Act 120 opponents ask to restrict participation in lawsuit


BRATTLEBORO -- Two non-governmental organizations should not be given intervener status in a lawsuit against the state of Vermont over Act 120, it's genetically engineered labeling law that was approved this year by the state Legislature.

So contend attorneys for four organizations -- the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the Association of Manufacturers -- in filings to the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. Instead, wrote Matthew B. Byrne, of the Burlington law firm Gravel & Shea, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety should be given official "friend of the court" status.

"Applicants have not identified a concrete interest that warrants party status; nor have they shown that the State would not ‘adequately represent' the interests they profer," wrote Byrne.

He contends VPIRG and CFS have not shown that injured "in a personal or legal way," by the outcome of the case.

"A general interest in vindicating the constitutionality of a state law does not suffice," wrote Byrne. "Applicants try without success to portray their interest as something other than merely political. (T)hey claim an interest in this suit because (1) championing food labeling is a core part of their institutional missions, (2) they were involved in the passage of Act 120, and (3) their members ‘strongly support' the labeling requirement. These are classic amicus interests -- not interests that make them necessary parties ...."

If a party is accepted as an intervener, it becomes a party to the proceedings with the benefits and the burdens of that status, according to a paper written by Susan Kenny, a judge of the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia. Interveners may introduce evidence, call witnesses, cross-examine and exercise any rights of appeal.

Amicus curiae, or a friend of the court, is not required to show any proprietary, material or financial interest in a proceeding, according to Kenny.

An amicus curiae is recognized by all parties in an action of having a strong interest in or views on the subject matter of an action. A friend of the court can file briefs in support of a party but they are not allowed any of the privileges accorded to interveners.

"(These) organizations are not regulated by the statute; their members' interests are speculative, purely ideological, or indistinguishable from those of the general public; and they have failed to identify any practical harm to a concrete, legally protected interest," wrote Byrne.

But in the state's filing, Assistant Attorney General Megan J. Shafritz wrote VPIRG and CFS should receive "limited permissive intervention" allowing them to brief legal issues raised by the parties in filings to the court. VPIRG and CFS should be allowed to "offer briefing on all motions, responses, replies and other filings ...." wrote Shafritz.

Bob Audette can be reached at, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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