After more than six years of litigation, the case by four table grape shippers against the California Table Grape Commission appears to be finally heading for trial.

“Despite a mountain of legal paperwork in this case, we're just now getting to the point where we are finally able to ask the district court to hear evidence,” said Commission President Kathleen Nave. “As we've said from the beginning, once the courts look at the facts, it will be clear that every activity of the commission is constitutional.”

The case against the commission began in 1996 and centers around the claim that the commission's advertising is a violation of freedom of speech for the four dissenting shippers. After the lawsuit was filed, the commission filed a motion to dismiss the case which was granted in 2000. In January of 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that dismissal, sending the case back to federal district court for trial.

Commission's side

While reviewing its legal options, the commission requested and received a stay of the Ninth Circuit ruling pending a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The commission has since determined that the best course of action is to not seek Supreme Court review but instead return to the district court so that a factual record can be developed.

“It is time for the court to hear the commission's side in this case,” said commission lawyer Kendall Manock of Baker, Manock and Jensen in Fresno. “Until now, everything has been based on pre-trial pleadings with nothing but the plaintiffs' allegations.”

No trial date set

Former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman of the Washington D.C. firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering has joined the commission's legal team to assist in the case. “Although the Ninth Circuit granted a stay pending the commission's filing of a certiorari petition, we have determined that the appropriate course is to return to the district court for further proceedings,” said Waxman. “The only issue before the Ninth Circuit was whether the district court properly dismissed the plaintiff's actions at the threshold, prior to full development of the factual record and the commission's legal defenses. The Ninth Circuit held that dismissal was inappropriate, and the case therefore now must return to the district court, where we look forward to working to fully litigate the commission's defenses.”

No date has been set for the case to resume in the trial court. “As this case has already made clear, legal proceedings are a long process,” said Nave. “As we have said from the beginning, we will continue to do our job of promoting fresh California grapes while this goes through the courts.”

The California Table Grape Commission is the promotional arm of the state's fresh grape industry and its more than 600 farmers. The commission promotes fresh California grapes in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide.