A judge has thrown out nearly every count against the University of Minnesota in the case over its new apple, the SweeTango, and ordered the two sides into mediation to discuss the unresolved issues.
The lawsuit was filed last summer by a group of more than a dozen local apple growers who felt the UniversityâÄôs exclusive deal with Pepin Heights Orchard was done secretly and will have crippling effects on the industry.
Under their current arrangement with the University, Pepin Heights has the exclusive rights to market and distribute the Minneiska trees that bear the SweeTango apple. In turn, the orchard distributes a small number of trees to orchards throughout the region to sell to consumers and individual stores but restricts wholesale distribution.
The SweeTango is the brainchild of University apple breeder David Bedford and is a combination of two of the schoolâÄôs other apple creations, the Honeycrisp and the Zestar. Bedford said last fall that he expects the SweeTango to eventually become the most popular variety of apple among consumers. All charges against Bedford, who holds a patent on the apple, were also dropped.
It is this expected popularity that had many growers worried. Some local growers said they even had customers calling about the apples before they received their first tree.
FridayâÄôs ruling by Hennepin County District Judge Lloyd Zimmerman dealt a big blow to the growers by dismissing most of their claims, including all antitrust counts against the University. The growers argued that while the school is an actor of the state, it should be subject to the same laws that a business is when it âÄúdescends into the marketplace.âÄù
Zimmerman, however, disagreed, and said âÄúthe University has never been held subject to MinnesotaâÄôs antitrust laws.âÄù Zimmerman shot down seven claims including monopoly and unreasonable restraint of trade.
One count, alleging the University violated federal procedures by finalizing a deal with Pepin Heights before other orchards even knew they were looking to make a deal, is still on the table.
ZimmermanâÄôs initial ruling in the case wasnâÄôt as kind to Pepin Heights as it was to the University. Three counts of business impropriety remain after FridayâÄôs motion.
The two parties now have 60 days to try and resolve their remaining differences.
U also wants âÄòblacklistâÄô case tossed
While the University received a favorable ruling in one case, the schoolâÄôs legal team was working Friday to have another dismissed.
The Turkish Coalition of America sued the University this winter when the group found its name atop a list of websites deemed âÄúunreliableâÄù by the UniversityâÄôs Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS).
The Coalition alleges freedom of speech and due process violations, as well as defamation. The two parties met in court Friday because the University filed a motion to have all of the charges dismissed.
The CoalitionâÄôs site was listed as unreliable because of its views on the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish government denies that the killing of Armenians in eastern Turkey that began in 1915 should be classified as genocide. About 20 countries worldwide recognize the killings as genocide.
The original warning above the list said, âÄúStudents should not use these sites because of  denial,  support by an unknown organization, or  contents that are a strange mixture of fact and opinion.âÄù
The TCAâÄôs legal team said the case comes down to whether students should be able to choose and vet their own sources or if those decisions should be left up to faculty.
The University, however, argued that that the vetting process is one of the main roles of academics.
And while each side pointed to previous cases in support of their view, both agreed that these circumstances are quite unique in history.
âÄúMaybe itâÄôs time somebody should raise the issue,âÄù U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank said.
The CoalitionâÄôs attorney, Bruce Fein, likened the CHGS list to a professor saying anyone who cites a Republican president as a source would receive an F.
Judge Frank, a Bill Clinton appointee, joked, âÄúThere might just be a few professors that would say that.âÄù
Frank said heâÄôll rule on the dismissal motion within 60 days.