Supreme Court to hear state appeal

BISMARCK An appeal hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 3 at the North Dakota Supreme Court in Bismarck in the case of Wayne Stenehjem, the attorney general of the State of North Dakota, against the National Audubon Society.

The Audubon Society is a national group that lists its mission as “To conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity,” according to its website (www.audubon.org).

According to a case summary provided by the court, the society purchased a tract of land in Stutsman County in 1988. By 2005 the state, through the attorney general’s office, had discovered the society owned the land.

By 2009, the state claimed that the society was not acting in accordance with state law for corporate farming and both parties filed for summary judgment on the matter, which came in 2011.

A court in the Southeast Judicial District upheld the constitutionality of the corporate farming statute, but ultimately took no action against the society by allowing its defense citing laches.

Laches is roughly defined as a plaintiff taking too long to make complaint against the defendant. Considering the land was purchased in 1988 and the state waited until 2009 to begin an enforcement allegation would be grounds for a laches defense.

But the state is appealing against the allowance of the laches defense because it claims that the society acquired and used the land in violation on the statute in the first place, among other claims.

In a cross-appeal the society argues against the constitutionality of the corporate farming statute, claiming that it violated the commerce and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution.