Unfair Practices by Handlers of Fruits and Vegetables.
§ 106-496. Protection against unfair trade practices.
The Board of Agriculture is hereby authorized to make such rules and regulations as it deems necessary to protect producers of fruits and vegetables from loss caused by financial irresponsibility and unfair, harmful or unethical trade practices of handlers who incur financial liability for the purchase or production of fruits and vegetables. A "handler," as used herein, is a person, firm, corporation or other legal entity or his agent or employee who enters into a written contract for the purchase from or production by a producer of fruits and vegetables. (1941, c. 359, s. 1; 1971, c. 1064, s. 1.)
§ 106-497. Permits required.
A handler of fruits and vegetables shall not enter into a written contract with a producer until he obtains a written permit from the Commissioner of Agriculture. The Board of Agriculture may prescribe by regulation the form of the application for a permit, the information to be furnished to the Commissioner by the applicant for a permit and the date for filing the application. A permit shall not be issued until the applicant files on or before the date set by the Board a written request with the Commissioner and files with the request two copies of the applicant's proposed contract. A penalty of twenty-five dollars ($25.00) shall be paid by the applicant if the application is filed after the date established by the Board and no permit shall be issued until such penalty is paid. Any penalties collected by the Commissioner shall be used to help defray the costs of administering Article 44 of Chapter 106.
This Article shall not apply to transactions by a handler with a producer on a cash basis. "Cash" as used herein shall include bank bills, checks drawn on banks and bank notes. (1941, c. 359, s. 2; 1971, c. 1064, s. 2.)
§ 106-498. Bond required.
No permit shall be issued to a handler until such handler has furnished the Commissioner of Agriculture a bond satisfactory to the Commissioner in an amount of not less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000). The Commissioner may require a new bond or he may require the amount of any bond to be increased if he finds it necessary for the protection of the producer. Such bond shall be payable to the State and shall be conditioned upon the fulfilling of all financial obligations incurred by the handler with all producers with whom the handler contracts. Any producer alleging any injury by the fraud, deceit, willful injury or failure to comply with the terms of any written contract by a handler may bring suit on the bond against the principal and his surety in any court of competent jurisdiction and may recover the damages found to be caused by such acts complained of. (1941, c. 359, s. 3; 1967, c. 154; 1971, c. 1064, s. 3.)
§ 106-499. Contracts between handlers and producers; approval of Commissioner.
All contracts filed with the Commissioner by an applicant shall be approved by the Commissioner before a permit is issued. The Commissioner may withhold his approval in his discretion if he is of the opinion that the contract is illegal or unfair to the producer, or that the contractor is insolvent or financially irresponsible, or if for any other cause it reasonably appears to him that the contract in question might defeat the purpose of this Article. (1941, c. 359, s. 4; 1971, c. 1064, s. 4.)
§ 106-500. Additional powers of Commissioner to enforce Article.
In order to enforce this Article, the Commissioner of Agriculture, upon his own motion or upon the verified complaint of any producer, shall have the following additional powers:
(1) To inspect or investigate transactions for the sale or delivery of fruits and vegetables to persons acting as handlers; to require verified reports and accounts of all authorized handlers; to examine books, accounts, memoranda, equipment, warehouses, storage, transportation and other facilities, fruits and vegetables and other articles connected with the business of the handlers; to inquire into failure or refusal of any handlers to accept produce under his contracts and to pay for it as agreed;
(2) To hold hearings after due notice to interested parties and opportunity to all to be heard; to administer oaths, take testimony and issue subpoenas; to require witnesses to bring with them relevant books, papers, and other evidence; to compel testimony; to make written findings of fact and on the basis of these findings to issue orders in controversies before him, and to revoke the permits of persons disobeying the terms of this Article or of rules, regulations, and orders made by the Board or the Commissioner. Any party disobeying any order or subpoena of the Commissioner shall be guilty of contempt, and shall be certified to the superior court for punishment. Any party may appeal to the superior court from any final order of the Commissioner;
(3) To issue all such rules and regulations, with the approval of the Board, and to appoint necessary agents and to do all other lawful things necessary to carry out the purposes of this Article.
(4) This Article will not apply to peanuts and corn grown under contract for seed purposes. (1941, c. 359, s. 5; 1971, c. 1064, ss. 5, 6.)
§ 106-501. Violation of Article or rules made misdemeanor.
Any person who violates the provisions of this Article or the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. (1941, c. 359, s. 6; 1993, c. 539, s. 792; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c).)