include interest and fees. The defendant claimed that the court clerk would not tell him the exact amount that was necessary to redeem both properties upon his asking. The defendant further claimed that the clerk withheld the amount from him, and that he had acted in good faith in trying to redeem the properties by paying the full principal amount (well over $1 million). The trial court found that the defendant failed to inquire with either the bank or the bank’s attorney what the amount due for redemption would be. Additionally, the trial court held that the county clerk had no duty to the defendant to determine the redemption amount. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court erred in not granting him equitable relief, and that he paid a sufficient amount to redeem at least one of the properties. The appellate court affirmed, holding that the mistake in calculating the payoff amount was the defendant’s sole fault. Further, the appellate court noted the defendant could have taken advantage of a safe harbor provision, as the redemption period was about to expire, but failed to do so. As for the defendant’s claim of partial redemption for having tendered an amount exceeding the redemption price of either property, the appellate court held that in order to redeem one tract required the defendant to specify which parcel was being redeemed. The appellate court held that an insufficient payment for redemption of two properties alone cannot result in an after-the-fact redemption of one of the properties.

A Prescriptive Easement May Be Created Over a Ditch or Waterway

Five Forks Hunting Club, LLC v. Nixon Family Partnership, No. CV-18-301, 2019 Ark. App. LEXIS 397 (Ark. Ct. App. Sept. 11, 2019)

Easement issues are frequently encountered with respect to agricultural properties.  But, is an access easement restricted to land, or can it apply to water access?  That was the issue involved in this case.

Here, the parties owned adjoining tracts that they used for duck hunting.  The plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment against the defendant, claiming that the plaintiff had the right to control the use of a ditch that the defendant had been using to gain access to the plaintiff’s land. The plaintiff had built a bridge to block the defendant’s path to their property, and in years past had obstructed the defendant’s path on separate occasions. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant merely had permissive use of the ditch, but the defendant sought a prescriptive easement over the ditch and a road that ran parallel to the ditch. The defendant would use the road to gain access to the land during dry periods and travel by boat in the ditch during times where the road was underwater. The trial court held that the defendant was able to establish an easement by prescription over the ditch by establishing that a preponderance of the evidence showed that the use of the ditch was adverse to the plaintiff and under a claim of right for the seven-year statutory period. On appeal, the appellate court noted that under Arkansas law, any vehicle needed for the operation of the easement could be driven across the servient estate. A boat could be used to access the easement therefore a prescriptive easement could be created over a ditch or waterway. The plaintiff also argued on appeal that the defendant failed to prove the necessary elements of a prescriptive easement. The plaintiff argued that the use of the ditch was not continuous or uninterrupted for the required statutory period because the ditch was not always flooded. The appellate court, however, held that mere temporary absences of a claimant do not interrupt the “continuous” requirement for a prescriptive easement. Also, the plaintiff’s attempts to obstruct the defendant’s use of the ditch occurred after the defendant had met the statutory requirement for establishing a prescriptive easement. Finally, the appellate court noted that the trial court’s decision to not limit the prescriptive easement for the ditch to a shorter route was not in error as it created no additional burden to the plaintiff landowner.

Lack of Proof for Ag Sales Tax Exemption 

Arkansas Dept. of Rev. Legal Counsel Op. No. 20200527 (Jul. 21, 2020)

In many states, personal property used in farming is exempt from sales tax.  That is the case, for example, in Arkansas.  But, it is important to be able to certify that the buyer is engaged in the trade or business of farming and that the item(s) purchased will be used in farming.  Under many state provisions, to be exempt the item(s) purchased must be used directly in farm production activities.  Indirect uses, such as an all-terrain vehicle used to spray weeds on the farm, don’t qualify.

Under the Arkansas procedure, a farmer provides a “Farm Exemption Certificate” to a seller so that the seller knows whether the sale of an item is exempt from sales tax because the buyer was engaged in farming and the item purchased would be used directly and exclusively in farming.  Here, the question was whether livestock shade systems and mower covers qualified for the exemption.  Based on the facts presented, it was determined that the taxpayer (seller) did not provide sufficient facts concerning any specific sale or transaction for a determination of exemption to be made.  However, the seller could rely on the buyer’s Certificate and could accept a certification or other information from the buyer to establish that the sale was exempt.  Alternatively, the taxpayer could accept a certification or other information that the buyer provided to establish that the sale was exempt.  Such, other information could include the buyer certifying in writing on a copy of the invoice or sales ticket that the taxpayer would retain stating that the buyer was a farmer and that the items would be used exclusively and directly in farming as a business. 

More Problems with Donated Permanent Conservation Easements

Belair Woods, LLC v. Comr., T.C. Memo. 2020-112 ; Cottonwood Place, LLC, et al. v. Comr., T.C. Memo. 2020-115

The Tax Court continues to render decisions involving claimed charitable deductions for the donation of “permanent” conservation easements.  At the National Farm Income Tax/Estate and Business Planning Conference last month in Deadwood, SD, U.S. Tax Court Judge Elizabeth Paris stated that many cases remain in the Tax Court’s pipeline yet to decide.  That vast majority of the decision so far have been decided in favor of the IRS.  Don’t expect that trend to change. 

I.R.C. §170(h)(5)(A) requires that an easement donated to a qualified organization to be “protected in perpetuity.”  Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6) requires that the easement grant must, upon extinguishment, result in the charity receiving a proportionate part of the proceeds when the property subject to the easement is sold.  In Belair Woods, however, the deed language did not provide the charity with a proportionate part of the gross sales proceeds.  Instead, it specified that the charity would receive the extinguishment proceeds reduced by any increase in value related to improvements that the donor had placed on the property.  The deed language also required a reduction in the proceeds going to the charity by an amount paid to satisfy any and all prior claims regardless of whether a claim arose from the donor’s conduct. 

The Tax Court strictly construed the regulation and denied a charitable deduction for the donation because the grantee was not in all cases absolutely entitled to a proportionate share of the proceeds upon extinguishment sale of the property.  As such, the contribution was not protected in perpetuity.  The Tax Court noted that the improvements were part of the donation rather than the donation being restricted just to the underlying land.  The rights to construct improvements were restricted in meaningful ways by the easement, and also enhanced the property’s value.   The petitioner also claimed that the IRS had accepted deed terms comparable to the petitioner’s deed via a stipulation in a case involving a different petitioner and, as such, should be estopped from disallowing the petitioner’s deduction.  The Tax Court determined that the petitioner had failed to satisfy its burden in establishing that judicial estoppel should apply because the IRS position in the other case was merely a tactical stipulation and the case was settled. 

In Cottonwood Place, LLC, the petitioner donated a conservation easement on land to a land trust (qualified charity), reserving the right to construct limited improvements in the area subject to the easement.  The Tax Court determined that no charitable deduction was allowed because the deed language didn’t entitle the charity to a proportionate share of any easement extinguishment proceeds if a court were to extinguish the easement and order the property sold.  Thus, the language violated Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6).  The Tax Court noted that the deed language specified that the charity’s share of such proceeds would be reduced by the value of improvements added to the property after the easement donation.  The Tax Court rejected the petitioner’s substantial compliance argument. 

Conclusion

As you can see, issues involving agricultural land and agricultural producers are prevalent.  Good legal and tax counsel is a must.  That’s what we are training at Washburn Law School in the Rural Law Program.  This week we welcome new students to the program from state across the country!

August 24, 2020 in Civil Liabilities, Income Tax, Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Are Dinosaur Fossils Minerals?

Overview

In the mid-1950s, my Father was having the first of several ponds dug on farm property in northeastern Indiana that he and my Mother had purchased a few years earlier.  During the excavation Mastodon bones (fossils) were unearthed in the muck and grey/blue clay, including a nearly full set of teeth and jaw bones.  Mastodon bones were also unearthed on nearby farms and when a local branch campus of Purdue and Indiana Universities opened in the fall of 1964 it was given the nickname “Mastodons.” 

An issue that I am certain never crossed my Father’s mind, likely because my parents owned both the surface and subsurface estates of the farm, was whether the fossils were “minerals” that would belong to the owner of the mineral estate.  But, the legal classification of fossils is a very important issue when the fossils are valuable. 

Are fossils “minerals” that are owned by the owner of the mineral estate?  It’s the topic of today’s post.

Surface Estate and Mineral Estate

A fee simple owner of real estate can maintain possession and control of the surface of the property and sell/convey the rights to the “minerals” (such as oil and gas).  Upon such a conveyance, the owner of the mineral rights (known as the mineral estate owner) can economically benefit from the extraction of the minerals.  Depending on the mineral deed that conveys the minerals, the deed language may include all minerals known and unknown or the definition of “minerals” may be limited to specific ones. 

Definition of “Minerals”

A common granting clause in a mineral deed specifies that the grantor either conveys or reserves “the oil, gas and other minerals.”  That language can raise an issue concerning what “other minerals” means.  Does it include such things as gravel, clay granite, sandstone, limestone, coal, carbon dioxide, hot water and steam?  The courts have struggled with this issue and have reached differing conclusions.  Does the phrase mean anything that is in the soil that the surface estate owner doesn’t use for agricultural purposes?  Does is matter how the substance is extracted?  Does it matter if the material is located in the subsoil rather than the topsoil?  Is it material if the substance can be extracted without significant damage to the surface estate? 

In 1949, the Texas Supreme Court issued a significant opinion on the issue of whether the term “minerals” includes substances other than oil and gas.  Heinatz v. Allen, 217 S.W.2d 994 (Tex. 1949).  The court utilized the “common meaning” rule under which all substances ordinarily thought of as minerals at the time the deed was executed are deemed to be minerals conveyed by the deed regardless of whether the parties knew the substances existed.  That would seem to include in the definition of minerals such substances as gold, silver, coal, iron ore, etc..  Substances such as sand, gravel, water, etc. that are ordinarily associated with ownership of the surface estate would not be included in the definition of minerals.  But the test is not a perfect, all-inclusive one and other factors can be relevant – such as exceptional value; surface destruction; and commercial and/or industrial meaning.  In addition, state law may have a specific definition that applies in a particular situation.

What Are Fossils?

The issue of whether dinosaur fossils are “minerals” for the purposes of a mineral reservation clause in a mineral deed was an issue in a recent Montana case.  In Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, No. OP 19-0304, 2020 Mont. LEXIS 1472 (Mont. Sup. Ct. May 20, 2020), the court dealt with the issue in a case with millions of dollars on the line.  Under the facts of the case, the plaintiffs (a married couple), leased farm and ranch land beginning in 1983.  Over a period of years, the owner of the land transferred portions of his interest in the property to his two sons and sold the balance to the plaintiffs.  From 1991 to 2005, the plaintiffs and the sons operated the property as a partnership.  In 2005, the sons severed the surface estate from the mineral estate and sold their remaining interests in the surface estate to the plaintiffs.  A mineral deed was to be executed at closing that apportioned one-third of the mineral rights to each son and one-third to the plaintiffs.  After the transactions were completed, the plaintiffs owned all of the surface estate of the 27,000-acre property and one-third of the mineral (subsurface) estate.  At the time, none of the parties suspected there were valuable dinosaur fossils on the property, and none of them gave any thought to whether dinosaur fossils were part of the mineral estate as defined in the mineral deed.  Likewise, none of the parties expressed any intent about who might own dinosaur fossils that might be found on the property. 

Specifically, the mineral deed stated that the parties would own, as tenants in common, “all right, title and interest in and to all of the oil, gas, hydrocarbons, and minerals in, on and under, and that may be produced from the [Ranch].”  The purchase agreement required the parties “to inform all of the other parties of any material event which may [affect] the mineral interests and [to] share all communications and contracts with all other Parties.” 

In 2006, the plaintiffs gave permission to a trio of fossil hunters to search (and later dig) for fossils on the property.  The hunters ultimately uncovered dinosaur fossils of great value including a nearly intact Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and two separate dinosaurs that died locked in battle.  The fossils turned out to be extremely rare and quite valuable, with the “Dueling Dinosaurs” valued at between $7 million and $9 million.  In 2014, the plaintiffs sold the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton to a Dutch museum for several million dollars.  A Triceratops foot was sold for $20,000 and a Triceratops skull was offered for sale for over $200,000.  The proceeds of sale were placed in an escrow account pending the outcome of a lawsuit that the sons filed.  The sons (the defendants in the present action) sued claiming that the fossils were “minerals” and that they were entitled to a portion of any sale proceeds.  The plaintiffs brought a declaratory judgment action in state court claiming that the fossils were theirs as owners of the surface estate.  The defendants removed the action to federal court and asserted a counterclaim on the basis that the fossils should be included in the mineral estate.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs on the basis that, under Montana law, fossils are not included in the ordinary and natural meaning of “mineral” and are thus not part of the mineral estate.  Murray v. Billings Garfield Land Co., 187 F. Supp. 3d 1203 (D. Mont. 2016)

On appeal, the appellate court reversed.  Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 908 F.3d 437 (9th Cir. 2018).  The appellate court determined that the term “fossil” fit within the dictionary definition of “mineral.” Specifically, the appellate court noted that Black’s Law Dictionary defined “mineral” in terms of the “use” of a substance, but that defining “mineral” in that fashion did not exclude fossils.  The appellate court also noted that an earlier version of Black’s Law Dictionary defined “mineral” as including “all fossil bodies or matters dug out of mines or quarries, whence anything may be dug, such as beds of stone which may be quarried.”  Thus, the appellate court disagreed with the trial court that the deed did not encompass dinosaur fossils.  Turning to state court interpretations of the term “mineral”, the appellate court noted that the Montana Supreme Court had held certain substances other than oil and gas can be minerals if they are rare and exceptional.  Thus, the appellate court determined that to be a mineral under Montana law, the substance would have to meet the scientific definition of a “mineral” and be rare and exceptional.  The appellate court held that those standards had been met.  The plaintiffs sought a rehearing by the full Ninth Circuit and their request was granted.  Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, 920 F.3d 583 (9th Cir. 2019).  The appellate court then determined that the issue was one of first impression under Montana law and certified the question of whether dinosaur fossils constitute “minerals” for the purpose of a mineral reservation under Montana law to the Montana Supreme Court.  Murray v. BEJ Minerals, 924 F.3d 1070 (9th Cir. 2019)

The Montana Supreme Court answered the certified question in the negative – dinosaur fossils are not “minerals” for the purpose of the mineral reservation at issue because they were not included in the expression, “oil, gas and hydrocarbons,” and could not be implied in the deed’s general grant of all other minerals.  “Fossils” and “minerals” were mutually exclusive terms as the parties used those terms in the mineral deed.   Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, No. OP 19-0304, 2020 Mont. LEXIS 1472 (Mont. Sup. Ct. May 20, 2020). 

In making its determination, the Montana Supreme Court reasoned that whether a substance or material is a “mineral” is based on whether it is rare and valuable for its mineral properties, whether the conveying instrument expressed an intent to use the scientific definition of the term, and the relation of the substance or material to the land’s surface and the method and effect of its removal. The Court also noted that deeds are like contracts and should be interpreted in accordance with their plain and ordinary meaning to give effect to the parties’ mutual intent at the time of execution. 

The Court noted that the term “minerals” is defined in various areas of Montana statutory law (including tax provisions) and none include “fossils,” and that the only statutory provision mentioning fossils and minerals in the same statute referred to them separately.  The Court also noted that the U.S. Department of Interior (for purposes of federal law) had made an administrative decision in 1915 that dinosaur fossils are not “minerals.”  As such, the terms were mutually exclusive as used in the mineral deed between the parties, and the plaintiffs maintained ownership of any interests that the two sons had not specifically reserved in the mineral deed.  The deed simply did not contemplate including “fossils” under the mineral reservation clause.  Instead, the Court concluded that “minerals” under Montana law are a resource that is mined as a raw material for further processing, refinement and eventual economic exploitation.  Fossils are not mined, they are excavated, and they are not rare and valuable due to their mineral properties.  Therefore, unless specifically mentioned in the mineral deed, language identifying “minerals” would not “ordinarily and naturally” include fossils.

Based on the Montana Supreme Court’s answer to the certified question, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the federal district court’s order granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs and declaring them the sole owners of the dinosaur fossils.  Murray v. BEJ Minerals, LLC, No. 16-35506, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 19064 (9th Cir. Jun. 17, 2020).

Conclusion

While it’s not possible to anticipate what might be found on or under a tract of land, drafters of mineral deeds must carefully consider the potential impact of drafting language.  This issue can be of primary importance, as the Montana case illustrates.  Also, while it didn’t apply to the Montana case, the Montana Governor signed H.B. 229 into law on April 16, 2019.  That legislation specifies that dinosaur fossils are not minerals and that fossils belong to the holder of the surface estate.  

If only that Mastodon unearthed in the 1950s had been a Tyrannosaurus rex….

June 20, 2020 in Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Ag Law and Tax Developments

Overview

During the last couple of months while various state governors have issued edicts randomly declaring some businesses essential and other non-essential, the ag industry has continued unabated.  The same is true for the courts – the ag-related cases and tax developments keep on coming in addition to all of the virus-related developments.

As I periodically do, I provide updates of ag law and tax issues of importance to agricultural producers and others in the ag industry, as well as rural landowners in general.

That the topic of today’s post – a few recent developments in ag law and taxation.

FSA Not Entitled To Set-Off Subsidy Payments 

In Re Roberts, No. 18-11927-t12, 2020 Bankr. LEXIS 1338 (Bankr. D. N.M. May 19, 2020)

Bankruptcy issues are big in agriculture at the present time.  Several recent blog articles have touched on some of those issues, including bankruptcy tax issues.  This case dealt with the ability of a creditor to offset a debt owed to it by the debtor with payments it owed to the debtor.  The debtors (husband and wife) borrowed $300,000 from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) in late 2010. The debtors enrolled in the Price Loss Coverage program and the Market Facilitation Program administered by the FSA. The debtors filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-2018 and converted it to a Chapter 12 bankruptcy in late 2019. The debtors defaulted on the FSA loan after converting their case to Chapter 12.

The debtors were entitled to receive approximately $40,000 of total MFP and PLC payments post-petition. The FSA sought a set-off of the pre-petition debt with the post-petition subsidy payments. The court refused to the set-off under 11 U.S.C. §553 noting that the offsetting obligations did not both arise prepetition and were not mutual as required by 11 U.S.C. §553(a). There was no question, the court opined, that the FSA’s obligation to pay subsidy payments arose post-petition and that the debtors’ obligation to FSA arose pre-petition. Thus, set-off was not permissible.

HSA Inflation-Adjusted Amounts for 2021

Rev. Proc. 2020-32, 2020-24 I.R.B.

Persons that are covered under a high deductible health plan (HDHP) that are not covered under any other plan that is not an HDHP, are eligible to make contributions to a health savings account (HSA) subject to certain limits. For calendar year 2021, an HDHP is a health plan with an annual deductible of at least $1,400 for individual coverage or $2,800 for family coverage, and maximum out-of-pocket expenses of $7,000 for individual coverage or $14,000 for family coverage. For 2021, the maximum annual contribution to an HSA is $3,600 for self-only coverage and $7,200 for family coverage. 

Charitable Deduction Allowed for Donated Conservation Easement 

Champions Retreat Golf Founders, LLC v. Comr., No. 18-14817, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 15237 (11th Cir. May 13, 2020), rev’g., T.C. Memo. 2018-146

 The vast majority of the permanent conservation easement cases are losers for the taxpayer.  This one was such a taxpayer loser at the Tax Court level, but not at the appellate level.  Under the facts of the case, the petitioner claimed a $10.4 million charitable deduction related to the donation of a permanent conservation easement on a golf course. The IRS denied the deduction on the basis that the easement was not exclusively for conservation purposes because it didn’t protect a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, or plants, or a similar ecosystem as required by I.R.C. §170(h)(4)(A)(ii). The IRS also asserted that the donation did not preserve open space for the scenic enjoyment of the general public or in accordance with a governmental conservation policy for the public’s benefit under I.R.C. §170(h)(4)(A)(iii). The Tax Court agreed with the IRS and denied the deduction. The Tax Court determined that the “natural habitat” requirement was not met – there was only one rare, endangered or threatened species with a habitat of only 7.5 percent of the easement area. In addition, the Tax Court noted that part of the golf course was designed to drain into this habitat area which would introduce chemicals into it. Thus, the easement’s preservation of open space was not for public enjoyment nor in accordance with a governmental policy of conservation.

On further review, the appellate court reversed. The appellate court found that the deduction was proper if the donation was made for the protection of a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, or plants, or similar ecosystem or was made for the preservation of open space for the scenic enjoyment of the general public. The appellate court noted that without the golf course, the easement would satisfy the requirements and an easement deduction is not denied simply because a golf course is included. The appellate court remanded the case for a determination of the proper amount of the deduction. 

Residence Built on Farm Was “Farm Residence” For Zoning Purposes

Hochstein v. Cedar County. Board. of Adjustment, 305 Neb. 321, 940 N.W.2d 251 (2020)

Many cases involve the issue of what is “agricultural” for purposes of state or county zoning and related property tax issues.  In this case, Nebraska law provided for the creation of an “ag intensive district.” In such designated areas, any “non-farm” residence cannot be constructed closer than one mile from a livestock facility. The plaintiff operated a 4,500-head livestock feedlot (livestock feeding operation (LFO)) and an adjoining landowner operates a farm on their adjacent property. The adjoining landowner applied to the defendant for a zoning permit to construct a new house on their property that was slightly over one-half mile from the plaintiff’s LFO. The defendant (the county board of adjustment) approved the permit and the plaintiff challenged the issuance of the permit on the basis that the adjoining landowner was constructing a “non-farm” residence. The defendant affirmed the permit’s issuance on the basis that the residence was to be constructed on a farm. The plaintiff appealed and the trial court affirmed. On further review, the appellate court affirmed. On still further review by the state Supreme Court, the appellate court’s opinion was affirmed. The Supreme Court noted that the applicable regulations did not define the terms “non-farm residence” or “farm residence.” As such, the defendant had discretion to reasonably interpret the term “farm residence” as including a residence constructed on a farm.

Ag Cooperative Fails To Secure Warehouse Lien; Loses on Conversion Claim. 

MidwestOne Bank v. Heartland Co-Op, 941 N.W.2d 876 (Iowa 2020)

I dealt with the issue in this case in my blog article of March 27.  You may read it here:  https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/agriculturallaw/2020/03/conflicting-interests-in-stored-grain.html  In the article, I detail many of the matters that arose in this case. 

The facts of the case revealed that a grain farmer routinely delivered and sold grain to the defendant, an operator of a grain warehouse and handling facility. The contract between the parties contemplated the sale, drying and storage of the grain. The farmer also borrowed money from the plaintiff to finance the farming operation and granted the plaintiff a security interest in the farmer’s grain and sale proceeds. The plaintiff filed a financing statement with the Secretary of State’s office on Feb. 29, 2012 which described the secured collateral as “all farm products” and the “proceeds of any of the property [or] goods.” The financing statement was amended in late 2016 and continued. The underlying security agreement required the farmer to inform the plaintiff as to the location of the collateral and barred the farmer from removing it from its location without the plaintiff’s consent unless done so in the ordinary course of business. It also barred the farmer from subjecting the collateral to any lien without the plaintiff’s prior written consent. However, the security agreement also required the farmer to maintain the collateral in good condition at all time and did not require the plaintiff’s prior written consent to do so.

The plaintiff complied with the 1985 farm products rule and the farmer gave the plaintiff a schedule of buyers of the grain which identified the defendant. From 2014 through 2017, the farmer sold grain to the defendant, and the defendant remitted the net proceeds of sale via joint check to the farmer and the plaintiff after deducting the defendant’s costs for drying and storage – a longstanding industry practice. The plaintiff, an ag lender in an ag state, claimed that it had no knowledge of such deductions until 2017 whereupon the plaintiff sued for conversion. The defendant did not properly perfect a warehouse lien and the lien claim was rejected by the trial court, but asserted priority on a theory of unjust enrichment. The trial court rejected the unjust enrichment claim.

The state Supreme Court agreed, refusing to apply unjust enrichment principles in the context of Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The court did so without any mention of UCC §1-103 (b) which states that, "Unless displaced by the particular provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code, the principles of law and equity” including the law merchant [undefined] and the law relative to capacity to contract; duress; coercion; mistake; principal and agency relationships; estoppel, fraud and misrepresentation; bankruptcy, and other validating or invalidating cause [undefined] supplement its provisions.” This section has been characterized as the "most important single provision in the Code." 1 J. White & R. Summers, Uniform Commercial Code § 5. “As such, the UCC was enacted to displace prior legal principles, not prior equitable principles.” However, the Supreme Court completely ignored this “most important single provision in the Code.” The Court also ignored longstanding industry practice and believed an established ag lender in an ag state that it didn’t know the warehouse was deducting its drying and storage costs before issuing the joint check. 

Conclusion

The developments keep rolling in.  More will be covered in future articles.

May 27, 2020 in Bankruptcy, Income Tax, Real Property, Secured Transactions | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Conservation Easements – The Perpetuity Requirement and Extinguishment

Overview

A taxpayer that donates a “qualified real property interest” to a “qualified organization” can receive a charitable contribution deduction upon satisfying numerous technical requirements.  A primary requirement is that the easement donation be exclusively for conservation purposes.  That requirement, however, can only be satisfied if the conservation purposes are protected in perpetuity.  I.R.C. §§170(h)(2)(C); (h)(5)(A).  Essentially, that means that legally enforceable restrictions must be in place that will bar the use of the portion of the property that the taxpayer retains from being used in a manner that is inconsistent with the conservation purposes of the donated easement.

But, can anything here on earth really last forever?  What if the easement is extinguished by court action?  There’s a rule for that contingency and it requires careful drafting of the easement deed.  Numerous court opinions have dealt with the issue, including a couple in recent weeks.

Dealing with potential extinguishment of a perpetual conservation easement donation – it’s the topic of today’s post.

The Issue of Extinguishment – Treasury Regulation

While the law generally disfavors perpetual control of interests in land, for a taxpayer to claim a tax deduction for a donated conservation easement, the easement must be granted in perpetuity.  But if the conditions surrounding the property subject to a perpetual conservation easement make impossible or impractical the continued use of the property for conservation purposes, a Treasury Regulation details the requirements to be satisfied to protect the perpetual nature of the easement if a judicial proceeding extinguishes the easement restrictions.  Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6)(i)-(ii). 

The regulation requires that, at the time of the donation, the donor must agree that the donation gives rise to a property right that is immediately vested in the donee.  Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii).  The value of the gift must be the fair market value of the easement restriction that is at least equal to the proportionate value that the easement restriction, at the time of the donation, bears to the entire property value at that time. See Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(h)(3)(iii) relating to the allocation of basis.  The proportionate value of the donee’s property rights must remain constant such that if the conservation restriction is extinguished and the property is sold, exchanged or involuntarily converted, the done is entitled to a portion of the proceeds that is at least equal to that proportionate value of the restriction.  The only exception is if state law overrides the terms of the conservation restriction and specifies that the donor is entitled to the full proceeds from the conversion restriction.  Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii). 

Extinguishment – Cases

The formula language necessary to comply with the regulation must be precisely drafted.  The IRS has aggressively audited perpetual easement restrictive agreements for compliance.  Consider the following:

  • In Carroll, et al. v. Comr., 146 T.C. 196 (2016), the petitioner contributed a conservation easement on a tract of land to two qualified organizations. The easement provided that if the conservation purpose was extinguished because of changed circumstances surrounding the donated property, the donees were entitled to a proportionate share of extinguishment proceeds not to be less than the amount allowed as a deduction to the donor for federal income tax purposes over the fair market value of the property at the time of the contribution. The plaintiff claimed a charitable contribution for the year of the contribution and carried forward the remaining balance to tax years 2006-2008.

Because the easement at issue provided that the value of the contribution for purposes of the donees’ right to extinguishment proceeds was tied to the amount of the petitioner’s allowable deductions rather than the fair market value of the easement, the court determined that the easement violated the Regulation and was not protected in perpetuity under I.R.C. §170(h)(5)(A). The court also imposed an accuracy-related penalty. 

  • In Palmolive Building Investors, LLC v. Comr., 149 T.C. No. 18 (2017), the petitioner acquired a building in 2001 for $58.5 million. In 2004, the petitioner transferred a façade easement on the building via deed to a qualified charity (a preservation council) to preserve the exterior building perimeter. The easement deed placed restrictions on the petitioner and its successors with respect to the façade easement and the building – the petitioner and any subsequent owner couldn’t demolish or alter the protected elements without the charity’s permission. The building was subject to two mortgages, but before executing the easement deed, the petitioner obtained mortgage subordination agreements from its mortgagee banks. However, the easement deed provided that in the event the façade easement was extinguished through a judicial proceeding, the mortgagee banks will have claims before that of the donee charity to any proceeds received from the condemnation proceedings until the mortgage is satisfied.

By the time of the easement donation, the value of the building had increased to $257 million, of which $33.4 million was attributable to the easement. The petitioner claimed a $33.4 million charitable contribution deduction for the tax year of the easement contribution. The IRS disallowed the deduction, claiming that the easement deed failed to satisfy the perpetuity requirements of I.R.C. §170 and Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii) because it provided the mortgagees with prior claims to the extinguishment proceeds in preference to the donee. Specifically, the lender had agreed to subordinate the debt to the charity's claims, but the easement deed said that the lender would have priority access to any insurance proceeds on the property if the donor had insurance on the property. The easement deed also said that the lender would have priority to any condemnation proceeds.

The petitioner claimed that the First Circuit's decision in Kaufman v. Comr., 687 F.3d 21 (1st Cir. 2012) applied. In that case, the First Circuit rejected the view that a subordination must remove any preferential treatment of the lender in all situations, creating an exception for unusual situations that could possibly occur at some point in the future. The First Circuit determined that the Tax Court's reading of what is necessary to grant a perpetual easement would eliminate easement donations because an easement represented only a partial interest in property. In addition, the First Circuit reasoned that a broad reading was improper because, for example, a tax lien could arise if the donor failed to pay property tax when they became due which could result in the loss of the property without the charity receiving a pro rata portion of the property value.

In the present case, the Tax Court rejected the view of the First Circuit, noting that its decision would be appealable to the Seventh Circuit and, thus, the Tax Court was not bound by the First Circuit's decision. The Tax Court reasoned that because the lender had superior rights in certain situations, the mortgages did not meet the subordination requirement of Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g). Thus, the donated easement did not meet the perpetuity requirement of I.R.C. §170(h)(5). The Tax court also pointed out that other Circuits had agreed with the Tax Court's interpretation of the subordination rule since Kaufman was decided. The Tax Court also noted a difference concerning what must be done to subordinate an existing liability at the time of the donation (such as a mortgage) as opposed to a possible future liability that was not yet in existence. The Tax Court also noted that the Treasury Regulations specifically mentioned mortgages in the list of requirements necessary to satisfy the perpetuity requirement, but made no mention of a need to have taxing agencies to agree to give up rights to a priority interest that might arise in the future for delinquent taxes when the taxes were not delinquent.

The IRS assessed a gross valuation misstatement penalty in 2008 and additional accuracy-related and negligence penalties in 2014. The petitioner contested the penalties, but the Tax Court, in a later proceeding, determined that there is no requirement that IRS determine the penalties at the same time or by the same IRS agent. The only requirement, the Tax Court held, was that each penalty, at the time of initial determination, was approved in writing by a supervisor before being communicated to the petitioner. That requirement was satisfied. That later proceeding on the penalty issue is at 152 T.C. No. 4 (2019).

  • In Salt Point Timber, LLC, et al. v. Comr., T.C. Memo. 2017-245, the petitioner was a timber company that granted a perpetual conservation easement on a 1,032-acre property for which the petitioner claimed a $2.13 million deduction on its 2009 return. The easement preserved the view of natural, environmentally significant habitat on the Cooper River by barring development. The petitioner received $400,000 for the donated easement, and the done satisfied the definition of a “qualified organization” under I.R.C. §170(h)(1)(B). The appraised value of the easement was $2,530,000. The IRS disallowed the deduction on the basis that the easement grant allowed the original easement to be replaced by an easement held by a disqualified entity. In addition, the IRS claimed that the grant allowed the property to be released from the original easement without the extinguishment regulation being satisfied. The petitioner claimed that there was a negligible possibility that the easement could be held by a non-qualified party. The court agreed with the IRS, noting that the grant did not define the term “comparable conservation easement” or what type of organization could hold it, just that an “eligible donee” could hold it. The court noted that an assignment of the easement is different from a replacement of the easement. As such, the grant did not restrict that the holder of the easement had to be a “qualified organization.” The court also determined that the chance that the easement could be replaced was other than negligible as Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(3) required. 
  • In PBBM-Rose Hill, Ltd., v. Comr., 900 F.3d 193 (5th Cir. 2018), the petitioner owned a tract of land subject to a use restriction requiring it to only be used for recreational facilities open space for 30 years. At the time of the petitioner’s ownership, the property was a golf course with a clubhouse. The petitioner wanted to sell the property, but before doing so wanted to remove the use restriction. A local buyer expressed interest, but also wanted to block any removal of the use restriction. The sale went through after the buyer agree to allow the removal of the use restriction. However, before the sale closed, the petitioner conveyed a conservation easement of the property to a land trust. The terms of the easement stated that the property was to remain open for public use for outdoor recreation and that fees for such use could be charged. Upon extinguishment of the easement, the land trust would be entitled to a portion of the sale proceeds equal to the greater of the fair market value of the easement at the time of the donation or a share of the proceeds after expenses of sale and an amount attributable to improvements constructed on the property. The IRS denied the charitable deduction.

The Tax Court agreed with the IRS position based on its findings that the easement did not protect the conservation purpose under I.R.C. §170(h)(4)(A) and didn’t satisfy the perpetuity requirement of I.R.C. §170(h)(5)(A) because the easement deed’s extinguishment provision did not comply with Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6). As such, the easement donation was not “exclusively for conservation purposes as required by I.R.C. §170(h)(1)(C). The Tax Court held that the easement value was $100,000 rather than the $15.2 million that the petitioner claimed. The Tax Court also upheld the gross valuation misstatement penalty that the IRS had imposed. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed that the petitioner was not entitled to any charitable deduction and upheld the penalty. The appellate court held that when determining whether the public access requirement for a recreation easement is fulfilled, the focus is to be on the terms of the deed and not the actual use of the land post-donation. The appellate court determined that the terms of the easement satisfied the public-access requirement of Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(d)(5)(iv)(C). However, the appellate court concluded that the contribution was not exclusively for conservation purposes because the requirements of Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii) were not satisfied.  The deed, the appellate court noted, allowed the value of improvements to be subtracted from the proceeds before the donee took its share, and that Priv. Ltr. Rul. 200836014 no longer represented the current position of the IRS and could not be used to alter the plain meaning of the regulation which mandates that the donee receive at least the proportionate value of the “proceeds.” The appellate court also agreed with the Tax Court that the gross valuation misstatement penalty applied to the difference between the amount the petitioner deducted on its return ($15 million) and the $100,000 deduction allowed by the Tax Court. 

  • In Coal Property Holdings, LLC v. Comr., 153 T.C. No. 7 (2019), the petitioner donated to a qualified charity an open space conservation easement over property which was previously subjected to surface coal mining and which was also subject to oil and gas leases and certain improvements. The IRS denied a charitable deduction because the easement wasn’t protected in perpetuity, and the Tax Court agreed. The conservation purpose of allowing the land subject to the easement to continue to recover from and provide scientific insight into the long-term effects of mining didn’t entitle the charity to a proportionate part of the proceeds if the subject property were sold upon a judicial extinguishment of the easement. As such, the easement wasn’t perpetual in nature as required by I.R.C. §170(h)(5)(A) and I.R.C. §1.170A-14(g)(6). While the petitioner claimed that the deed language contained a “regulation override” mandating that the deed be interpreted to satisfy the perpetuity requirements of the Code and Regulations, the Tax Court rejected that argument because it was a condition subsequent constituting a savings clause that the court would not enforce. 

On this issue, the IRS also argues that when an easement deed’s proceeds allocation formula deducts (from the proceeds allocable to the done) an amount attributable to “improvements” made by the owner after the donation, no charitable deduction is allowed.  The IRS position is that the deduction violates the extinguishment regulation (Treas. Reg. 1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii)), making the charitable deduction unavailable.  See, e.g., Priv. Ltr. Rul. 200836014 (Sept. 5, 2008).

  • In Railroad Holdings, LLC, et al. v. Comr., T.C. Memo. 2020-22, the petitioner donated a permanent conservation easement to a qualified entity and claimed a $16 million charitable deduction. The deed granting the easement contained a clause specifying the result if the easement were extinguished as the result of a court order. The IRS pointed out that in the event of a forced judicial sale, Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii) requires the charity to receive an equal proportionate value of the sale proceeds that extinguishes the interest to the value of the easement as compared to the value of the property at the date of the donation. The language of the deed at issue held the charity’s payment constant, equal to the value as of the date of the contribution. It did not tie the charity’s payment to a percentage of the value of the property at the time of the forced sale equal to the percentage of value the easement was to the property at the time of the donation. The IRS denied the entire $16 million donation and the Tax Court agreed.

The Tax Court noted that the deed language did not create a proportion or fraction representing the donee’s share of the property right and a corresponding fraction of the proceeds to which the donee was entitled in perpetuity. Rather, the Tax Court noted, the language gave the charity a “proportionate value…at the time of the gift” which guaranteed only that a fixed dollar amount would go to the charity. The Tax Court also held as irrelevant a declaration of intent executed by an officer of the charity that the deed language reflected the charity’s intent to be in full compliance with the Code. What mattered was the donor’s intent, not the charity’s intent. Even so, the deed language failed to conform to the Code. The Tax Court also determined that the deed language was not ambiguous. Thus, the easement was not protected in perpetuity and the full deduction was disallowed. 

Challenge to the Validity of the Regulation

In Oakbrook Land Holdings, LLC v. Comr., 154 T.C. No. 10 (2020), the petitioner challenged the validity of the extinguishment regulation.  In 2008, the petitioner donated a permanent conservation easement to a qualified organization and claimed a charitable deduction.  The easement deed specified that upon extinguishment of the conservation restriction the donee would receive a share of the proceeds equal to the fair market value of the easement as of the date of the contribution.  That value, the deed specified, was to be reduced by the value of any improvements that the donor made after granting the easement.  The IRS denied the charitable deduction because (inter alia) violated the extinguishment regulation of Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6). 

The Tax Court, agreeing with the IRS, upheld the validity of the regulation.  The full Tax Court   held that the extinguishment regulation (Treas. Reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6)) had been properly promulgated and did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act.  The full Tax Court also determined that the construction of I.R.C.§170(h)(5), as set forth in the extinguishment regulation, was valid under the agency deference standard set forth in Chevron, U.S.A. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). 

In a related memorandum opinion, the Tax Court held that the easement deed did not create a perpetual easement because the donee’s share of the extinguishment proceeds was based on fixed historical value, reduced by the value of improvements that the donor made.  Oakbrook Land Holdings, LLC v. Comr., T.C. Memo. 2020-54.  It was not, as it should have been, based on a proportionate share of extinguishment proceeds that are at least equal to the total proceeds (unadjusted by the value of the petitioner’s improvements), multiplied by a fraction defined by the ratio of the fair market value of the easement to the fair market value of the unencumbered property determined as of the date of the execution of the deed.  However, the Tax Court did not uphold penalties that the IRS imposed, finding that the petitioner’s position was reasonable.

Conclusion

The extinguishment regulation is, perhaps, the most common audit issue for IRS when examining permanent conservation easement donations.  The clause specifying how proceeds are to be split when a donated conservation easement is extinguished is routinely included in easement deeds.  The cases point out that the clause must be drafted precisely to fit the confines of the regulation.  A regulation that now has survived an attack on its validity.  Many perpetual easement donations will potentially be affected. 

May 25, 2020 in Environmental Law, Income Tax, Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Obtaining Deferral for Non-Deferred Aspects of an I.R.C. §1031 Exchange

Overview

The TCJA eliminated tax-deferred like-kind exchanges of personal property for exchanges completed after 2017.  However, exchanges of real estate can still qualify for tax-deferred treatment if the exchange involves real estate that is “like-kind.”  But, what if the exchange involves non-like-kind cash “boot” or otherwise fails the requirements of the Code?  Is there a way to still achieve tax deferral?

“Fixing” a tax-deferred exchange that has failed – it’s the topic of today’s post.

Code Requirements

The tax deferral of an IRC §1031 exchange is only achieved if the requirements of IRC §1031 are satisfied.  If the requirements are not satisfied, the exchange is taxable as a sale or exchange under the general rules of IRC §1001

There are four basic requirements to achieving tax-deferred treatment under IRC §1031:

  • There is an exchange of property rather than a sale; IRC §1031(a)(1).
  • The property exchanged and the property received must be like-kind real estate;
  • The property exchanged and the property received must both be held for the productive use in a trade or business or for investment; and
  • The exchange of properties must be simultaneous, or the replacement property must be identified within 45 days of the exchange and the identified property must be received within 180 days of the identification or the due date of the return (including extensions), if shorter. IRC §§1031(a)(3)(A)-(B)((ii).

Interaction of IRC §1031 and IRC §453

If an exchange satisfies the requirements of IRC §1031, but property is received that is not like-kind (such as money or other non-like kind property, the recipient of the property recognizes gain to the extent of the sum of the money and the fair market value of the non-like-kind property received. I.R.C. §1031(b).  That means that tax deferral is not achieved with respect to the non-like-kind property (or “boot”) received in the exchange.  But a taxpayer may elect to recognize the gain on the boot under the installment method of I.R.C. §453.  Similarly, a taxpayer that fails to satisfy the requirements of IRC §1031 may be able to defer gain on the transaction under IRC §453 by properly structuring the sale.

Treasury Regulation Example

Treasury Regulation §1.1031(k)-(1)(j)(2)(vi), Example 4, indicates that a buyer’s installment note issued to a seller qualifies for installment treatment under IRC §453.   In the Example, the buyer offers to buy the seller’s real property, but doesn’t want to have the transaction structured as a like-kind exchange.  As a result, the seller enters into an exchange agreement with a qualified intermediary to facilitate the exchange.  Under the agreement, the seller transfers the real property to the qualified intermediary who then transfers the property to the buyer.  The buyer pays $80,000 cash and issues a 10-year installment note for $20,000.  The Example specifies that the seller has a bona fide intent to enter into a deferred exchange, and the exchange agreement specifies that the seller cannot receive, pledge, borrow or otherwise obtain the benefits of the money or other property that the qualified intermediary held until the earlier of the date the replacement property is delivered to the seller or the end of the exchange period.  The Example also points out that the buyer’s obligation bears adequate stated interest and is not payable on demand or readily tradable.  The qualified intermediary acquires replacement property having a fair market value of $80,000 and delivers it, along with the $20,000 installment obligation, to the seller. 

While the $20,000 of the seller’s gain does not qualify for deferral under IRC §1031(a), the seller’s receipt of the buyer’s obligation is treated as the receipt of an obligation of the person acquiring the property for purposes of installment reporting of gain under IRC §453.  Thus, the Example concludes that the seller may report the $20,000 gain on the installment method on receiving payments from the buyer on the obligation

Safe Harbor 

A safe harbor exists that provides protection against an IRS assertion that a taxpayer is in actual or constructive receipt of money or other property held in a qualified escrow account, qualified trust, or by a qualified intermediary. Treas. Regs. §§1.1031(k)-1(g)(3)-(4); T.D. 8535 (Jan. 1994). With respect to a qualified intermediary, the determination of whether a taxpayer has received payment for purposes of IRC §453 is made as if the qualified intermediary is not the taxpayer’s agent. Treas. Regs. §§1.1031(k)-1(j)(2)(ii); (g)(4).   Thus, when a taxpayer transfers property under such an arrangement and receives like-kind property in return, the transaction is an exchange rather than a sale, and the qualified intermediary is not deemed to be the taxpayer’s agent. See Priv. Ltr. Rul. 200327039 (Mar. 27, 2003). Similarly, when a buyer places money in an escrow account or with the qualified intermediary, the seller is not in constructive receipt of the funds if the seller’s right to receive the funds is subject to substantial restriction. See, e.g., Stiles v. Commissioner, 69 T.C. 558 (1978).  The Treasury Regulations state that any agency relationship between the seller and the qualified intermediary is disregarded for purposes of IRC §453 and Treas. Reg. §15a.453-1(b)(3)(i) in determining whether the seller has constructively received payment.  Treas. Reg. §1.1031(k)-1(j)(2)(vi), Example 2.

Exchange Transaction Example

Assume that Molly Cule owns a tract of farmland that she uses in her farming business and would like to exchange it for other farmland in an I.R.C. §1031 transaction.  Bill Bored and Molly enter into a purchase contract, calling for Bill to buy Molly’s farmland.  The purchase contract clearly states that Bill must accommodate Molly’s desire to complete an IRC §1031 exchange and states that Molly desires to enter into an IRC §1031 exchange.  Molly and a qualified intermediary then enter into an exchange agreement specifying that the qualified intermediary agrees to acquire Molly’s farmland and transfer it to Bill.  The agreement also states that the qualified intermediary will acquire like-kind farmland and transfer it to Molly.  Molly assigns her rights in and to the farmland she gave up to the qualified intermediary.  She also assigns her rights to the qualified intermediary in all contracts she enters into with the owner who holds title to the replacement farmland. 

The exchange agreement requires Molly to identify replacement farmland within 45 days of the initial exchange and to notify the qualified intermediary of the identified parcel within that 45-day period.  The exchange agreement allows Molly 180 days from the date of the first exchange to receive the identified property. 

The exchange agreement specifies that the qualified intermediary will sell Molly’s farmland and hold the sales proceeds until the qualified intermediary buys replacement farmland.  When the replacement farmland is purchased, it will then be transferred to Molly. 

Structured sale aspect.  The exchange agreement says that if the transaction qualifies under I.R.C. §1031, but Molly receives “boot,” the qualified intermediary and Molly must engage in a structured sale for the boot.  This is to bar Molly from having any right to receive cash from the exchange.  Similarly, the exchange agreement contains additional language stating that if the transaction fails to qualify for I.R.C. §1031 treatment for any reason, the qualified intermediary and Molly must engage in a structured sale.  The structured sale involves the qualified intermediary making specified periodic payments to Molly pursuant to an installment sale agreement (based on the consideration the qualified intermediary holds) coupled with a note for a set number of years.  Thus, the exchange agreement is drafted to specify that if an installment sale results, Molly will report each payment received into income in the year she receives it. 

The assignment agreement.  If the installment sale language is triggered, the exchange agreement specifies that the qualified intermediary will assign its obligations to make the periodic payments under the installment note to an assignment company pursuant to a separate assignment agreement between the qualified intermediary and the assignment company.  Molly is not a party to this agreement.  The assignment agreement requires the qualified intermediary to transfer a lump sum to the assignment company.  The lump sum amount equals the discounted present value of the stream of payments that the qualified intermediary must make under the installment note and exchange agreement.  In return, the assignment company assumes the qualified intermediary’s obligation to pay Molly.  Thus, the assignment company becomes an obligor under the installment note. 

As discussed above, Example 4 of Treas. Reg. §1.1031(k)-1(j)(vi), involves an installment note that the buyer issues to the seller of the property.  That note qualifies for installment treatment under I.R.C. §453.  In the example involving Molly, it is the qualified intermediary that issues the note.  While the regulation states that the qualified intermediary is not the agent of the Molly for purposes of IRC §453, that is only the case until the earlier of the identification (or replacement) period, or the time that Molly has the unrestricted right to receive, pledge, borrow or otherwise benefit from the money or other property that the qualified intermediary holds. Treas. Reg. §1.1031(k)-1(j)(2)(ii).   But, the risk of Molly being in constructive receipt of the buyer’s funds is eliminated if the exchange agreement is drafted carefully to fit within the safe harbor. 

Alternative Approach

As an alternative to the approach of the example involving Molly, what if a different taxpayer, Millie, engaged in a similar transaction and used installment reporting but received all of the cash up front via a loan.  Will an arrangement structured in this manner achieve tax deferral?

Facts of the example.  Millie sells an asset to Howard’s Exchange Service (HSE) and HSE resells the asset to Andy.  Millie receives a loan from Usurious Bank, an independent lender shortly after selling the asset to HSE for an amount equating the selling price to HSE.  The repayment of the loan is funded by installment payments over a period of time that HSE makes to Usurious Bank.  Three escrow accounts are established with an escrow company affiliated with Usurious Bank.  The escrow company, on a monthly basis, takes funds from HSE and moves it into Escrow Account No. 1 as an interest payment on the loan; then to Escrow Account No. 2 (which is designated as Millie’s account); and then to Escrow Account No. 3 to pay interest on the loan.  The transactions are conducted as automatic debit/credit transactions that occur on a monthly basis over the length of the installment period.  

Analysis.  IRC §453 requires that the initial debt obligation be that of the buyer of the property for the seller to receive installment treatment on the proceeds of sale.  If the obligor is someone other than the buyer, the debt is treated as payment on the sale.  Treas. Reg. §15a.453-1(b)(3)(i).  Thus, for installment sale treatment to result, HSE must be both the buyer of the asset and the obligor on the installment note rather than only being the obligor.  This means that the transaction must be structured such that the obligation is due to Millie from Andy, followed by a substitution of the obligor via an independent transaction in which Andy assigns the obligation. In Rev. Rul. 82-122, 1982-1 C.B. 80, amplifying Rev. Rul. 75-457, 1974-1 C.B. 115, the substitution of a new obligor on the note and an increase in the interest rate, together with an increase in the amount paid monthly to reflect the higher interest rate, was not considered to be a satisfaction or disposition of an installment obligation within the meaning of I.R.C. §453B(a).

As for the escrow accounts, generally an installment note of the buyer cannot be used as security or pledged to support any other debt that benefits the seller.  If that happens, the net proceeds of the debt are treated as a payment received on the installment sale.  See IRC §453A(d)(1); Treas. Reg. §15A.453-1(b)(3)(i); Rev. Rul. 79-91, 1979-1, C.B. 179; Rev. Rul. 77-294, 1977-2, C.B. 173; Rev. Rul. 73-451, 1973-2, C.B. 158.  However, there is an exception to this “pledge rule” that triggers gain recognition if the seller uses an installment obligation to secure a loan.  Property that is used or produced in the trade or business of farming is not subject to the rule. I.R.C. §453A(b)(3)(b).   Thus, a taxpayer who sells farmland (or other farm property) in an installment sale may use that installment receivable as security, or in a pledged manner, to borrow funds from a third party.  The third party should collateralize the payments and file a UCC-1 to formally pledge and secure the installment payments

Conclusion

Tax-deferred exchanges post-2017 are limited to real estate exchanges.  Normally, only the like-kind portion of the exchange qualifies for deferral.  However, if an exchange involving farm property is structured properly, tax deferral can be achieved for the entire transaction.  Careful drafting of the contracts involved is critical.

May 21, 2020 in Income Tax, Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Abandoned Railways and Issues for Adjacent Landowners

Overview

For farmers and ranchers (and other rural landowners) owning agricultural land adjacent to railroads, the abandonment of an active rail line presents a number of real property issues.  What is the legal effect of the abandonment?  Does state or federal law apply?  What about fencing?  These (and others) are all important questions when a railroad abandons a line.

Abandoned rail lines and legal issues – that’s the topic of today’s post.

Legal Effect of Abandonment

During the nineteenth century, many railroad companies acquired easements from adjoining landowners to operate rail lines.  In some instances, railroads acquired a fee simple interest in rights-of-way and in those situations, can sell or otherwise dispose of the property.  In most situations, however, a railroad was granted an easement for railroad purposes, usually acquired from adjacent property owners.  The general rule is that a right-of-way for a railroad is classified as a limited fee with a right of reverter if received from Congress on or before 1871, but is classified as an exclusive use easement if the right of way is received after 1871.

If the railroad held an easement, the abandonment of the line automatically terminates the railroad's easement interest, and the interest generally reverts to the owners of the adjacent land owning the fee simple interest from which the easement was granted. See, e.g., Penn. Central Corp. v. United States Railroad Vest Corp., 955 F.2d 1158 (7th Cir. 1992).

After abandonment, state law controls the property interests involved.  Once abandonment occurs, federal law does not control the property law questions involved. The only exception is if the United States retained a right of reverter in the abandoned railway.  Under the Abandoned Railroad Right of Way Act (43 U.S.C. § 912), land given by the United States for use as a railroad right-of-way in which the United States retained a right of reverter had to be turned into a public highway within one year of the railroad company’s abandonment or be given to adjacent landowners.  Later, the Congress enacted the National Trails System Improvement Act of 1988 under which those lands not converted to public highways within one year of abandonment would revert back to the United States, not adjacent private landowners.

What About Recreational Trails? 

In 1976, the Congress passed the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act (Act) in an effort to promote the conversion of abandoned lines to trails.  Under the Act, the Secretary of Transportation is authorized to prepare a report on alternate uses for abandoned right-of-ways.  The Secretary of the Interior can offer financial, educational and technical assistance to local, state and federal agencies.  In addition, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was authorized to delay disposition of railroad property for up to 180 days after an order of abandonment, unless the property was first offered for sale on reasonable terms for public purposes including recreational use.  The National Trails System Act amendments of 1983 authorized the ICC to preserve for possible future railroad use, rights-of-way not currently in service and to allow interim use of land by a qualified organization as recreational trails.  Effective January 1, 1996, the Congress replaced the ICC with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) and gave the STB authority to address rail abandonment and trail conversion issues.  The organizations operating the corridors as trails assume all legal and financial responsibility for the corridors.  This is known as railbanking.

Under the 1983 amendments, a railroad must follow a certain procedure if it desires to abandon a line.  A potential trail operator must agree to manage the trail, take legal responsibility for the trail and pay any taxes on the trail.  The STB engages in a three-stage process for railroad abandonment.  First, a railroad must file an application with the STB and notify certain persons of its planned abandonment.  The application must state whether the right-of-way is suitable for recreational use.  In addition, the application must notify government agencies and must be posted in train stations and newspapers giving the public a right to comment.  Second, the STB then determines whether “present or future public convenience and necessity” permit the railroad to abandon.  A trail organization then must submit a map and agreement to assume financial responsibility and the STB will then determine whether the railroad intends to negotiate a trail agreement.  Third, if such a determination is made, the STB will issue a “certificate of interim trail use” or a certificate of abandonment.  The parties have 180 days to reach this agreement.  If no agreement is reached, the line is abandoned.  Abandonment of a railroad right-of-way cannot occur without the prior authorization of the STB.  See, e.g., Phillips Company v. Southern Pacific Rail Corp., 902 F. Supp. 1310 (D. Colo. 1995).  But, once abandonment occurs, the STB no longer has any jurisdiction over the issue.  See, e.g., Preseault v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 494 U.S. 1 (1990).

Before passage of the 1983 amendments, it was clear that when a railroad ceased line operation and abandoned the railway, the easement interest of the railroad in the line reverted to the adjacent landowners of the fee simple.  See, e.g., Consolidated Rail Corp. Inc. v. Lewellen, 682 N.E.2d 779 (Ind. 1997)However, as noted, the 1983 amendments established a more detailed process for railroad abandonment and gave trail organizations the ability to operate an abandoned line.  While most railroads hold a right-of-way to operate their lines by easement specifying that the easement reverts to the landowner upon abandonment, after passage of the 1983 amendments, a significant question is when, if ever, abandonment occurs. One court has held that the public use condition on abandonment does not prevent the abandonment from being consummated, at which time STB jurisdiction ends, federal law no longer pre-empts state law, and state property law may cause the extinguishment of the railroad's rights and interests.  See, e.g., Fritsch v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 59 F.3d 248 (D.C. Cir. 1995), cert. denied sub. nom. CSX Transportation v. Fritsch, 516 U.S. 1171 (1996).

A more fundamental issue is whether a preclusion of reversion to the owner of the adjacent fee simple is an unconstitutional taking of private property. I will analyze the constitutional takings issue is a subsequent post.  Suffice it to say, however, in 1990 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1983 amendments as constitutional.  Preseault v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 494 U.S. 1 (1990). But see Swisher v. United States, 176 F. Supp.2d 1100 (D. Kan. 2001).  

Recent Case

A recent federal case involved adjacent landowners’ taking claim when a railroad abandoned its line and sought to transfer the abandoned line to a city for the use as a recreational trail.  The landowners claimed that full ownership of the line should have been in their hands but the city disagreed, and the court was left to sort it out. 

In Anderson v. United States, Court of Federal Claims, No. 17-668L, 2020 U.S. Claims LEXIS 526 (Fed. Claims Apr. 10, 2020), the plaintiffs were a group of 24 landowners who own real property adjacent to a rail line near Waco, Texas. The line was acquired in 1902 by Texas Central Railroad Company, the predecessor to the current owner Union Pacific Railroad Co.  Texas Central acquired its right-of-way through various methods, including a declaration of trust, court-ordered condemnation, and four deeds. In 2015, Union Pacific indicated its intention to abandon the 2.45-mile line, and stated their intention to salvage the limited amount of track material and transfer the right-of-way to the City of Waco as a utility corridor and for possible trail use.  In 2017, the plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging a Fifth Amendment taking on the basis that the railroad only had an easement in the rail line and that the abandonment of the line and reverted to them upon abandonment.  The plaintiffs requested just compensation for their property in the form of fair market value of the taken property.

The Court examined the underlying deeds granting the line to Texas Central and noted that they didn’t contain any right-of-way language but rather conveyed a fee simple subject to a condition subsequent that benefited the original grantors solely.  As a conveyance of a fee simple, there was no property right that reverted to the adjacent owners, and their taking claim failed.  State property law determined the outcome.

Conclusion

Abandoned rail lines create numerous legal issues for adjacent landowners, including a mix of federal and state law.  In addition, fencing issues get involved and those may be handled not under the general fence laws of the particular state, but in accordance with fencing provisions specific to the conversion of abandoned rail lines to trails.  In any event, for those that believe they have been negatively impacted by a rail line abandonment, seeking good legal counsel is a must to protect whatever landowner rights remain. 

April 21, 2020 in Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Deed Effectiveness – Signing and Delivery

Overview

Transferring real estate is often an essential aspect of farm and ranch estate and business planning.  But, what does it take to effectively transfer title to real estate?  Centuries ago in England, a ceremony was held on the land to be transferred and the seller would physically hand some of the soil to the buyer to commemorate the transfer of title to the buyer.  That ceremony is not done today, but other requirements must be satisfied to signify that title has been transferred. Clearly a real estate deed must be signed, and the grantor must have the present intent to deliver the deed. But, based on the facts of a particular situation, those requirements may not be as straightforward as they might seem.

Transferring title to real estate – the signing and delivery requirements.  These are the topics of today’s post.

The Signing Requirement

A real estate deed must be signed to be effective to convey title.  That seems like a simple requirement to satisfy.  However, facts can complicate the matter and raise a question of just exactly who must sign the deed.  This was on display in a recent case.  In In re Estate of Tatum, 580 S.W.3d 489 (Tex. Ct. App. 2019), a married couple had ten children. In 1982 they executed a warranty deed for their 134-acre farm, reserving a life estate in each of them and leaving a remainder interest to each of the children equally. One of the children died in 1999, with his interest passing to his surviving spouse. Later in 1999, the mother requested that the attorney draft a deed conveying the deceased son’s remainder interest back to the parents. This deed listed all ten children (including the surviving spouse of the pre-deceased child) as grantors, and it claimed to convey the farm in fee simple back to the parents. The deed made no reference to the undivided future interests of the children. There was no request that each child (and the surviving spouse of the pre-deceased child) sign the deed, but they understood that the deed would not be effective unless all of them signed it. Two of the children never signed the deed.

The father died in 2000. In 2001 and 2002 four of the children executed affidavits rescinding their signatures. In 2003 the mother and the children had a meeting requesting that the children transfer their interest to one of the children. Five of the children transferred their interest to this child resulting in that child holding a 6/10ths interest in the farm. An agreement could not be reached with the four remaining children. The mother then filed the 1999 deed in March of 2004.

The mother died in 2016 with a will that was based on the assumption that she owned 80 percent of the farm, because of the 1999 deed that eight of children signed. The estate executor sought a probate court determination that the 1999 deed transferred 80 percent of the remainder interest to the parents and that the affidavits were ineffective rescissions. Some of the children counterclaimed seeking validity and enforceability of the 1999 deed and 2001 and 2002 affidavits rescinding their signatures. Other children argued that the deed was never fully executed and delivered so it never became effective to convey any interest in the property.

The probate court granted the executor’s motion for summary judgment and determined that the 1999 deed was "valid, effective, and enforceable against the eight grantors who signed" and was unambiguous. On appeal, the appellate court reversed and remanded.

The only issue on appeal was whether the probate court erred in granting the executor’s motion for summary judgment. The defendant children claimed that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the 1999 deed was enforceable because not all of the children had signed it.  The appellate court determined that the evidence revealed an oral understanding among the children that the deed required all of their signatures. This created, the appellate court reasoned, a condition precedent that wasn’t inconsistent with the deed.  The deed was silent concerning whether all of the children needed to sign or if it would convey an individual interest. Further the deed described the property as a fee simple absolute, and did not describe the individual interest of the children. Since each of the children owned a one tenth interest, the only way for a full fee simple absolute to be transferred was for all of the children to sign the deed. The appellate court determined that the children had proffered sufficient evidence of the oral condition precedent to raise a genuine issue of material fact.

The Delivery Requirement

Not only must a deed be signed, it must be delivered to be effective to pass title.  However, intention to deliver is the controlling element in determining whether a purported delivery is effective to transfer the real estate.  For example, in Masek v. Estate of Masek, No. A-10-279, 2010 Neb. App. LEXIS 196 (Neb. Ct. App. Dec. 28, 2010), title to farmland was held not to have transferred due to the lack of the transferor’s present intent to deliver the deed.  The deed had been executed in 1977, but was not recorded and later discovered in the transferor’s desk upon his death in 2007.  Other facts showed that the transferor exercised ownership and control of the farm until he died.

While no particular form of delivery or ceremony is necessary, any event that clearly manifests the grantor's intent to deliver is effective to convey title.  Thus, it is not necessary for a physical transfer of the deed to take place if the grantor has the present intent to part with legal control of the property.  In other words, if delivery is not accepted, that has no bearing on the transferor’s present intent to deliver the deed.  Conversely, a physical transfer of the deed is not effective to convey title if the delivery is not completed with the requisite intent.

Because of the requirement of a present intent to deliver, any conveyance where the grantor intends to withhold from the grantee complete ownership until the performance of some condition or the happening of some event is a conditional delivery and is ineffective to convey the associated real estate.  For example, a deed delivered to a third party with instructions to record it upon the grantor's death is ineffective to transfer title.  A deed cannot be used to transfer property at death as can a will unless the statutory requirements for an effective will are satisfied.  The formalities for deeds and wills are different.  As a result, a deed that fails to transfer title because the grantor did not have the present intent to deliver is seldom treated as a valid will even if the grantor's intent would be furthered.

For instance, in Giefer v. Swenton, 23 Kan. App. 2d 172, 928 P.2d 906 (1996), the decedent owned a small farm.  His wife had already died, leaving him with their seven adult children – one son and six daughters.  In the fall of 1990, the decedent executed a deed to the farm which conveyed a 1/7 interest in it to each of his children as tenants in common.  His will was executed the same day.  He didn’t physically transfer the deed to the children, instead holding it until early 1993.  At that time, he told one of the daughters to record it.  About five months later, he executed a second will leaving the farm to all of the children, but it also contained a provision giving the son the absolute right to buy the farm from his sisters for $400 per acre.  About three weeks after executing the second will, the decedent died.  All of the daughters except one sold their interest in the farm to their brother.  This issue in the case was whether the decedent died owning the family farm or deeded it away before his death.  In other words, the issue was whether the deed had been properly delivered. 

The court determined that the deed had been effectively delivered when it was recorded.  That’s the rule in Kansas – recordation constitutes delivery.  Manual delivery to the grantee is not necessary.  Here, the deed was recorded at the decedent’s express direction.  The court also noted that the deed contained no reservations or qualifications, and that it was clear that the decedent knew what he wanted to do about deeding the farm – he did not want to own the farm at the time of his death.  That outcome had an impact on the son.

 

Conclusion

While it may seem simple to transfer real estate, there can be unique sets of facts that can complicate the signing and delivery requirements.  In many situations, a well-trained real estate attorney can provide sound advice to help avoid problems that might arise.

February 12, 2020 in Real Property | Permalink | Comments (0)