On December 19, 2017, we blogged about the efforts of several states, including Missouri, to overturn California’s egg regulations by suing California directly in the Supreme Court. A California referendum requires all egg-laying hens in California to have substantially more cage space than is the industry norm.  California egg farmers were understandably concerned about being

On January 16, 2018, we updated our blogging on so-called “ag-gag” laws – statutes designed to prevent undercover recording of unlawful practices on farms and processing centers. On September 15, 2017, we blogged about the Tenth Circuit’s partial overruling of the Utah statute.

The Supreme Court has now denied the cert. petition filed

On March 16, 2017, and June 6, 2017, we blogged about Missouri’s legal challenge to California’s egg rules.  Now, there are two motions pending in the Supreme Court of the United States challenging the California law and a similar law in Massachusetts.

California requires its egg producers to provide substantially more space per egg-laying hen than is the industry standard. Obviously, that significantly raises the cost of producing any single egg.  To protect its producers, California prohibits the sale of eggs from any other state that do not conform to the same space standards.  Federal courts rejected Missouri’s pre-enforcement challenge on the ground that the State had sustained no concrete injury, and did not reach the merits.

In 2016, Massachusetts adopted a similar law via an initiative petition.  The Massachusetts law applies to pigs and veal, in addition to eggs.  Like California, it prohibits the sale in Massachusetts of eggs, pork or veal that does not comply with Massachusetts’ space requirements.

Earlier this month, Missouri joined twelve other states in seeking leave to sue California in an original action in the Supreme Court.  Missouri attached to its proposed complaint a 41-page expert report analyzing the increased costs imposed by California’s regulations.  According to the report, Missouri pays between $18,000 and $76,000 in additional costs to buy eggs for its correctional facilities.  Nationwide, the report estimates that consumers will pay between $227 million and $911 million in additional costs.  Thus, the Missouri complaint alleges both direct injury to the State in the form of higher prices it must pay for eggs and parens patriae injury to Missouri consumers.

The Missouri complaint alleges that the federal Egg Product Inspection Act (EPIA) preempts any state regulation of eggs that are “in addition to or different from” federal regulations issued under the EPIA.  In 2012, in National Meat Association v. Harris, a unanimous Supreme Court held that identical language in the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempted California’s attempt to regulate slaughterhouses.  Missouri also alleges that California’s egg rules violate the dormant commerce clause by effectively subjecting every State to its regulations.
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On June 22, 2017 and September 15, 2017, we blogged about “ag-gag” laws – laws intended to prevent undercover access to agricultural production facilities for the purpose of finding and disclosing unethical behavior. These laws have met with varying fates in the federal courts.

In 2012, the Iowa legislature passed an ag-gag law,

On June 22, 2017, we blogged about the Wyoming “ag gag” statute designed to discourage undercover reporting in animal facilities. The statute prohibited persons from (1) trespassing on private land for the purpose of collecting data; (2) trespassing to collect data; or (3) trespassing to obtain access to public land for such purposes. The District

On June 22, 2017, we blogged about the status of so-called “ag-gag laws” in various states. The purpose of such laws is to prevent undercover exposure of mistreatment of farm animals.  On July 7, 2017, a federal district court held that Utah’s ag-gag law violated the First Amendment.

The Utah statute criminalized four kinds of

For years, animal rights activists have employed various subterfuges to gain access to animal facilities to film or video animal abuses. For example, a reporter will apply for a job at an animal facility and use his/her I-phone to record mistreatment of animals. The adverse publicity generated by these undercover activities has cost many entities millions of dollars and resulted in some bankruptcies.

Several states have enacted so-called “ag gag” laws that attempt in one way or another to limit these underground efforts. These laws typically prohibit film or video of animal or research facilities.  Others prohibit submitting a false employment application as a means of gaining access to such facilities. These laws have met with varying results in court.

Idaho was the first state to enact a modern ag gag law in 2014, following release of a video demonstrating animal abuse at a dairy. The statute creates a new crime: interference with agricultural production. Such interference consists of:

  • Entry into an agricultural facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass.
  • Acquisition of records of such a facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass.
  • Obtaining employment in such a facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass, with intent to injure the facility’s operations.
  • Making audio or video recordings of the operations of such a facility without consent.
  • Intentionally causing injury to the facility, its operations or its property.

Violation is a felony punishable by a year in jail. In addition, the statute provides a private right of action to recover twice the economic injury sustained by the facility.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued to enjoin the statute, arguing that it violated both the First Amendment and equal protection. The District Court agreed with both arguments. It rejected the State’s argument that the First Amendment does not protect false statements. The correct rule, the Court held, is that it does not protect false statements that cause legally cognizable harm. Here, false statements to obtain employment or access do not cause material harm. Disclosure of animal mistreatment may cause material harm, but that is not the direct product of the alleged misrepresentations. The false statements actually serve First Amendment values by exposing misconduct and fostering public debate.
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We had previously posted about the State of Missouri’s petition for certiorari to review California’s requirement that all eggs sold in the State conform to California’s minimum cage requirement for hens.  The Supreme Court has denied the petition.

The basis for the District Court’s and the Ninth Circuit’s dismissal of the case was that Missouri

In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 2, which banned the sale of eggs in California unless the laying hens had a minimum amount of space in which to lay their eggs. Regulations that became effective January 1, 2015, required a minimum of 116 square inches for each hen, approximately twice the space that was standard in the industry.  California egg producers generally complied with the regulations by reducing the number of hens in each cage rather than building expensive new cages.  Since their fixed costs remained the same, the net result was a substantial increase in the unit cost per egg.

In 2010, under pressure from California egg growers, the legislature enacted a statute applying Proposition 2 to all eggs sold in the State of California, regardless of where they were laid. Thus, if a Missouri egg grower wanted to sell into the California market, it would have to comply with the minimum cage size requirement.  It could do so either by doubling the number of cages or accepting a 50% reduction in egg production.  Either alternative would impose substantial financial costs on the grower.

The California legislature attempted to justify the statute on the ground that larger cages meant less stress on the hens, thus reducing the likelihood of salmonella infection. It had to acknowledge, however, that there is little scientific evidence supporting a link between stress and salmonella.  Other parts of the legislative history suggested that the real purpose of the statute was to avoid placing California egg growers at a competitive disadvantage.

About one third of the eggs laid in Missouri are sold in California, making up about 13% of the latter state’s total consumption. Fluctuations in supply and demand during the course of the year make it impossible for growers to set up one operation for California and another operation for everywhere else.  Missouri growers therefore had a choice:  become California compliant by incurring considerable costs which would make their eggs uncompetitive elsewhere; or abandon the California market.
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