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Subject 40-12-6 SEED ARBITRATION

Rule 40-12-6-.01 Scope of Arbitration

(1) Pursuant to Code section 2-11-70, arbitration of complaints of seed and commercial fruit and nut tree purchasers against seed and commercial fruit and nut tree sellers relating to the quality and performance of the seed and the identity of the variety of fruit and nut trees is mandatory as a prerequisite to the purchaser's right to maintain a legal action against the seller. The Seed Arbitration Council, as established in Code section 2-11-74, shall investigate, hold informal hearings, make findings and render recommendations in the nature of arbitration proceedings where damages suffered by seed and commercial fruit and nut tree purchasers are caused by the alleged failure of the seed to perform as represented or to conform to the description of the labeling thereof as required by law or to be the variety of fruit or nut tree represented by the seller. Pursuant to Code section 2-11-76, findings and recommendations of the Council are not required to be accepted by either the purchaser or seller of seed or commercial fruit or nut trees and are not admissible as evidence in litigation. However, in any litigation involving a complaint which has been the subject of arbitration, any party may introduce Arbitration Council investigations and proceedings as the court may see fit.
(2) For the purpose of Seed Arbitration, "seed" is defined as stated in the Georgia Seed Law, Code section 2-11-21.
(3) For the purposes of Chapter 40-12-6 concerning commercial fruit and nut tree arbitration, the application of the term "seed" shall also apply to commercial fruit and nut trees.
(4) The use of a disclaimer or denial of warranty clause on any invoice, advertisement, label or labeling, or any other written, printed or graphic matter used in conjunction with the distribution of any seed shall not relieve or exempt any person from any provisions of seed arbitration according to the Georgia Seed Law.

Rule 40-12-6-.02 Label Notice

(1) The label or invoice language setting forth the requirement for filing an arbitration complaint under the Georgia Seed Law shall substantially comply with the format of the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law (RUSSL) of the Association of American Seed Control Officials (AASCO). A label or invoice notice in the following language or its equivalent shall be considered to be in compliance with O.C.G.A. 2-11-72(a).

NOTICE OF REQUIRED ARBITRATION

Under the seed laws of several states arbitration is required as a prerequisite to maintaining a legal action against the seller of the seed in any dispute relating to the quality or performance of the seed sold. The purchaser shall file a complaint along with the required filing fee (where applicable) with the Commissioner or Chief Agricultural Officer within such time as to permit inspection of the crops, plant or trees by the designated agency and the seedsman from whom the seed was purchased. A copy of the complaint shall be sent to the seller by certified or registered mail or as otherwise provided by state statute.

(2) Additional information may be included for the purpose of providing more uniform labeling among the various states.

Rule 40-12-6-.03 Council Members' Tenure

(1) In order to provide continuity of experience within the Seed Arbitration Council, members and alternates appointed in 1994 by the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, the University of Georgia Experiment Stations and the Georgia Department of Agriculture shall have four (4) year terms expiring December 31, 1997. Members and alternates appointed in 1994 by the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation and the Georgia Seedsmen's Association shall have two (2) year terms expiring December 31, 1995. Thereafter, terms of all members and alternates shall be four (4) years. Notwithstanding the above, each member and alternate shall serve at the pleasure of and until their replacement is recommended by their appointing official.
(2) Each alternate may attend any council meeting or hearing but shall serve only in the absence of the member for which he or she is the designated alternate.
(3) Unexpired terms of members or alternates shall be refilled as soon as possible through appointment by their appointing official.
(4) Members and alternates may be reappointed after completion of any specified term.

Rule 40-12-6-.04 Investigative Procedures

(1) Investigations of seed complaints officially filed shall be conducted only by Seed Arbitration Council members, alternates or persons designated by the Council.
(2) The Seed Arbitration Council shall assemble and record all available facts pertinent to a seed complaint officially filed and shall obtain an official seed sample(s) for reference when available.
(3) Investigations of seed complaints officially filed shall include:
(a) Examination and evaluation of complainant's farming operation, including inspection of the affected crop in the field, the recording of crop field conditions, the taking of plant counts and photographs as appropriate and the completion of a written report thereon.
(b) Examination of seed seller's records pertaining to the seed lot in question, including seed conditioning, seed packaging and labeling and completion of a written report thereon.
(c) If a seed sample is available, varietal grow-out, pathological assay, or other evaluation as appropriate.

Rule 40-12-6-.05 Hearing Procedures

(1) The Secretary of the Council shall be responsible for setting the tentative hearing date pursuant to Code section 2-11-75.
(2) Prior to scheduled hearings, the Secretary shall provide Council members and alternates with all seed complaint correspondence and investigation records.
(3) The informal hearing process shall provide a setting where each party involved in a seed dispute will be afforded the opportunity to present its side directly to the Council.
(4) Within ten (10) days of receipt of a response from the seller, the Council shall schedule an informal hearing. Notice shall be sent by certified or registered mail to all parties at least two (2) weeks prior to the scheduled hearing date.
(5) Four (4) members and/or alternates shall constitute a quorum and such quorum shall be present for the conducting of all Council business.
(6) All hearings shall be recorded and may be transcribed at the discretion of and upon vote of the Council.
(7) Attorneys may be present at hearings, but shall not participate directly in the hearing.
(8) The following guidelines are recommended for hearing agendas but are not required:
(a) Call to Order by Chairperson or Acting Chairperson.
(b) Introductory remarks and reading of written complaint by Chairperson or other designated member.
(c) Complainant is provided opportunity to describe complaint, present relevant facts and present written estimate of loss.
(d) Seed seller(s) is provided opportunity to present response to seed complaint including presentation of relevant facts.
(e) Council members and/or alternates are provided opportunity to report field observations and present written report.
(f) Agricultural specialists assigned to investigate seed quality and crop are provided opportunity to present their report.
(g) Council members or serving alternates are provided opportunity to examine complainant or seller and obtain any other pertinent information relating to the complaint.
(h) Council receives and reviews any varietal grow-out test, pathological assays, or other evaluations, as required.
(i) Opportunity given for Council members and/or alternates and other participants to ask questions for clarification.
(j) All participants other than Council members and alternates are dismissed and Council deliberates on complaint and formulates recommendation in closed session.
(k) Council transmits findings and recommendations to the Commissioner within thirty (30) days of the hearing date. In such report, the council may make any recommendations it deems fair and equitable under the circumstances presented. These recommendations are up to the discretion of the council and may include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. That no action be taken;
2. That money damages be paid to the purchaser as a result of the alleged failure of the seed to conform to or perform as represented by the seed label, container, or invoice; or that money damages be paid to the purchaser of a commercial fruit or nut tree(s) as a result of the alleged failure of the tree(s) to be the variety represented to the purchaser. Such damages shall not be less than three times the purchase price in the case of fruit trees or six times the purchase price in the case of nut trees;
3. That the seller reimburse the purchaser for the amount of the filing fee paid to enter the arbitration process; or
4. Such other recommendation found by the council to be fair and equitable to the parties.
(l) The Commissioner transmits the Council's findings and recommendations to the affected parties by certified or registered mail.
(m) Within thirty (30) days of the date the Commissioner mails the Council's decision to the purchaser and seller, the purchaser and seller shall give written notice to the Commissioner of their acceptance or rejection of the Council's recommendations.
(n) The Commissioner shall notify each party to the complaint of the acceptance or rejection by the purchaser and seller. If the Council's recommendations are rejected, the complainants are to be notified of their right to pursue legal action.