SEC. 69-3-20. Appointment of arbitration council.
(1) The commissioner shall appoint an arbitration council composed of six (6) members to hear and decide each complaint. The Director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, the Director of the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service, the President of the Mississippi Seedsmen's Association, the President of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, and the Alcorn State University Divisional Director of Agriculture and Applied Sciences shall supply to the commissioner a list of four (4) candidates from their respective organizations. The commissioner shall choose one (1) candidate from each organization's list in selecting a council to hear each complaint. On or before January 1 of each year the respective recommending organizations shall submit member recommendations if they want to make changes from their previous recommendations. The commissioner, or his designee, shall be a member of and serve as chairman of the council and he may appoint a secretary for the council. It shall be the duty of the chairman to call the council into session to conduct all meetings and deliberations and to direct all other activities of the council. It shall be the duty of the secretary to keep accurate and correct records of all meetings and deliberations and perform such other duties for the council as directed by the chairman. The commissioner shall prescribe and adopt reasonable rules and regulations governing the arbitration process to include conditions and circumstances associated with seed to which arbitration is applicable.
(2) The purpose of the arbitration council is to assist consumers and seedsmen in determining the validity of complaints made by consumers against seedsmen and recommend cost damages resulting from failure of the seed to properly perform or produce, whether related to specific representations on the label or the labeling, other information on the seed container or conditions attributed to the quality of the seed.
(3) (a) When the department refers a complaint made by a consumer against a seedsman to the arbitration council, the council shall make a full and complete investigation of the matters complained of, and at the conclusion of the investigation, report its findings and make its recommendations of cost damages and file them with the department. Council findings and recommendations may be admissible as evidence in a court of law. When a complaint involving transgenic seeds is filed for arbitration, the seedsman shall furnish the commissioner the technology and procedures necessary to conduct any test to determine whether the seeds will perform as represented by the seedsman. The commissioner shall ensure that all technology and procedural information submitted to the department by the seedsman shall be kept confidential to ensure the proprietary rights of the seedsman. After a final disposition of all judicial proceedings or expiration of any applicable statute of limitation, the commissioner shall return all technology, records, test data or procedural information to the seedsman. In addition, remedies for misappropriation of a trade secret shall be governed by the Mississippi Uniform Trade Secrets Act in Sections 75-26-1 through 75-26-19.
(b) In conducting its investigation the arbitration council or any member or members shall be authorized to examine the consumer on his farming operation of which he complains; to examine the seedsman on his packaging, labeling and selling operation of the seed alleged to be faulty; to conduct an appropriate test of a representative sample of the alleged faulty seed through the facilities of the state and under the supervision of the department when such action is deemed to be necessary; and to hold informal hearings at a time and place designated by the chairman upon reasonable notice to the consumer and the seedsman.
(c) Any investigation made by less than the entire membership of the council shall be made by authority of a written directive by the chairman and the investigation shall be summarized in writing and considered by the council in its findings and in making its recommendations.
(d) If the council holds an informal hearing to allow each party an opportunity to present their side of the dispute, attorneys may be present at the hearings to confer with their clients. However, no attorney may participate directly in the proceedings.
(4) A majority of the six-member council shall constitute a quorum and action by a majority of a quorum shall be the official act of the council.
(5) The commissioner may issue subpoenas to require the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents. Any court of general jurisdiction in this state may enforce compliance with such subpoenas.
(6) The deliberations of the council at which the merits of a seed arbitration claim are under consideration shall not be subject to Section 25-41-1 et seq.
(7) The members of the council shall receive no compensation for the performance of their duties but shall be reimbursed for travel expenses in the manner and amount provided in Section 25-3-41, Mississippi Code of 1972.
(8) In lieu of a hearing by the council, informal hearings for arbitration may be conducted by an independent arbitrator appointed by the commissioner. The consumer filing a complaint or the seedsmen named in the complaint may request arbitration by an independent arbitrator. When a request is made, both parties shall be notified and consent to arbitration by an independent arbitrator. The commissioner shall appoint the arbitrator from a list of six (6) persons who shall be qualified to conduct arbitration proceedings. The commissioner shall publish the lists of qualified arbitrations every other year. The arbitrator appointed by the commissioner shall conduct all proceedings and hearings as provided in Section 69-3-20 and applicable rules and regulations and shall report the findings and recommendations to the commissioner.
SOURCES: Added by Laws 2000, Ch. 623, Sec. 5, HB292, eff. July 1, 2000.