FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.
529 U.S. 120 (2000)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1999

Syllabus

FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION ET AL. v. BROWN & WILLIAMSON TOBACCO CORP. ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

No. 98-1152. Argued December 1, 1999-Decided March 21, 2000

The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA or Act), 21 U. S. C. § 301 et seq., grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as the designee of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), the authority to regulate, among other items, "drugs" and "devices," §§ 321(g)-(h), 393. In 1996, the FDA asserted jurisdiction to regulate tobacco products, concluding that, under the FDCA, nicotine is a "drug" and cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are "devices" that deliver nicotine to the body. Pursuant to this authority, the FDA promulgated regulations governing tobacco products' promotion, labeling, and accessibility to children and adolescents. The FDA found that tobacco use is the Nation's leading cause of premature death, resulting in more than 400,000 deaths annually, and that most adult smokers begin when they are minors. The regulations therefore aim to reduce tobacco use by minors so as to substantially reduce the prevalence of addiction in future generations, and thus the incidence of tobacco-related death and disease. Respondents, a group of tobacco manufacturers, retailers, and advertisers, filed this suit challenging the FDA's regulations. They moved for summary judgment on the ground, inter alia, that the FDA lacked jurisdiction to regulate tobacco products as customarily marketed, that is, without manufacturer claims of therapeutic benefit. The District Court upheld the FDA's authority, but the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that Congress has not granted the FDA jurisdiction to regulate tobacco products. The court concluded that construing the FDCA to include tobacco products would lead to several internal inconsistencies in the Act. It also found that evidence external to the FDCA-that the FDA consistently stated before 1995 that it lacked jurisdiction over tobacco, that Congress has enacted several tobacco-specific statutes fully cognizant of the FDA's position, and that Congress has considered and rejected many bills that would have given the agency such authority-confirms this conclusion.

Held: Reading the FDCA as a whole, as well as in conjunction with Congress' subsequent tobacco-specific legislation, it is plain that Congress has not given the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products as customarily marketed. Pp. 131-161.


121

(a) Because this case involves an agency's construction of a statute it administers, the Court's analysis is governed by Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837, under which a reviewing court must first ask whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue, id., at 842. If so, the court must give effect to Congress' unambiguously expressed intent. E. g., id., at 843. If not, the court must defer to the agency's construction of the statute so long as it is permissible. See, e. g., INS v. Aguirre-Aguirre, 526 U. S. 415, 424. In determining whether Congress has specifically addressed the question at issue, the court should not confine itself to examining a particular statutory provision in isolation. Rather, it must place the provision in context, interpreting the statute to create a symmetrical and coherent regulatory scheme. Gustafson v. Alloyd Co., 513 U. S. 561, 569. In addition, the meaning of one statute may be affected by other Acts, particularly where Congress has spoken subsequently and more specifically to the topic at hand. See, e. g., United States v. Estate of Romani, 523 U. S. 517, 530-531. Finally, the court must be guided to a degree by common sense as to the manner in which Congress is likely to delegate a policy decision of such economic and political magnitude to an administrative agency. Cf. MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. American Telephone & Telegraph Co., 512 U. S. 218, 231. Pp. 131-133.

(b) Considering the FDCA as a whole, it is clear that Congress intended to exclude tobacco products from the FDA's jurisdiction. A fundamental precept of the FDCA is that any product regulated by the FDA that remains on the market must be safe and effective for its intended use. See, e. g., § 393(b)(2). That is, the potential for inflicting death or physical injury must be offset by the possibility of therapeutic benefit. United States v. Rutherford, 442 U. S. 544, 556. In its rulemaking proceeding, the FDA quite exhaustively documented that tobacco products are unsafe, dangerous, and cause great pain and suffering from illness. These findings logically imply that, if tobacco products were "devices" under the FDCA, the FDA would be required to remove them from the market under the FDCA's misbranding, see, e. g., § 331(a), and device classification, see, e. g., § 360e(d)(2)(A), provisions. In fact, based on such provisions, the FDA itself has previously asserted that if tobacco products were within its jurisdiction, they would have to be removed from the market because it would be impossible to prove they were safe for their intended use. Congress, however, has foreclosed a ban of such products, choosing instead to create a distinct regulatory scheme focusing on the labeling and advertising of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Its express policy is to protect commerce and the national economy while informing consumers about any adverse health effects.


122
Full Text of Opinion

Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.