National Meat Assn. v. Harris
565 U.S. ___ (2012)

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Justia Opinion Summary
Petitioner, a trade association representing meatpackers and processors, sued to enjoin enforcement of a California law against swine slaughterhouses, arguing that the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), 21 U.S.C. 601, et seq., preempted application of the law. The California law dictated what slaughterhouses must do with pigs that could not walk, known in the trade as nonambulatory pigs. The Court concluded that the FMIA regulated slaughterhouses' handling and treatment of nonambulatory pigs from the moment of their delivery through the end of the meat production process. California's law endeavored to regulate the same thing, at the same time, in the same place - except by imposing different requirements. The FMIA expressly preempted such a state law. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remanded for further proceedings.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

NATIONAL MEAT ASSOCIATION v. HARRIS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CALIFORNIA, et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 10–224. Argued November 9, 2011—Decided January 23, 2012

The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), 21 U. S. C. §601 et seq., regulates a broad range of activities at slaughterhouses to ensure the safety of meat and the humane handling of animals. The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which administers the FMIA, has issued extensive regulations to govern the inspection of animals and meat, as well as other aspects of slaughterhouses’ operations and facilities. See 9 CFR §300.1 et seq. The FSIS inspection procedure begins with an “ante-mortem” inspection of each animal brought to a slaughterhouse. If, at that inspection, a nonambulatory animal is found to suffer from a particularly severe disease or condition, it must be classified as “U. S. Condemned” and killed apart from the slaughtering facilities where food is produced. §§309.3, 311.1 et seq. Nonambulatory animals that are not condemned are classified as “U. S. Suspect.” §309.2(b). They are set apart, specially monitored, and “slaughtered separately from other livestock.” §309.2(n). Following slaughter, an inspector decides at a “post-mortem” examination which parts, if any, of the suspect animal’s carcass may be processed into food for humans. See 9 CFR pts. 310, 311. FSIS regulations additionally prescribe methods for handling animals humanely at all stages of the slaughtering process, 9 CFR pt. 313, including specific provisions for the humane treatment of nonambulatory animals, 9 CFR 313.2(d).

          The FMIA’s preemption clause, §678, precludes states from imposing requirements that are “within the scope” of the FMIA, relate to slaughterhouse “premises, facilities and operations,” and are “in addition to, or different than those made under” the FMIA. In 2008, California amended its penal code to provide that no slaughterhouse shall “buy, sell, or receive a nonambulatory animal”; “process, butcher, or sell meat or products of nonambulatory animals for human consumption”; or “hold a nonambulatory animal without taking immediate action to humanely euthanize the animal.” §§599f(a)–(c). Petitioner National Meat Association (NMA), a trade association representing meatpackers and processors, sued to enjoin enforcement of §599f against swine slaughterhouses, arguing that the FMIA preempts application of the state law. The District Court agreed, and granted the NMA a preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that §599f is not preempted because it regulates only “the kind of animal that may be slaughtered,” not the inspection or slaughtering process itself.

Held: The FMIA expressly preempts §599f’s application against federally inspected swine slaughterhouses. Pp. 6−14.

     (a) The FMIA’s preemption clause sweeps widely, and so blocks the applications of §599f challenged here. The clause prevents a State from imposing any additional or different―even if nonconflicting―requirements that fall within the FMIA’s scope and concern slaughterhouse facilities or operations. Section 599f imposes additional or different requirements on swine slaughterhouses: Where under federal law a slaughterhouse may take one course of action in handling a nonambulatory pig, under state law the slaughterhouse must take another. For example, when a pig becomes injured and thus nonambulatory sometime after delivery to a slaughterhouse, §599f(c) prohibits the slaughterhouse from “hold[ing]” the pig without immediately euthanizing it; and §599f(b) prohibits the slaughterhouse from “process[ing]” or “butcher[ing]” the animal to make food. By contrast, the FMIA and its regulations allow a slaughterhouse to hold (without euthanizing) any nonambulatory animal that has not been condemned, and to process and butcher such an animal’s meat, subject to an FSIS official’s approval at post-mortem inspection. Similarly, when a pig is nonambulatory at the time of delivery, §599f(a) prohibits a slaughterhouse from “receiv[ing]” or “buy[ing]” the pig. But the FMIA and its regulations expressly allow slaughterhouses to purchase nonambulatory pigs. See 21 U. S. C. §644; 9 CFR §325.20(c). And the FSIS inspection regime clearly contemplates that slaughterhouses will receive nonambulatory animals. So §599f substitutes a new regulatory regime for the one the FMIA prescribes.

     Respondent Humane Society argues that §599f(a)’s ban on purchasing nonambulatory animals escapes preemption because it would not be preempted if applied to purchases occurring off slaughterhouse premises. But the record does not disclose whether §599f(a) ever applies beyond the slaughterhouse gate, much less how an application of that kind would affect a slaughterhouse’s operations. Moreover, even if the State could regulate off-site purchases, it does not follow that on-site purchases would escape preemption, because the FMIA’s preemption clause expressly focuses on slaughterhouse “premises, facilities and operations.” And while the Humane Society is correct that the FMIA does not normally regulate slaughterhouse sales activities, §599f’s sales ban serves to regulate how slaughterhouses must handle nonambulatory pigs on their premises. Its effect is to make sure that slaughterhouses remove nonambulatory pigs from the production process. It is therefore preempted by the FMIA. Pp. 6−10.

     (b) Also rejected is the broad argument that §599f’s challenged provisions fall outside the FMIA’s scope because they exclude a class of animals from the slaughtering process, while the FMIA extends only to “animals that are going to be turned into meat.” In fact, the FMIA regulates animals on slaughterhouse premises that will never be turned into meat. For example, the Act’s implementing regulations exclude many classes of animals from the slaughtering process, e.g., swine with hog cholera, 9 CFR §309.5(a). The argument that §599f’s exclusion avoids the FMIA’s scope because it is designed to ensure the humane treatment of pigs, rather than meat safety, misunderstands the FMIA’s scope. The FMIA addresses not just food safety, but humane treatment, as well. See, e.g., 21 U. S. C. §§603, 610(b). Pp. 11−14.

599 F. 3d 1093, reversed and remanded.

     Kagan, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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