The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a provision in the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that regulates U.S. production and sales of raisins, amounts to a constitutional taking and requires just compensation to plaintiffs and other raisin farmers. Horne v. USDA, No. 14-275 (U.S., decided June 22, 2015). The decision focused on whether a taking of personal property (here, the raisins) fell under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which requires just compensation and has historically applied to real property such as land.

The majority opinion, delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, began by detailing the program, which required raisin farmers to turn over a portion of their crop yields each year to avoid oversaturating the market and causing a drop in raisin prices. The government then used those yields in social programs like school lunches or sold them overseas. The opinion then provided a history of takings and compared the program, holding, “The reserve requirement imposed by the Raisin Committee is a clear physical taking.”

The court then turned to the question of whether giving the raisin farmers a contingent interest in the raisin crop after taking it could allow the government to avoid paying just compensation, finding that a per se taking and regulatory taking require different analyses that the government had confused. The opinion then found that “a governmental mandate to relinquish specific, identifiable property as a ‘condition’ on permission to engage in commerce effects” is, “at least in this case,” a per se taking.

Comparing a previous case, the chief justice noted, “Raisins are not like oysters: they are private property—the fruit of the grower’s labor—not ‘public things subject to the absolute control of the state.’ [] Any physical taking of them for public use must be accompanied by just compensation.” The court overturned the Ninth Circuit’s inconsistent opinion and refused to remand the case for further litigation. “[T]he Hornes should simply be relieved of the obligation to pay the fine and associated civil penalty they were assessed when they resisted the Government’s effort to take their raisins,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “This case, in litigation for more than a decade, has gone on long enough.”