Federal Court of Appeals Upholds Preemption of Local Pesticide Ordinance



This post is not legal advice

As 2016 draws to a close, I thought I would miss an opportunity to write on issues in the state of Hawaii. In the past, I have written posts on another blog on Hawaii counties looking to ban pesticide applications or GMOs. Major seed companies, like Syngenta and Monsanto, look to Hawaii because of the climate. Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal district court’s invalidation of Kauai County’s ordinance that regulated GMOs and pesticide application. The ordinance required notification before utilizing pesticides and mandated buffer zones.

Typically local governments (either cities or counties depending on the governmental structure) have the authority to enact ordinances to promote health, safety, and welfare of its residents. Typically, existing state laws limit this power. In the appeal, the Ninth Circuit found that the ordinance touched upon the same subject matter as Hawaii’s Pesticide Law. The law allowed Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture to establish regulations regarding the use of pesticides in the state.

The Ninth Circuit also disagreed with the county that the Pesticide Law was not comprehensive and found that the law was comprehensive. The overall depth of what the Pesticide Law handled demonstrated it was comprehensive.

The Hawaii legislature intended to create a uniform and exclusive scheme to regulate pesticides in the state according to the Ninth Circuit. In that scheme, the legislature did give counties a role in enforcing the regulations developed by the state. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the state law created a comprehensive statutory scheme that preempted Kauai’s ordinance.

Why should you care about this? Well again, it was an opportunity for me to use photos from Magnum PI (the greatest 1980s TV show ever). But this is a growing area, many counties around the US including one county in Maryland have enacted restrictions on pesticide usage. Although the ruling is not binding on other states, it does demonstrate when a court might find a state law preempts a local ordinance related to pesticide applications. States already have existing pesticide laws that regulate how pesticides can be used in states, but if they are comprehensive enough to preempt local ordinances will depend on how states handle this issue.


Syngenta Seeds, Inc. v. County of Kauai, No. 14-16833, No. 14-16848, 2016 WL 6818862 (9th Cir. Nov. 18, 2016)

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