U.S. Supreme Court building
WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)- A New Jersey woman can sue a tuna fish producer over the mercury poisoning she allegedly suffered from eating the company's canned albacore tuna, the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday.
Deborah Fellner, whose diet consisted almost exclusively of canned tuna for five years, sued Tri-Union Seafoods LLC, the maker of Chicken of the Sea brand tuna, for failing to warn her of the dangers of eating its tuna fish product.
She sued under the New Jersey Product Liability Act over her alleged exposure to methylmercury and other harmful compounds contained in Chicken of the Sea tuna fish products from 1999 to 2004.
The San Diego, Calif.-based company said it was not responsible for her claimed illness, arguing that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not consider canned tuna fish worthy of mercury warnings to consumers.
U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Cavanaugh threw out the lawsuit, but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the class action.
"State law is not pre-empted whenever an agency has merely 'studied' or 'considered' an issue; state law is pre-empted when federal law conflicts with state law," 3rd U.S. Circuit Senior Judge Walter Stapleton wrote for the appeals court.
Tri-Union asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Without comment, the justices allowed the appeals court ruling to stand.
In its defenses, the company referenced a 2005 letter the FDA sent former California Attorney General Bill Lockyer that said state-mandated mercury warning labels were preempted by federal law.
Lockyer was trying to sue three tuna companies, including Tri-Union, for not complying with California's Proposition 65, which requires companies and businesses to provide "clear and reasonable" warnings before exposing people to known carcinogens or reproductive toxins.
From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.