It was in 1986, with the PACA Trust Law newly enacted and ag labor cases at the forefront that Western Growers attorneys Patricia Rynn and Lew Janowsky started their private law practice with one secretary between them.
Thirty years later, PACA cases are still a mainstay for the firm though the volume of labor cases have waned. “I can’t believe it has been 30 years,” said Rynn recently. “When Lew (Janowsky) and I founded the firm a lot of the focus was on the UFW (United Farm Work) and cases before the ALRB (Agricultural Labor Relations Board). We were doing a lot of ALRB work involving strike violence and UFW activities and negotiations.”
She also remembers that the firm was involved in the beginning of the work surrounding the PACA Trust provision. “We had several seminal, first-impression cases with the Trust that created a body of case law that helped interpret it.”
Rynn said the decision to launch the firm was a good one and it has clearly withstood the test of time. “I wish Lew was still here,” she said, lamenting the passing of her business partner about a year ago. “This is such a nice industry. It is such a colorful and great group of people to work with who are so concerned with increasing yield and producing a better crop. They are scientists and environmentalists with such a wealth of knowledge and so dedicated to what they do. It is amazing how much they know just through osmosis. I think about it every time I am just trying to prevent the leaves on my roses from turning brown.”
From that three person office, Rynn and Janowsky has grown to a firm of four partners, three associates, two paralegals, several administrative assistants and a summer clerk. It still does a lot of PACA work as well as handling quite a few cases in the employment law arena. Rynn said the myriad of California statutes that a grower must contend with boggles the mind. “It makes it very hard to be in the (ag) industry.”
Discussing the issue of the day, which is the rise in legal work surrounding the production of cannabis, the firm has yet to handle its first client. But Rynn made a case for marijuana being covered by PACA law once that first cannabis grower doesn’t get paid and files a case. “The PACA covers fruits and vegetables, fresh or frozen. Other kinds of herbs have been covered and we have had issues surrounding edible flowers that have been covered. Flowering kale is used in salads and it is covered. So why not? Some people use cannabis in brownies so that might make it an edible vegetable.”
Even when and if California passes the marijuana legalization proposition, sales will be limited to California. In that event it might not pass the interstate commerce provision in the PACA and, for that matter, many other federal laws. But Rynn said that provision tends to be liberally interpreted. “Courts have been known to say federal law applies even if the product only travels on an interstate highway.”
In any event, Rynn seems willing to test the limits when the time comes.
On another grower issue, she would like to see a liberalization of the PACA Trust notice filing provision with regard to unlicensed growers. Licensees can protect their trust rights simply by putting the right language on their invoices. Unlicensed growers must make sure they protect their rights by filing a notice against the buyer or even their marketing agent before payment is delayed beyond the rules in the Trust. Rynn said some growers aren’t even aware of how to do this. Falling short of new regulations, she suggested PACA officials might hold seminars or in some other way educate growers who might not know their rights in this regard.