Nat’l Meat Ass’n v. Harris

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Preemption
  • Date Filed: November 9, 2011
  • Case #: 10-224
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 559 F.3d 1093 (9th Cir. 2010)
  • Full Text Opinion

PREEMPTION (Whether federal regulations authorized by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (21 U.S.C. § 601, et seq.) that require slaughterhouses to hold nonambulatory animals for observation for evidence of disease preempts a state law that requires such animals be immediately killed.)

The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) contains an express preemption provision prohibiting states from imposing requirements with respect to the premises, facilities, and operations of any federally inspected slaughterhouse establishment that are in addition to, or different than those under the federal Act. It further provides that ante-mortem inspection is required for animals unable to walk for observation prior to slaughter. In response to abuse of cattle, California amended its penal code to criminalize slaughterhouses that fail to immediately euthanize (and bar from human consumption) livestock that are unable stand or walk without assistance. The National Meat Association filed suit against the State of California for injunctive relief barring application of the state law based on federal preemption grounds. The District Court held that California’s statute impermissibly differs from and is in addition to FMIA and, thus, is preempted by federal law. The Ninth Circuit vacated the injunction concluding that FMIA did not expressly preempt the California statue.

Petitioners argue that Congress provided in the statute careful details about animals unable to walk, requiring they be held for examination and treated respectfully before, if any, slaughter for consumption. Petitioners further argue that Congress made it clear the federal system for slaughterhouse operations was exclusive and the California law purports to supersede federal law.

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