Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Downer v. United States

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20306
Nos. 95-2540, 97 F.3d 999/(8th Cir., 09/19/1996)

The court holds that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) did not act arbitrarily and capriciously by denying a farmer agricultural subsidies for converting wetlands to farm land in violation of the Food Security Act's swampbuster provisions. Under the swampbuster program, farmers lose their eligibility for agricultural subsidies when they plant agricultural commodities on converted wetlands after the effective date of the statutory provisions. The court first holds that USDA's technical determination that the disputed property was a wetland is within the realm of agency expertise and not the result of arbitrary and capricious decisionmaking. The determination was made in reliance on its own qualified experts' examination of the sites and other relevant data, and was rational and consistent with the evidence. The court next holds that USDA's determination that the disputed land has been converted for agricultural purposes is supported by the evidence and is not arbitrary and capricious. Aerial photographic records show wetlands surrounding the man-made water holes, or "dugouts," before the farmer's manipulation of those areas, and site visits established that the areas were being used to produce agricultural commodities after the wetlands were drained, covered, and recontoured. The court next rejects the farmer's contention that he "commenced" the conversion before the effective date of the statute and was merely continuing an ongoing process. The record supports USDA's determination that the farmer did not begin the "active pursuit" of conversion until after the effective date. The court next holds that the district court did not err in concluding that the farmer violated the swampbuster provisions and was not entitled to an exemption. The farmer failed to present his argument that the wetlands were artificially created before USDA and has admitted that he failed to carry his burden of proof. Although no one contends that the filling of dugouts was a swampbuster violation, the record made clear that after the statute's effective date the farmer filled wetlands outside the dugout area and reworked the drainage ditch that provided positive drainage to the road culvert. Although the filling of artificial dugouts was permissible, it affected the wetland basin or drainage of the sites. The court also holds that the farmer had adequate notice and was given an adequate hearing, consistent with the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Counsel for Appellant
Jeffrey T. Sveen
Siegel, Barnett & Schutz
500 Capitol Bldg., Aberdeen SD 57402
(605) 225-5420

Counsel for Appellee
John O. Holm, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
P.O. Box 5073, Sioux Falls SD 57117
(605) 330-4400

Before McMILLIAN, JOHN R. GIBSON, and BEAM, Circuit Judges.