• September 20, 2011

Update (September 20, 2011):  Near the height of the apple season, clearly apple growers have better things to do than litigate.

Update (Feburary 8, 2011):Minnesota Litigator appears back on track with a successful litigation prediction this time around.  

And what is a SweeTango Apple? See here.

On Friday, news outlets around the world reported that Hennepin County District Court Judge Lloyd Zimmerman denied most of the claims against the U of M for its exclusive apple deal by area orchards (59,900 “hits” on Google for SweeTango lawsuit on Friday (that’s Steve Karnowski, Associated Press, 59,898 times, + Pioneer Press, + Star Tribune?)).  Reading between the pixels, plaintiffs’ claims appear weak.  The Court has ordered the adversaries to mediate and, if unsuccessful, the case will apparently go to trial in late 2011 on the one claim plaintiffs made that was not dismissed.

(The Aesopian cognitive “sour grapes” defense has worked (for the most part) for thousands of years and might be what the frustrated plaintiff apple growers are left with…)

Original post (June 21, 2010):  The University of Minnesota’s apple breeding program has developed some extremely tasty apples over the years (consider crunching into a Zestar™, for example).

As several Minnesota apple orchards would have it, however, the recently developed SweeTango apple is apparently in a class by itself because these orchards are suing the University of Minnesota and Pepin Heights Orchard as if the licensing agreement between the U and Pepin as to the SweeTango will destroy other orchards (literally).  (See Complaint at Paragraph 6.)

As is evident from the complaint, this is a fight that has been brewing for some time and plaintiffs undoubtedly believe that there is serious money at stake because they have been fighting for the right to grow, sell, and distribute the SweeTango more broadly for some time (the orchards have restricted growing and selling rights).

According the to plaintiffs, the U of M’s SweeTango licenses and its deal with co-defendant Pepin Heights Orchard:

are void ab initio because these agreements violate public policy, violate state anti-trust laws and the Minnesota State Constitution, promote unfair competition, create consumer confusion, violate federal law prohibiting unfair agricultural-trade practices, contravene the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and violate plaintiffs’ rights guaranteed by 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Is there a constitutional right to grow and sell SweeTango apples?  Plaintiffs’ Count VII is, in fact, a claim by the orchards under the U.S. Constitution (due process, equal protection, and Title 42, Section 1983).   It will be some time before there is a factual record in the case from which to evaluate the strength of the legal claims and defenses, but, Minnesota Litigator will go out on a limb to suggest that the federal constitutional claim will not prevail.

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