By Lisa M. Campbell, James V. Aidala, and Margaret R. Graham
In a two-page order issued on April 10, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina granted in part a motion for summary judgment filed by “me-too” registrants, Willowood, LLC, Willowood USA, LLC, Willowood Azoxystrobin, LLC, and Willowood Limited (Defendants), regarding Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC’s (Plaintiff) claims of copyright infringement. Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC v. Willowood, LLC, Case No. 1:15-CV-00274. The claims at issue (Counts V and VI of Plaintiff’’s complaint) were based on the Defendants’ use of Syngenta’s label. The court stated that it was granting this part of Defendants’ motion “because the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) precludes copyright protection for the required elements of pesticide labels . . . of me-too registrants.”
Counts V and VI of Plaintiff’s complaint stated that Defendant copied and used substantial portions of Syngenta’s copyrighted work, and that this infringement is “willful and knowing.” The Defendants’ motion for summary judgment stated with regard to the copyright infringement counts of the complaint:
- Counts V and VI fail as a matter of law because Defendants’ labels comply with applicable federal regulations and contain language that is mandated by federal law. Moreover, under settled law, the portions of Plaintiff’s labels that Plaintiff asserts Defendants have copied are not entitled to federal copyright protection. Finally, to the extent that any portions of Plaintiff’s labels are entitled to copyright protection, Defendants’ copying is permitted under the fair use doctrine.
The order states that “in enacting FIFRA, Congress intended narrow exception to copyright protection for the required elements of pesticide labels as against me-too registrants.” The court expressly rejects the lengthy 2005 decision issued by the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which reached a different conclusion in a similar case, stating that it finds the analysis in that decision “unconvincing.” FMC Corp. v. Control Solutions, Inc., 369 F. Supp. 2d 539, 555-71 (E.D. Pa. 2005). The court states: “FIFRA contemplates that a ‘me-too’ applicant will copy from the original pesticide label in ways that would otherwise infringe a copyright.”
Of interest, the court states that its grant of the summary judgment motion with respect to the copyright claims does not need to take into account an expert report or declarations by, among others, former EPA Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) officials Debra Edwards and Lois Rossi, filed by Defendants because “the Court is granting the summary judgment motion on legal grounds unrelated to the proffered evidence.”
Plaintiff filed its complaint on March 27, 2015. The complaint included seven counts against Defendants: the infringement of four patents in violation of 35 U.S.C. § 271(a) (Counts I-IV), the two copyright infringement counts (Counts V-VI), and a violation of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act (N.C. Gen. Stat § 75-1.1) (Count VII). Count VII of the complaint was dismissed on August 12, 2016, and on March 24, 2017, the court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment regarding the infringement of two of the four patents; a decision on the infringement of the remaining two patents is still pending.
This opinion, which squarely rejects the 2005 conclusion of another district court, is likely to be of controversy and is the most recent decision in a long-standing debate on this issue between basic registrants and me-too registrants. EPA in the past has appeared to side with the me-too registrants. For example, in an August 3, 2005, letter to the Chemical Producers and Distributors Association (CPDA), written in response to the FMC decision, EPA stated that it “has been the practice of [OPP] since the enactment of FIFRA section 3(c)(7)(a) in 1978 to strongly encourage ‘me-too’ product labels to be identical or substantially similar to the labels of the products on which their registrations are based.” In that letter, EPA stated further: “Conveying application instructions and safety messages for similar products in different ways increases the likelihood that the product will be misused.” EPA at the time noted that there were over 650 mostly “me-too” products for just one herbicide (2,4,-D) -- and that having 650 products each having to say some of the required use instructions differently would be impossible.
Nonetheless, some elements of the label might be viewed as proprietary -- the “look and feel” of a product label, perhaps certain fonts, and trademarked product name (as opposed to the active ingredient name). It remains to be seen whether the April 10, 2017, order is the last judicial word on this subject or whether the issue will continue to be litigated. It is an issue that all registrants should monitor closely.
By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala
On April 5, 2017, Petitioners Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (Petitioners) filed a Motion for Further Mandamus Relief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals proceedings regarding the chlorpyrifos tolerances. In the motion, Petitioners respond to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) order signed on March 29, 2017, which denied the petition to revoke tolerances. Petitioners state that EPA’s response to the petition (the order) is “no response at all and not what this Court ordered EPA to do,” and asks the court to “grant further mandamus relief, giving EPA 30 days to act on its findings that chlorpyrifos exposures are unsafe and to establish deadlines for the next steps in the revocation and cancellation processes for chlorpyrifos.” Specifically, Petitioners request that the court order EPA to:
- Take regulatory action within 30 days on its finding that chlorpyrifos is unsafe and “make it abundantly clear that what is required within 30 days is final regulatory action based on the neuro-developmental and other risks posed by chlorpyrifos exposures”;
- Resolve objections to its final regulatory action within 60 days, as opposed to “as soon as practicable after receiving the arguments of the parties,” because, Petitioners assert, EPA otherwise may put off their response for a long period of time;
- Require EPA to issue a notice of intent to cancel all chlorpyrifos uses within 60 days, “consistent with its risk assessments and findings that chlorpyrifos is unsafe,” as it has “found drinking water contamination from all chlorpyrifos uses, including nonfood uses, and will need to take regulatory action to end such uses in addition to stopping food uses”; and
- File six-month status reports until the tolerance revocation process and the cancellation proceedings are complete.
It is no surprise that the Petitioners who were disappointed by EPA’s denial of the petition one week ago have now continued their advocacy against the use of chlorpyrifos. As we note in our previous blog item EPA Denies Petition to Ban Chlorpyrifos, EPA articulated its reason for the denial as of this time, but this in itself did not articulate its determination that the registration and associated tolerances met the requirements of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA). EPA’s response to this latest legal skirmish will be of interest, as will the court’s response to it. .
More information on the proceedings is available on our blog under key word chlorpyrifos.
By Lisa M. Campbell and James V. Aidala
On March 29, 2017, U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Pruitt signed an order denying the September 2007 petition of the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) requesting that EPA revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations for the pesticide chlorpyrifos. This is the latest EPA action in a long and contentious battle concerning chlorpyrifos tolerances and registrations, and is likely not the end of this story.
EPA’s decision denying the petition addresses each of the petition’s ten claims and the history of EPA’s review and responses to those claims. Much attention will be paid to the order’s discussion of three of the claims, which the order states all relate to the same issue: “whether the potential exists for chlorpyrifos to cause neurodevelopmental effects in children at exposure levels below EPA’s existing regulatory standard (10% cholinesterase inhibition).” The order states that because “Congress has provided that EPA must complete registration review by October 1, 2022,” and because EPA has “concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution” on the issues concerning potential neurodevelopmental effects in children, EPA is denying the claims, given the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ August 12, 2016, order that “made clear” that further extensions to the March 31, 2017, deadline for responding to the petition would not be granted. EPA states that the “science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved,” and “further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos.”
The order will become effective as soon as it is published in the Federal Register. More information on the prior proceedings concerning this matter is available on our blog under key phrase chlorpyrifos.
This decision by EPA under the Trump Administration to deny the petition is not surprising, given the rhetoric of reducing regulatory burdens and the need to stop regulatory “overreach” by agencies like EPA which has been accused of making politically driven decisions. EPA's press release captures this, quoting Administrator Pruitt stating (in part): "By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making -- rather than predetermined results.”
EPA has, however, “kicked the can down the road” to some extent on the key science issue -- whether EPA appropriately evaluated epidemiology studies which reported that exposures to the pesticide had adverse neurological impacts on infants and children -- an issue that affects not only chlorpyrifos, but the other organophosphates (OP) that EPA has concluded are subject to a Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) 10X factor based on these studies. (See EPA’s September 15, 2015, Literature Review on Neurodevelopment Effects & FQPA Safety Factor Determination for the Organophosphate Pesticides.)
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) members who reviewed EPA’s approach, based on these studies with regard to chlorpyrifos, generally had concerns with its proposed approach. When EPA nonetheless issued its renewed call for revocation of the tolerances in November 2016, eight days after the Presidential election, it was seen by some as partly (if not fully) driven by a “political” calculus which ignored the lack of support of the FIFRA SAP.
The November 2016 proposal was based on more than the epidemiology studies which have proven controversial. At the same time, EPA’s arguments in the November notice relied on some of the earlier findings about the studies and FIFRA SAP’s review to fashion a “hybrid” approach which, not surprisingly, supported EPA’s previous conclusions.
This has led to charges of “politics over science” on all fronts, but in responding to the court deadline for a final decision by March 31, 2017, EPA has now declared it does indeed need more time to resolve the science issues, and argues that the general registration review process, with the chlorpyrifos review scheduled for 2022, gives EPA more time than what the court imposed. EPA has concluded that if a decision is needed now, the required burdens have not been met to change the current status of the pesticide. The order states:
- Following a review of comments on both the November 2015 proposal and the November 2016 notice of data availability, EPA has concluded that, despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved and that further evaluation of the science during the remaining time for completion of registration review is warranted to achieve greater certainty as to whether the potential exists for adverse neurodevelopmental effects to occur from current human exposures to chlorpyrifos. EPA has therefore concluded that it will not complete the human health portion of the registration review or any associated tolerance revocation of chlorpyrifos without first attempting to come to a clearer scientific resolution on those issues.
EPA has determined it needs more time, however frustrating that may be, to sort out the science. As such, it is allowing chlorpyrifos use to continue, but objections to EPA’s decision are expected by the petitioners who originally pushed for the tolerance revocations. The effect on other OPs with regard to the application of the FQPA uncertainty factor is unclear, at best. The science debate will rage on, with no clear timeline or process for how the ultimate resolution of these questions will be “final.” This political and legal back-and-forth may become the new normal for the Trump Administration as it seeks to balance a more “business friendly” regulatory approach with the stringent requirements of the statutory duties of underlying authorizing legislation across all of EPA’s programs.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Margaret R. Graham
On March 20, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published in the Federal Register a notice that it was delaying the effective date of five regulations, including the final rule on the certification of pesticide applicators. The effective date for this final rule is now May 22, 2017 (original effective date was March 6, 2017). In the notice, EPA states that it is “taking this action to give recently arrived Agency officials the opportunity to learn more about these regulations and to decide whether they would like to conduct a substantive review of any of these regulations.” The new effective date of May 22, 2017, could be delayed further if EPA officials decide to conduct a substantive review. More information on the pesticide applicator certification rule is available in our memorandum Final EPA Rule Requires Stronger Standards for Applying Riskiest Pesticides.
By Susan M. Kirsch and Lisa M. Campbell
On February 21, 2017, the Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA) filed a Clean Water Act (CWA) lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District that involves a number of pesticide active ingredients in addition to other chemicals. The lawsuit seeks to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) response to NWEA’s 2013 Petition for Rulemaking to Update the Water Quality Criteria for Toxics in the State of the Washington (NWEA v. EPA, No.: 2:17-cv-00263). NWEA asserts that Washington’s aquatic life water quality criteria (ALC) and human health water quality criteria (HHC) for many chemicals that are classified as “toxic pollutants” are outdated and inadequate. The chemicals at issue include the pesticide active ingredients acrolein, carbaryl, copper, diazinon, demeton, malathion, and methoxychlor. NWEA alleges that Washington’s continued use of outdated criteria violates the CWA and poses a risk to species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (Act), specifically Chinook Salmon and Southern Resident orca whales.
Under the CWA, states develop and adopt water quality criteria and are required on a triennial basis to review and revise or develop new criteria if appropriate to protect designated uses (e.g., recreation, wildlife protection). As part of this triennial review process, states are required to consider any recommended new or revised quality criteria published by EPA. States may adopt the criteria that EPA publishes, modify EPA’s criteria to reflect site-specific conditions, or adopt different criteria based on other scientifically-defensible methods. Criteria are a component of water quality standards that inform the development of total maximum daily load (TMDL) calculations, discharge limits in permits, and management of nonpoint sources of pollution, including agricultural run-off. If state criteria are inadequate for the protection of designated uses, EPA may step-in to issue updated criteria, and can be compelled to promulgate criteria by citizen suit action.
NWEA alleges that Washington has failed to adopt HHC or ALC for several toxic pollutants since 1992. In November 2016, EPA published a final rule updating Washington’s HHC for toxics. 81 Fed. Reg. 85417. NWEA asserts that the revised HHC do not address the full spectrum of HHC, as updates for arsenic, dioxin, and thallium were not included. NWEA also argues that updated HHC do not alleviate the ongoing risk to aquatic life from Washington’s inadequate ALC. EPA has not responded to NWEA’s complaint.
It is unclear how EPA will respond to NWEA’s suit. Often a state will work simultaneously to develop its own criteria that will meet EPA approval. Registrants associated with the pesticides at issue should prepare for potentially forthcoming proposals of more stringent criteria. The proposal and promulgation of new criteria is a lengthy process and requires public notice and comment. It may well be at least two years before either EPA or Washington issues proposed updates for ALC. A compilation of the latest EPA recommended ALC is accessible here. The criteria values in the table provide some indication of the direction that may be taken in future updates.
By Susan M. Kirsch
President Trump’s February 28, 2017, Executive Order (E.O.) directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to rescind and replace the Clean Water Rule (CWR) is the latest development in the attempt to resolve the long-standing question of which surface waters and wetlands may be federally regulated and subjected to permitting under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Critics of the CWR assert that it would have drastically expanded the reach of the CWA and created regulatory uncertainty around land features and water features that were not previously considered WOTUS, such as dry creek beds, ditches, and isolated wetlands. Since 2011, pesticide applications into, over, or near WOTUS are permitted under the CWA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program due to a 2009 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruling. Agricultural producers and pesticide applicators have opposed the permitting largely on the grounds that it is duplicative and unnecessary to regulate pesticides applied in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Although the CWR would have arguably expanded the scope of the waters requiring pesticide permitting, the replacement or elimination of the CWR will not end NPDES requirements for pesticides. Opponents continue to push for legislation that would eliminate all CWA permitting for FIFRA-compliant pesticide applications. More details on the NPDES permit for pesticides is available in our blog item EPA Issues Final 2016 NPDES Pesticide General Permit.
Additional information on the anticipated fate of WOTUS, as well as a summary and comparison of some of the key concepts and provisions within the CWR are available in our memorandum What’s Next for “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS)?
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On February 22, 2017, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced it was extending the filing date for applications to register products made from pesticide impregnated materials bearing pesticide claims from March 1, 2017, to July 1, 2017. Specifically, each retailer (or authorized representative) of an affected product must submit an Application for Pesticide Registration (DPR-REG-030) to DPR by July 1, 2017. DPR’s California Notice 2015-13 issued on December 11, 2015, informed pesticide product registrants and stakeholders of DPR’s intention to register products made with pesticide impregnated materials and bearing pesticide claims.
The February 22 notice also states the following in terms of the requirements:
- Each company with products made from pesticide impregnated material and sold under their own company name into or within California is required to register the product(s) as a pesticide;
- The product must bear a federally approved pesticide label; DPR will assign a separate California-only registration number for purposes of tracking sales and use of the products in California;
- Each company will need to obtain at least one registration for each use category of product sold (e.g., the apparel use category includes wearable items such as jackets, shirts, hats, socks, pants, and shorts; the non-apparel use category includes non-wearable items such as bedding, tents, seat covers, chopping blocks, shower curtains, and mouse pads); and
- If items are impregnated with different pesticides or different percentages of the same pesticide, separate registrations will be required.
The requirements set forth in this notice do not apply to products that satisfy the requirements to be a treated article, including the requirement that any claims be related to protection of the article/substance itself. The notice applies instead to those pesticide impregnated materials that include pesticidal claims that are not limited to protection of the material. More information on the December 2015 notice is available in our blog item California Issues Notice Requiring Registration for Products Made From Pesticide Impregnated Materials and Bearing Pesticide Claims.
By Lisa M. Campbell and Margaret R. Graham
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has scheduled a final rule to be published on on January 26, 2017, which will temporarily delay the effective date of certain regulations until March 21, 2017. This final rule is being issued in accordance with the Presidential directive entitled “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” issued January 20, 2017. Among the 30 regulations that meet those criteria is the final rule Pesticides; Certification of Pesticide Applicators, which revises EPA’s regulations concerning the certification of applicators of restricted use pesticides which was scheduled to be effective as of March 6, 2017. The final rule states that it “may consider delaying the effective dates … beyond March 21, 2017,” but in that event, “the Agency would propose any later effective date for public comment.” More information on this final rule is available in our memorandum Final EPA Rule Requires Stronger Standards for Applying Riskiest Pesticides.
By James V. Aidala and Margaret R. Graham
On January 12, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Policy to Mitigate the Acute Risk to Bees from Pesticide Products (Mitigation Policy) which describes methods for addressing acute risks to bees from pesticides. EPA states that this Mitigation Policy is “more flexible and practical than the proposed policy” that was issued on May 29, 2015, and it has “made modifications to its approach with the goal of better targeting compounds that pose an acute risk, and with the goal of reducing potential impact of this effort on growers.” EPA states that it will use its Tier 1 acute risk assessment to, in part, determine the products that trigger concerns about pollinator risk that the label restrictions are intended to address. EPA will begin implementing this Policy in 2017 by sending letters to registrants describing steps that must be taken to incorporate the new labeling. More information on the Mitigation Policy, including its supporting documents, and EPA’s response to comments submitted on the proposed policy, is available on www.regulations.gov under Docket ID EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0818.
Also on January 12, 2017, EPA published preliminary pollinator-only risk assessments for the neonicotinoid insecticides clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, and an update to its preliminary risk assessment for imidacloprid, published in January 2016. EPA states that the preliminary assessments for clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran are similar to the preliminary pollinator assessment for imidacloprid, in that they showed that “most approved uses do not pose significant risks to bee colonies,” but “spray applications to a few crops, such as cucumbers, berries, and cotton, may pose risks to bees that come in direct contact with residue.” As for the updated imidacloprid assessment, EPA states that is looked at potential risks to aquatic species, and identified some risks for aquatic insects. Interested parties will have 60 days to comment on the preliminary risk assessments after notice is published in the Federal Register. In terms of comments, EPA states that it is especially interested in getting input from stakeholders “on the new method for assessing potential exposure and risk through pollen and nectar.” Links to risk assessment dockets for each individual insecticide are available on EPA’s website under Schedule for Review of Neonicotinoid Pesticides. EPA states it is hopes to release the final neonicotinoid risk assessments by mid-2018.
The revised Mitigation Policy has been long in coming since it was first released over eighteen months ago. The delay in revising its approach reflects the complexity of the comments submitted, and EPA’s deliberateness in more finely crafting its policies, given the passage of time and other considerations. This revised policy contains more flexibility and explicit discussion of the need for exceptions to blanket requirements in response to some of the comments received on the earlier proposal. There remains significant public and regulator concern about the possible impacts on pollinators from pesticide use, however, there is currently less of a manic tone to EPA’s statements and actions.
For example, when discussing how EPA will approach changing the labels of the affected universe of pesticide products, there is a much less onerous tone and no specific deadlines for registrants to submit revised labels “or else.” (The 2013 directives to registrants included demands for thousands of revised labels to be submitted within six weeks “or else” -- EPA would take “appropriate action” under FIFRA.) EPA reminds us all that it retains authority to impose these new requirements broadly, a statement that will strike some as regulatory overreach, but the tone and approach is more in line with past EPA “guidance” about how it will approach a new or revised regulatory concern.
Similar to what EPA previously concluded about imidacloprid, where that assessment concluded that the most controversial use -- corn seed treatments -- did not indicate a risk concern, EPA did include in its summary about the other three neonicotinoid pesticides that:
- The assessments for clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran, similar to the preliminary pollinator assessment for imidacloprid showed: most approved uses do not pose significant risks to bee colonies. However, spray applications to a few crops, such as cucumbers, berries, and cotton, may pose risks to bees that come in direct contact with residue.
This might unfairly be summarized as: after years of regulatory analysis EPA has concluded that if insecticides come into direct contact with insects, there is likely to be a risk to the exposed insect.
This conclusion would be too simplistic since EPA and other regulatory bodies have expressed concern about what unintended exposures to insecticides might cause, and more generally the possibility of colony level impacts on honeybee and other pollinator populations from pesticide use. Some critics will continue to insist that EPA broaden its regulatory approach to more than just pesticides used for crops under contracted pollinator services. The broader issue of pesticide drift and possible impacts on non-target species will continue to be a concern for all pesticides.
Perhaps the more deliberate consideration of needed data generation and assessment that seems to be the current approach will allow both more refined regulatory controls if needed, and a reduction in the sometimes hot rhetoric which has accompanied the pollinator issues.
Lastly, although this revised Mitigation Policy and the three new preliminary assessments are not unexpected next steps as part of the ongoing registration review program for pesticides, given their very late release -- less than ten days before the arrival of a new Administration -- some might question whether this is part of the “midnight regulations” pushing the political agenda of the outgoing Administration. The new leadership may revise what has been released, and may come to different conclusions about any needed restrictions. That said, the issue of whether certain pesticides are having a dangerous impact on honeybee populations will continue to be a concern for regulators both in the U.S. and globally.
By Margaret R. Graham
On November 29, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the issuance of its new guidance for testing pesticides designed to reduce animal testing for acute dermal toxicity for pesticides, Guidance for Waiving Acute Dermal Toxicity Tests for Pesticide Formulations & Supporting Retrospective Analysis, in final. This guidance was issued as part of the Office of Pesticide Programs’ (OPP) Strategic Vision for implementing the 2007 National Research Council’s report on Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century.
OPP states that it “receives about 200-300 dermal formulation toxicity tests annually, each of which generally use 10 animals per test,” and “[w]e expect this waiver guidance to save 2,500 or more laboratory animals every year.” Further, as described in OPP Director Jack Housenger’s March 17, 2016, letter to stakeholders, “[t]his new policy represents significant progress toward EPA’s goal of significantly reducing the use of animals in acute effects testing.”
More information on OPP’s Strategic Direction for Adopting 21st Century Science Methodologies is available on EPA’s website and in our blog item EPA’s OPP Releases Guidance Documents Related to Strategic Vision for Adopting 21st Century Science Methodologies.