Any person complaining of any violation of any provision of section 499b of this title by any commission merchant, dealer, or broker may, at any time within nine months after the cause of action accrues, apply to the Secretary by petition, which shall briefly state the facts, whereupon, if, in the opinion of the Secretary, the facts therein contained warrant such action, a copy of the complaint thus made shall be forwarded by the Secretary to the commission merchant, dealer, or broker, who shall be called upon to satisfy the complaint, or to answer it in writing, within a reasonable time to be prescribed by the Secretary.
A person submitting a petition to the Secretary under paragraph (1) shall include a filing fee of $60 per petition. If the Secretary determines under paragraph (1) that the facts contained in the petition warrant further action, the person or persons submitting the petition shall submit to the Secretary a handling fee of $300. The Secretary may not forward a copy of the complaint to the commission merchant, dealer, or broker involved until after the Secretary receives the required handling fee. The Secretary shall deposit fees submitted under this paragraph into the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Fund provided for by section 499c(b) of this title. The Secretary may alter the fees specified in this paragraph by rulemaking under section 553 of title 5.
Any officer or agency of any State or Territory having jurisdiction over commission merchants, dealers, or brokers in such State or Territory and any other interested person (other than an employee of an agency of the Department of Agriculture administering this chapter) may file, in accordance with rules prescribed by the Secretary, a written notification of any alleged violation of this chapter by any commission merchant, dealer, or broker. In addition, any official certificates of the United States Government or States or Territories of the United States and trust notices filed pursuant to section 499e of this title shall constitute written notification for the purposes of conducting an investigation under subsection (c). The identity of any person filing a written notification under this subsection shall be considered to be confidential information. The identity of such person, and any portion of the notification to the extent that it would indicate the identity of such person, are specifically exempt from disclosure under section 552 of title 5 (commonly known as the Freedom of Information Act), as provided in subsection (b)(3) of such section.
If there appears to be, in the opinion of the Secretary, reasonable grounds for investigating a complaint made under subsection (a) or a written notification made under subsection (b), the Secretary shall investigate such complaint or notification. In the course of the investigation, if the Secretary determines that violations of this chapter are indicated other than the alleged violations specified in the complaint or notification that served as the basis for the investigation, the Secretary may expand the investigation to include such additional violations.
In the opinion of the Secretary, if an investigation under this subsection substantiates the existence of violations of this chapter, the Secretary may cause a complaint to be issued. The Secretary shall have the complaint served by registered mail or certified mail or otherwise on the person concerned and afford such person an opportunity for a hearing thereon before a duly authorized examiner of the Secretary in any place in which the subject of the complaint is engaged in business. However, in complaints wherein the amount claimed as damages does not exceed $30,000, a hearing need not be held and proof in support of the complaint and in support of respondent’s answer may be supplied in the form of depositions or verified statements of fact.
Whenever the Secretary initiates an investigation on the basis of a written notification made under subsection (b) or expands such an investigation, the Secretary shall promptly notify the subject of the investigation of the existence of the investigation and the nature of the alleged violations of this chapter to be investigated. Not later than 180 days after providing the initial notification, the Secretary shall provide the subject of the investigation with notice of the status of the investigation, including whether the Secretary intends to issue a complaint under paragraph (2), terminate the investigation, or continue or expand the investigation. The Secretary shall provide additional status reports at the request of the subject of the investigation and shall promptly notify the subject of the investigation whenever the Secretary terminates the investigation.
After opportunity for hearing on complaints where the damages claimed exceed the sum of $30,000 has been provided or waived and on complaints where damages claimed do not exceed the sum of $30,000 not requiring hearing as provided herein, the Secretary shall determine whether or not the commission merchant, dealer, or broker has violated any provision of section 499b of this title.
In case a complaint is made by a nonresident of the United States, or by a resident of the United States to whom the claim of a nonresident of the United States has been assigned, the complainant shall be required, before any formal action is taken on his complaint, to furnish a bond in double the amount of the claim conditioned upon the payment of costs, including a reasonable attorney’s fee for the respondent if the respondent shall prevail, and any reparation award that may be issued by the Secretary of Agriculture against the complainant on any counter claim by respondent: Provided, That the Secretary shall have authority to waive the furnishing of a bond by a complainant who is a resident of a country which permits the filing of a complaint by a resident of the United States without the furnishing of a bond.