Supreme Court affirms federal preemption in Calif. case

Michael P. Tremoglie Jan. 24, 2012, 8:49am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The United States Supreme Court again has affirmed that federal law preempts state law in the case of the National Meat Association v. Harris, Attorney General California et al.

In the Monday ruling, the Court reversed, in a unanimous decision, again, a U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit ruling. The Ninth, located in California, is the most reversed appeals court in the nation.

Justice Elena Kagan said in her opinion that the Federal Meat Inspection Act regulates the processing of livestock for human consumption. The issue was whether the FMIA expressly preempts a California law dictating what slaughterhouses must do in certain instances.

The National Meat Association, an industry organization, sued the state of California because it applied a state law regarding nonambulatory animals (animals that cannot walk and therefore may be considered diseased). California was fining slaughterhouses for violations of the state law.

The district dourt ruled that the California law was preempted by the FMIA. But the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court claiming that the state law only regulates the kind of animal to be slaughtered and not the process itself.

"The FMIA's preemption clause sweeps widely-and in so doing, blocks the applications ... challenged here," Kagan wrote. "The clause prevents a State from imposing any additional or different-even if non-conflicting-requirements that fall within the scope of the Act and concern a slaughter­house's facilities or operations. ...

"In essence, California's statute substitutes a new regulatory scheme for the one the FSIS uses. Where under federal law a slaughterhouse may take one course of action ...under state law the slaughterhouse must take another."

The Court concluded that the FMIA regulates slaughterhouses' handling and treatment of the animals from the moment of their delivery through the end of the production process. California's state law regulates the same process but imposes different requirements.

"The FMIA expressly preempts such a state law," Kagan wrote.

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