Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC

PETITIONER: Dennis Bates, et al.
RESPONDENT: Dow Agrosciences LLC
LOCATION: Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 03-388
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 544 US 431 (2005)
GRANTED: Jun 28, 2004
ARGUED: Jan 10, 2005
DECIDED: Apr 27, 2005

David C. Frederick - argued the cause for Petitioners
Glen Shu - for the Defense Research Institute as amicus curiae
James L. Moore - for the Defense Research Institute as amicus curiae
Lisa Schiavo Blatt -
Lisa S. Blatt - argued the cause for Respondent, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
Matthew W. Caligur - for the Defense Research Institute as amicus curiae
Patrick Lysaught - for the Defense Research Institute as amicus curiae
Seth P. Waxman - argued the cause for Respondent

Facts of the case

A group of peanut farmers in Texas threatened to sue Dow Agrosciences in state court for damages caused by one of Dow's herbicides. The farmers alleged Dow violated Texas labeling requirements. Dow asked a federal district court to rule the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempted and therefore prohibited the farmers' state law claims. The district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled FIFRA expressly prohibited additional state labeling requirements such as Texas'.


Does the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempt farmers' state tort claims alleging that Dow's herbicide damaged crops?

Media for Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 10, 2005 in Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 27, 2005 in Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in Bates versus Dow Agrosciences will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

The Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act which I shall call FIFRA requires that the Environmental Protection Agency register a pesticide before it may be sold in the United States.

Section 136v(b) of FIFRA is a preemption provision that prohibits states from enforcing any requirements for labeling or packaging in addition to or different from those required by FIFRA or the EPA regulations promulgated under the statute.

This case concerns a scope of that provision.

Petitioners are 29 Texas peanut farmers who applied a weed killer called Strongarm through their crops during the 2000 growing season.

Respondent Dow the manufacturer of Strongarm had registered with the EPA earlier that year.

According to the petitioners' allegations Strongarms severely damage their peanut crops.

While Srongarm's label recommended its use "in all areas where peanuts are grown".

Petitioners' claim that Dow knew or should have known that Srongarm would stunt the growth of their peanuts where grown on soils with a PH level of 7.0 or greater.

When petitioners notified Dow in their intent to sue, Dow filed on a declaratory judgment action in Federal District Court alleging that petitioners' state law claim are expressly preempted by 136v(b).

In response petitioners filed counterclaims alleging various causes of actions grounded in Texas Law.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Dow and the Court of Appeals affirmed holding that petitioners' claims were preempted by section 136 because success on those claims would induce Dow to alter its Srongarms label.

This holding was incorrect because 136v(b) speaks only of requirements.

The proper inquiry calls were analysis of the requirements imposed by the state law of rule and issue.

Not for speculation as to whether a jury verdict may prompt a manufacturer to change its label.

A state law requirement is preempted by section 136v(b) only if it satisfies two conditions.

It must be a requirement for labeling or packaging and it must be in addition to or different from FIFRA's labeling requirements.

It is perfectly clear that some of the common law rules upon which petitioners rely do not satisfy the first condition.

Rules that require manufacturers to design reasonably safe products to use do care in conducting appropriate testing of their products to market products free of manufacturing defects and to honor their express warranties or other contractual commitments plainly do not qualify as requirements for labeling or packaging.

None of these common law rules require that manufacturers label or package their products in any particular way.

For this reason petitioners' claims for defective design, defective manufacture, negligent testing and breach of express warranty are not preempted.

Unlike those claims petitioners' fraud and negligence failure to warrant claims are based on common law rules that qualifies as requirements for labeling because those common law rules sets standards for a product's labeling that Dow is alleged to have violated by falsely claiming that Strongarm could be used on all soils.

The enforcement of those state law standards is not however preempted unless they are in addition to or different from a federal standard.

Thus, Section 136v(b) does not preempt state law rules that are equivalent to and fully consistent with FIFRA standards.

Petitioners argue that their fraud and failure to warn claims rely on state rules that are parallel to FIFRA's misbranding positions.

Like the state law rules the federal misbranding provisions prohibits false and misleading statements on pesticide labels and require that labels contain adequate instructions and warnings.

Petitioners may well be correct in contending that the relevant Texas Law does not impose any requirements that are different from or in addition to the federal requirements but we do not decide that issue because it involves the matters of Texas law in which we have not received adequate briefing.

We therefore leave that question open for the Court of Appeals to decide on remand.

Accordingly the judgment of the Fifth Circuit is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.

Justice Breyer has filed a concurring opinion and Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part which Justice Scalia has joined.