States' suit against California egg law dismissed

Judge dismisses commerce constitutionality challenges of California egg law.

A lawsuit brought by six states challenging the constitutionality of California’s egg law was dismissed by a district judge, leaving out-of-state egg producers required to comply with California’s egg production standards mandated after they approved Proposition 2.

The states of Missouri, Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Oklahoma said the 2010 law was an unconstitutional violation of interstate commerce and usurped the supremacy of federal law. They estimated a cost of $120 million to remodel laying houses to meet California standards and said the state unfairly was imposing burdens on farmers outside its borders.

The Commerce Clause prohibits any state from enacting legislation that regulates conduct wholly outside its borders, protects its own citizens from out-of-state competition, or places undue burdens on interstate commerce.  However, the judge challenged the states were acting on behalf of their egg farmers, not the entire state.

The judge challenged that the state’s complaint and arguments made at the hearing “lack standing to bring this action on behalf of each state’s egg farmers.” The only citizens who may have to spend $120 million to comply with California’s legislation are the egg farmers who intend to participate in California’s egg market, the judge said. “Likewise, the only citizens who may be ‘govern[ed]’ by California’s legislation are egg producers and handlers who intend to sell eggs in California,” the court opinion noted.

Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The Humane Society of the United States, said HSUS is delighted that the judge dismissed the case and ordered that it can’t be filed again. “The Judge's opinion not only found that [Missouri] Attorney General Koster and the other attorneys general do not even have standing to file their case, but that their entire theory for why California's food safety and hen protection law will harm egg farmers is totally without merit.”

A spokesperson from the Missouri Attorney General’s office, said in an email: “We disagree with the federal court’s opinion that Missouri lacks standing to defend its businesses and consumers against burdensome economic regulation imposed by out-of-state legislatures. We are reviewing our options for further proceedings to resolve the important constitutional questions raised by this suit and left unanswered by the court’s summary dismissal.”

California’s legislation governing the sale of shell eggs, scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2015, bans the sale of shell eggs within California by producers or handlers if the egg-laying hen was confined in an enclosure that fails to comply with certain animal care standards.

United Egg Producers president and chief executive officer Chad Gregory said while the decision to dismiss the lawsuit is an important development, it leaves the egg farming community largely where it began – with the need to proceed toward the effective date.

“UEP remains concerns about the impact of these laws and regulations, which have the potential to affect interstate commerce and the overall egg market, on egg farmers both in California and across the country,” Gregory said. He added UEP will continue to be a resource for farmers and stakeholders as the process evolves and the laws and regulations take effect.

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