What Laws Are At Issue?

In 2008, California voters approved the 2008 Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, a ballot initiative requiring that caged hens spend most of their day in spaces large enough to allow the animals to “turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.” The Act banned production and sale of eggs that didn’t meet the requirements, and gave California farmers until 2015 to comply. California egg producers soon raised concerns, however, that the Act would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Thus, in 2010, state legislators expanded the law to bar, in California, the sale of eggs from any hens from any state that were not raised in compliance with California’s standards.

Then in 2016, Massachusetts voters approved a similar law, requiring all eggs sold in the state to come from cage-free hens by 2022. It also bans the sale of pork and veal from animals that are not raised according to new minimum living space requirements.

Supporters of these laws explain that they are about preventing cruelty to animals.

Who Is Challenging The Laws, And Why?

Two lawsuits were filed to challenge the laws in the United States Supreme Court. States bringing claims in both lawsuits were Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Iowa and Nevada were plaintiffs only in the lawsuit against California. South Carolina and West Virginia were plaintiffs only in the lawsuit against Massachusetts.

Both lawsuits alleged violations of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, urging that the laws impose one state’s regulatory standards on people in other states.

The states opposing the California and/or Massachusetts laws argue that the laws effectively regulate the production of meat and/or eggs in their states, with the likely result of economic damage to their farmers, including a significant increase in the costs of egg production, as well as higher prices for consumers and particular harm to low-income consumers.  Indeed, since 2015, California’s egg supply has declined, and prices have gone up.

What Is The Current Status Of The Dispute?

In the two lawsuits, State of Missouri v. State of California and State of Indiana v. State of Massachusetts, the plaintiff states sought leave from the Supreme Court to hear the case directly under the Court’s Article III original jurisdiction, thereby bypassing the federal district courts.  Proceeding straight to the Supreme Court requires the permission of the Court, however, and in January 2019, the Court denied the plaintiffs’ request in both cases.  At least one state attorney general, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, has vowed to continue the fight and pursue other avenues to contest the laws.

For more information on animal welfare laws, please contact Samantha Pattwell at (517) 487-4776 or spattwell@dickinsonwright.com.