What About That Egg Case in California? Let’s Talk About Eggs Man
Updated: Jul 8
In 2008, California voters approved “Prop 2” which banned the use of traditional cage-systems with laying hens and required cages which allow hens to stand, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs. Prop 2 was scheduled to go in to effect Jan. 1, 2015, to give the state’s egg producers time to adapt to the new requirements. At the same time, you can guess that California egg producers would have been at a disadvantage to egg producers in other states who may not require their producers to adopt newer cage systems. To combat this disadvantage, the California legislature passed a law in 2010 which would require out-of-state egg producers to comply with the requirements of Prop 2. As a result of this California law which seeks to put out-of-state producers on the same footing as California’s egg producers, the states of Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Alabama, and Kentucky filed suit in Federal district court in California in 2014.
These states challenged that California’s law violated the U.S. Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause, an implied clause of the constitution’s Commerce Clause. The Commerce Clause states that Congress shall have the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes” (U.S. Const. art. I, § 8). The Dormant Commerce Clause is implied in, or read into, the Commerce Clause and restricts states from passing laws which discriminate against or excessively burden interstate commerce between two or more states. Courts have developed three ways a state can burden interstate commerce: 1) facially discriminate; 2) have a discriminatory intent; and 3) have a discriminatory effect in practice. In analyzing a Dormant Commerce Clause case, courts utilize a balancing test to determine if the burden imposed on interstate commerce is excessive compared to the local benefits.
Ordinarily, I would demonstrate how the Federal district court saw this law applying to one of the three ways, but the court did not consider the Dormant Commerce Clause issue. This will be an interesting case to see decided since the California law imposing the cage requirements on out-of-state egg producers was made to eliminate a competitive advantage Prop 2 provided to out-of-state egg producers.
Instead of deciding on the Dormant Commerce Clause issue, the Federal district court considered if the states had standing to bring the case. I recently reviewed standing in Constitutional Standing: When Can a Party Actually Bring a Suit?. The Federal district court did not agree that the states had parens patriae standing to bring the claims. Parens patriae standing is where a state has quasi-sovereign interests in protecting its citizens’ economic and constitutional rights and the ability to protect the state’s rightful status in the Federal system. The trial court ruled that to have parens patriae standing, a state had to bring the action on behalf of the well-being of their residents in general and not just a small group of egg farmers. The court dismissed the states’ case for lack of standing.
The states are currently appealing this decision before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The American Farm Bureau Federation has recently filed a friend of the court brief (amicus brief) on behalf of the states. You can read the American Farm Bureau Federation’s brief at (http://www.fb.org/legal/files/id_127/2015.3.11%20AFBF%20Amicus%20Brief.pdf). The appeal will be heard later this year.