Lack of Standing Impacts States’ Ability to Challenge California’s Egg Law

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U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

This post is not legal advice

As the year draws to an end, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has released opinions on two agricultural law cases. I posted recently on the court’s ruling affirming a lower court’s decision to invalidate a local ordinance covering pesticide applications in Hawaii. The next decision is California’s law requiring all eggs sold in the state to meet California animal welfare standards. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the lower court and dismissed the case for lack of standing.

            As I have discussed in earlier posts, standing is important when bringing an action in federal court. To have standing, a plaintiff needs to show:

  1. An injury-in-fact;
  2. The causation relationship between the injury and the action of the defendant; and
  3. The likelihood that the injury can be solved by a favorable decision and is not merely speculative.

In Missouri ex rel. Koster, the plaintiffs, states’ officials from Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, and Iowa. Each state had farmers who sold eggs in the California market and would be forced to comply with the new California animal welfare standards. The states’ officials pointed to increase operating costs to their egg farmers to retrofit existing buildings to meet the California standards as the alleged harm.

In this case, the states’ officials not only have to meet the three standing requirements but two additional requirements. First, the states’ officials had to show an interest apart from the interest of private parties. Second, the states’ officials must express a quasi-sovereign interest. The two additional requirements are due to the theory of parens patriae standing, or standing when a state sues on behalf of its citizens.

In looking at if the states’ officials had expressed an interest different than the egg farmers, the Ninth Circuit agreed the officials had not done this. The officials alleged harm for their egg farmers having to comply with California’s animal welfare standards was not enough to demonstrate parens patriae standing. The alleged damage was not different than the harm alleged by egg farmers, who could bring their action against California. In previous decisions, states had been allowed standing when challenging a law that impacted a large number of its citizens. Here the alleged harm fell on a small group (egg farmers) who could file their action against California.

 

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Photo by James Allan

The states’ officials next alleged that egg prices would fluctuate due to California’s animal welfare laws and impact their citizens. The allegations were that egg prices would increase due to higher costs for modifying facilities to comply with California’s law. At the same time, the states alleged that prices might fall due to producers refusing to comply with California’s law and causing prices to fall in the country. The court found this to be too speculative and not enough to create standing for the states’ officials. Courts had previously been reluctant to find standing when the allegations were too speculative.

 

Finally, the states alleged that the law would cause discrimination against their citizens. The states’ officials had not shown that the law created trade barriers against their citizens. California farmers had to comply with California’s law just like farmers in other states. None of this showed discrimination against their citizens.

The states’ officials failed to show standing and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The Ninth Circuit did reverse the decision to dismiss with prejudice. Dismissing with prejudice would not allow the states’ officials to refile this litigation once new facts are learned (events that would create parens patriae standing).

This decision does not end the dispute against California’s new animal welfare standards. The Ninth Circuit and the district court both highlight that egg farmers in Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, and Missouri could bring a lawsuit against the state of California challenging the constitutionality of California’s animal welfare laws. These egg farmers would have to demonstrate standing, but would not have to meet the additional standards their states had to meet. Egg producers may be able to challenge the constitutionality of the law successfully, but only time will tell on this.

References

Missouri ex rel. Koster v. Harris, No. 14-17111, 2016 WL 6803046 (9th Cir. 2016).

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