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UNITED STATES v. WILEY'S COVE RANCH

March 3, 1960

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILEY'S COVE RANCH, A PARTNERSHIP, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Miller, Chief Judge.

This is a civil action by the United States to recover payments made by the Department of Agriculture to the defendant partnership for livestock feed under the 1954 Emergency Feed Program. The defendant has filed, under Rule 12(c), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.A., a motion for judgment on the pleadings to which is attached the affidavit of two Committeemen. The motion is erroneously designated as a "Motion to Dismiss," but will be considered by the court as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56.

The facts as shown by the pleadings and affidavit are not in dispute, and are as follows:

The defendant, Wiley's Cove Ranch, is a partnership composed of Mrs. Drucilla Mays, Ed Behnken and Virginia Behnken, his wife, and Mrs. Edna Lee Seeger. The principal place of business and headquarters of the partnership is at Leslie, Searcy County, within the Western District of Arkansas. In 1954 the manager of the ranch, W.J. Seeger, now deceased, applied for federal assistance under the provisions of the 1954 Emergency Feed Program. The first application was dated September 9, 1954, and the second December 13, 1954. Both applications were approved by the local County Committee appointed pursuant to the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act, 7 U.S.C.A. § 1000 et seq.

Following the original approval, the County Committee was requested to reexamine the question of the defendant partnership's eligibility under the terms of the program. The defendant's status was again investigated by the County Committee and was subsequently recertified as to eligibility. The Department of Agriculture then issued 13 purchase orders for feed to the defendant partnership, thereby allowing it to receive 341,000 pounds of surplus grain at a total cost to the Government of $3,410.

In the complaint the Government merely alleges that the defendant partnership was not eligible for assistance under the program. In answer to an interrogatory, the Government spelled this allegation out with more particularity in saying:

    "4. The financial condition and net worth of the
  partnership was not such that it required assistance
  under this program to maintain its foundation herd of
  livestock and to continue its livestock operations."

It should be noted that the Government does not allege fraud on the part of the defendant partnership or on the part of the County Committee.

In the affidavit executed by the two members of the Searcy County Committee still residing within the State, inter alia, it is stated:

    "That during the year of 1954 the said William J.
  Seeger was manager of the said Wiley's Cove Ranch and
  authorized to act for and in behalf of the Mays
  family in the operation of the said Wiley's Cove
  Ranch; that the said William J. Seeger is now
  deceased. Affiants further state that the said
  William J. Seeger made proper application for feed
  under said Emergency Feed Program and that said
  County Committee made proper and due investigation of
  said application and determined that the said Wiley's
  Cove Ranch was fully eligible to receive feed under
  said program.
    "Affiants personally knew that the said Wiley's
  Cove Ranch, like all other farmers in Searcy County
  during the year aforesaid was unable to raise any
  feed by reason of the extreme drouth; that said Ranch
  was devoted exclusively to raising purebred Hereford
  cattle for breeding purposes and had, at that time,

  several hundred head of said cattle which constituted
  a foundation herd for the purposes aforesaid; that it
  is and was the honest opinion of said Committee that
  the said Wiley's Cove Ranch received more than
  one-half of their net income for said year from
  raising and selling breeding stock from their herd of
  purebred cattle.
    "That following the original certification of
  eligibility of said Wiley's Cove Ranch said County
  Committee was requested to re-examine the question of
  the eligibility of said Wiley's Cove Ranch to receive
  said emergency relief, and this reexamination was
  requested and done by reason of the fact that some
  question had arisen as to the eligibility of the
  Ranch to receive the aid aforesaid.
    "That said Committee accordingly made a thorough
  investigation of the condition existing at the
  Wiley's Cove Ranch in reference to the eligibility
  aforesaid, and said Committee again found and
  determined that the said Wiley's Cove Ranch was fully
  and completely eligible to receive said help, and
  said County Committee again re-certified said fact to
  be true, and that the records of the Farmer's Home
  Administration will reflect the above facts to be
  true; that affiants are not related by blood or
  marriage to any member of the Mays family and that
  they have no personal interest, one way or another in
  the matter under discussion herein, and that they and
  each of them feel that they performed their duties as
  prescribed by law, * *."

Therefore the question before the court is whether the defendant partnership is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. To determine this, it must be decided whether the findings of the County Committee can now be set aside and the question of eligibility be determined by this court In order to do this it is necessary to examine the law that created the Emergency Feed Program of 1954, and the regulations under which the program was administered.

The basic statutory authority is found in 12 U.S.C.A. § 1148a-2(d):

    "The Secretary is authorized in connection with any
  major disaster determined by the President to warrant
  assistance by the Federal Government under sections
  1855-1855g of Title 42, to furnish to established
  farmers, ranchers, or stockmen feed for livestock or
  seeds for planting for such period or periods of time
  and under such terms and conditions as the Secretary
  may determine to be required by the nature and effect
  of the disaster. The Secretary may utilize the
  personnel, facilities, property, and funds of any
  agency of the United States Department of
  Agriculture, including Commodity Credit Corporation,
  for carrying out these functions and shall reimburse
  the agencies so utilized for the value of any
  commodities furnished which are not paid for by the
  farmers or ranchmen, and for costs and administrative
  expenses necessary in performing such functions."

Acting pursuant to this statute, the Secretary of Agriculture delegated to the Farmers Home Administration the duty of administering the program. This regulation is found in 19 Federal Register 4674, and provides:

"Office of the Secretary

    "Transfer of Certain Functions With Respect to the
  Feed and Hay Programs to the Farmers Home
  Administration
    "Pursuant to the authority contained in section
  42(d) of the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act, as
  amended (7 U.S.C. § 1016(d)), Reorganization Plan No. 2
  of 1953 [5 U.S.C.A. following section 133z-15], and
  the delegation from the Administrator, Civil Defense
  Administration, as amended (18 F.R. 4609, 19 F.R.
  2148), section 1400 of the Secretary's Order of
  December 24, 1953

  (19 F.R. 74), is further amended so as to transfer
  to the Farmers Home Administration the function and
  responsibility of providing eligibility rules and
  certifications for applicants for assistance in
  obtaining livestock feed, including hay, and to
  assign to the county ...

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