Dean Milk Co. v. City of Madison,
340 U.S. 349 (1951)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Dean Milk Co. v. City of Madison, 340 U.S. 349 (1951)

Dean Milk Co. v. City of Madison

No. 258

Argued December 7, 1950

Decided January 15, 1951

340 U.S. 349


1. An ordinance of a Wisconsin municipality forbids the sale of milk in the city as pasteurized unless it has been pasteurized and bottled at an approved pasteurization plant within five miles of the center of the city. Appellant, an Illinois corporation engaged in gathering and distributing milk from farms in Illinois and Wisconsin, was denied a license to sell its products within the city solely because its pasteurization plants were more than five miles away.

Held: The ordinance unjustifiably discriminates against interstate commerce, in violation of the Commerce Clause of the Federal Constitution. Pp. 340 U. S. 350-357.

(a) Even in the exercise of its unquestioned power to protect the health and safety of its people, a municipality may not erect an economic barrier protecting a major local industry against competition from without the state if reasonable nondiscriminatory alternatives, adequate to conserve legitimate local interests, are available. P. 340 U. S. 354.

(b) In view of the reasonable and adequate alternatives which are available for the protection of the health and safety of the people of the municipality, the discrimination against interstate commerce inherent in the ordinance violates the Commerce Clause. Pp. 340 U. S. 354-356.

2. A second provision of the ordinance in question forbids the sale of milk, or the importation, receipt or storage of milk for sale, within the city except from a source of supply possessing a permit issued after inspection by city officials, and expressly relieves the city officials from any duty to inspect farms located beyond twenty-five miles from the city. Appellant's attack on the constitutional validity of this provision was dismissed by the state court for want of a justiciable controversy.

Held: as to the issue thus presented, the cause is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with the principles announced in the opinion of this Court. Pp. 340 U. S. 350-351, 340 U. S. 356-357.

257 Wis. 308, 43 N.W.2d 480, reversed.

An ordinance of a Wisconsin municipality regulating the sale of milk was sustained by the State Supreme Court

Page 340 U. S. 350

over appellant's objections to its validity under the Federal Constitution. 257 Wis. 308, 43 N.W.2d 480. On appeal to this Court, reversed and remanded, p. 340 U. S. 357.

Primary Holding

Protecting the health and safety of residents does not allow a city to discriminate against interstate commerce if there are reasonable non-discriminatory alternatives that also can protect legitimate local interests.


Madison, Wisconsin prohibited the sale of pasteurized milk that had not been processed and bottled at an approved plant within five miles of the city. Dean Milk Co., which was based in Illinois, sold milk products in Illinois and Wisconsin. It maintained pasteurization plants that were 65 and 85 miles from Madison. The city did not allow it to sell its milk products as pasteurized there, however, for the sole reason that it had failed to comply with the geographical requirement in the ordinance.



  • Tom C. Clark (Author)
  • Frederick Moore Vinson
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Felix Frankfurter
  • Robert Houghwout Jackson
  • Harold Hitz Burton

The ordinance openly undermines interstate commerce because it is an effort to protect a local industry from competitors outside the area. There are plenty of adequate alternatives that the city reasonably could use to safeguard the health and safety of its residents. For example, it could send inspectors to observe the processes at the distant plants, or it could lawfully prevent milk from being sold in the city that did not meet the standards enforced at its plants. The city could base such a rule on the local ratings provided by the U.S. Public Health Service. Cities and states are not allowed to economically isolate themselves from the rest of the nation.


  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Sherman Minton

Case Commentary

Decided under the dormant Commerce Clause doctrine, this decision examined whether the city had a less restrictive alternative available. Importantly, the law also discriminated against other milk from Wisconsin, so its tightly exclusionary effect placed an especially substantial burden on interstate commerce, and the limited numbers of actors that were benefited by it did not justify that burden.

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