Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms

Monsanto Co. vs. Geertson Seed Farms
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued April 27, 2010
Decided June 21, 2010
Full case name Monsanto Co., et al., v. Geertson Seed Farms, et al.
Docket nos. 09-475
Citations 549 U.S. 497; 127 S. Ct. 1438
Prior history On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Court of Appeals
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Alito, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginburg, Sotomayor
Dissent Stevens
Laws applied
National Environmental Protection Act; Plant Protection Act

Monsanto Co. vs. Geertson Seed Farms[1] is a U.S. Supreme Court case decided 7-1 in which several groups including Geertson Seed Farms filed suit and challenged the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on their decision to completely deregulate Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA), a genetically modified alfalfa patented by Monsanto, designed to withstand the herbicide Roundup.[2] Two seed companies, Geertson Seed Farms, Trask Family Seeds and other organizations sought out an injunction against Monsanto Company in a California federal district court. Both seed companies worried that this wide-scale use of Monsanto's alfalfa resistant herbicide would cause cross-pollination with Geertson and Trask's alfalfa, ultimately leading to an endangerment of livelihood as several major importers of alfalfa grown in the United States will not accept genetically modified alfalfa.[3] Geertson and Trask filed suit against the APHIS decision saying they violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is needed to assess the environmental effects of the APHIS decision to deregulate Monsanto's Roundup Ready Alfalfa (RRA).[3]



As of 2010, alfalfa is the 4th largest cash crop that grows on approximately 20 million acres (81,000 km2) of land throughout the United States.[4] This crop is grown for two primary purposes; hay for livestock consumption and seed for future stock.[3] Alfalfa undergoes open pollination, and many farmers that grow organic and commercial alfalfa were concerned about the potential of cross pollination occurring between the genetically modified alfalfa and non-genetically modified alfalfa.

Alfalfa seeds

APHIS, a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture, has the right to regulate any organism and product that is altered or created by genetic engineering. They use the precautionary principle when addressing genetically modified organisms. They are considered to be plant pests under the Plant Protection Act (PPA) and are therefore regulated articles. Anyone can choose to petition the regulated status of a genetically modified organism. APHIS is then required to perform an Environmental Impact Statement ( EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). If in an Environmental Assessment (EA), no significant environmental impact is found, no EIS is required.[1]

The petitioners, Monsanto, are the owners and licensee which have the intellectual property rights to RRA, and license the technology to Forage Genetics, who developed of the Roundup Ready alfalfa seed . Monsanto petitioned in April, 2004 for the deregulation RRA to APHIS. The APHIS has three options:[5]

  1. Take no action
  2. Completely deregulate, needed a no significant impact report
  3. Partially deregulate RRA, by imposing geographical restrictions

In 2005, APHIS decided to prepare a draft Environmental Assessment and allowed for public comments. The APHIS received a total of 663 comments and only 137 were supportive of the APHIS decision to deregulate RRA. The opposers, all 537 of them, were mainly organic and conventional farmers who were feared cross pollination would occur and would have economic affects on the alfalfa market. [5] APHIS released its EA, finding that RRA would not have any significant adverse impacts on the environment. The APHIS stated how alfalfa is pollinated by bees and that pollination has been documented to occur up to 2 miles (3.2 km) from a pollen source. [5] Therefore, the EA conclude there it was highly unlikely RRA would have a significant impact on non-GMO/organic farms. In February 2006, the plaintiff's, see (parties) below, filed a suit stating that the APHIS violated NEPA. The district court told APHIS they had failed to take a in depth look of RRA and the potential for genetic contamination.[5] Monsanto and Forage Genetics argued that many famers have already puchased and planted RRA seeds for the new harvest. This led to a preliminary injunction of RRA of all seeds and sales would cease after March 30th 2007, pending a permanent injunction. [5] In April 2007 a permanent injunction was granted. In 2008, Monsanto and APHIS appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit came to the same conclusion as the district court. The defendants' appealed, and on April 27th, 2010 this case was argued in front of the United States Supreme Court.


This case arose from the 2005 decision made by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). APHIS ( the defendant) performs a variety of services and is tasked with both protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health and regulating genetically modified organisms. The APHIS has the ability to regulate any genetically engineered product that plant pest or believed to be plant best. [6] Monsanto ( the defendant-intervenors), is a corporation that manufactures several different chemicals, including many pesticides and herbicides. It wasn't until Monsanto petitioned to deregulate its Roundup Ready Alfalfa to various species of alfalfa that a problem arose. The APHIS responded favorably to this request, but the deregulation was put on hold when two alfalfa farmers:

  • Geertson Seed Farms, an Oregon Company
  • Trask Family Seeds South Dakota business

the Center For Food Safety, and other environmental groups sought a permanent injunction barring APHIS from deregulating RRA until a final Environmental Impact Statement was completed.[4]

Granting of certiorari

Certiorari was granted January 15, 2010.[7]


The Supreme Court had two questions it needed to answer to issue a ruling in this case;[1]

  1. Does the petitioner, (Monsanto) have standing in the Supreme Court?
  2. Did the District Court overstep its discretion when issuing an injunction?

It was noted that no party challenged the fact that APHIS had violated NEPA and that the vactur was within the District Court's legal prerogative.[1]



Geertson challenged Monsanto’s standing by claiming that it did not fulfill the injury requirement for standing. The court held that Monsanto did have standing because the two parties disagree in large part on the decision made by the lower court not to accept the proposal from APHIS for partial deregulation after the full deregulation was vacated.[1] Had the court only vacated the APHIS deregulation decision because it did not perform an EIS, APHIS would have then partially deregulated RRA, allowing for sale and cultivation. The injunction in addition to the vacatur, would not allow for the sale or cultivation of RRA until the EIS had been completed. This, in the court’s opinion, constituted injury. The court also held that because Monsanto is only challenging the injunction, the part of the judgment that causes damages resulting in injury, it had standing.[1]

District Court's Injunction

The Supreme Court stated that the District Court only addresses a complete deregulation of RRA pending the completion of an EIS from the APHIS. In addition, in order to grant a permanent injunction four factors must be satisfied:

  1. The plaintiff has to have suffered a irrecoverable injury
  2. The remedies available by law are inadequate to compensate for that injury
  3. The court needs to consider the balance of hardship between the plaintiff and the defendant
  4. The public interest would not be harmed by this permanent injunction[1]

The Supreme Court ruled that the District Court erred by imposing a nationwide injunction, banning APHIS from partially deregulating RRA because all four factors could not be met, particularly, the irrecoverable injury factor. It was also held that a NEPA violation does not warrant automatic injunctive relief.[1]

The Supreme Court also stated that if a partial deregulation presents further danger to the respondents, they may file another suit for injunctive relief. The respondents could not prove that partial deregulation would cause irreparable harm. These two findings held by the court show that the respondents could not prove irreparable harm, one of the four factors necessary for injunctive relief.[1]

In addition, the Supreme Court found that the District Court further erred in issuing injunctive relief because it preempted APHIS's ability to enact a partial deregulation that may not "pose any appreciable risk of environmental harm.[1] " It was also held that because the District Court did not consider the use of a less extraordinary measure to relieve the injury claimed by Geertson, the injunction was inappropriate.[1] The second factor, that there must be no other option available to the court to remedy the injury could not be met because the vacatur would have prevented the complete deregulation.


In his dissent, Stevens wrote that the conditions on which the supreme court ruled were invalid because the petitioners did not present the key legal premise on which the court decided. He held this because the legal briefs presented to the Supreme Court Justices did not state that the District Court exceeded its authority by issuing the injunction. Stevens writes that only after the opposition stated that Monsanto’s injury would not be addressed by removing the injunction, because RRA would have still been regulated and could not be legally planted, did the petitioners bring this up.[1]

Stevens also argues that the District Court should not be so limited in its discretion because it was exercising its equitable powers. He notes that in many cases, courts will freeze action to the status quo to prevent the loss of future alternatives provided in a proper EIS.[1]

In Stevens' descent, he maintained that the injunction was warranted because there was a clear danger to the farmers' health and business. In addition, he held that cross contamination could happen, even in controlled settings, and that APHIS's ability to regulate and prevent this contamination was limited.[3] In addition, Steven's wrote that there was strong evidence that RRA poses a high threat to the environment and to business in America.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Monsanto Co et, al v. Geertson Seed Farms et, al. 561 U.S. ____(2010)". United States Supreme Court. 
  2. ^ "Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, 09-475". 
  3. ^ a b c d The Oyez Project, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. "Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms". The Oyez Project. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Monsanto v. Geerston Seed Farms: The Supreme Court Alfalfa Decision (video)". Cooking up a Story. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  6. ^ "Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services". Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
  7. ^ N/A, N/A. "09-475 MONSANTO CO. V. GEERTSON SEED FARMS". U.S. Supreme Court. Retrieved 27 April 2011. 

External links

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services website:

Global Researcher: Lawsuit seeks to invalidate Monsanto's patents

Monsanto V. PUBPAT:

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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