R-CALF wins first round in Beef Checkoff lawsuit
On May 2, 2016, R-CALF USA filed a lawsuit against the national beef checkoff program. The lawsuit alleges it is unconstitutional for the government to allow private beef councils, like the Montana State Beef Council, to keep and spend one-half of all checkoff dollars to pay for the beef council’s private speech when our members disagree with such speech. Specifically, the group alleged it was unconstitutional for the government to compel its members to fund the private speech of state beef councils.
The private speech R-CALF’s members disagree with is the beef council’s message that foreign beef is the same as, and is just as good as, beef produced exclusively from cattle born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States of America.
A hearing was held on October 25 before a United States magistrate judge. In our case, the role of the magistrate judge is to review all the pleadings, conduct a hearing, and then recommend to the federal district court judge how the case should be decided.
On Dec. 12, the U.S. magistrate judge issued his findings and recommendations in our case. The magistrate judge recommends that the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana grant their request for a preliminary injunction. The preliminary injunction would stop the government from continuing to allow the Montana State Beef Council to use checkoff dollars to fund its advertising campaigns unless a cattle producer provides prior affirmative consent that his/her checkoff dollars may be retained by the council for that purpose.
Because this is a magistrate judge recommendation and not a U.S. District Court order, this is only an initial ruling.
The U.S. District Court must now conduct an independent review of the magistrate judge’s findings and recommendations. As part of that independent review, the government now has 14 days to object to or otherwise request an appeal of the magistrate judge’s findings and recommendations.
Next Steps: If, after its independent review, the U.S. District Court adopts the findings and recommendations of the magistrate judge and enters an order granting R-CALF USA a preliminary injunction, the government must stop allowing the Montana Beef Council to collect and spend producer checkoff dollars unless the council first obtains permission from each cattle producer to keep and use his or her checkoff dollars.
The U.S. magistrate judge states in its findings and recommendations that it is unlikely that the state beef council’s speech would qualify as government speech.