Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Company

RESPONDENT:Clover Leaf Creamery Company
LOCATION:Minnesota State Legislature

DOCKET NO.: 79-1171
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Minnesota Supreme Court

CITATION: 449 US 456 (1981)
ARGUED: Nov 03, 1980
DECIDED: Jan 21, 1981

Harlon L. Dalton – on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal
Kenneth E. Raschke, Jr. – on behalf of the Petitioner
Leonard J. Keyes – on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Minnesota enacted a statute prohibiting the sale of milk and milk products in non-refillable, non-returnable plastic containers. Clover Leaf Creamery sued to overturn the law. A Minnesota District Court found that the statute did not fulfill the legislature’s purpose. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision.


Did the Minnesota statute violate the Commerce clause of Article I or the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 03, 1980 in Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 21, 1981 in Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Company

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

The other case, Minnesota versus Clover Leaf Creamery Company, in 1977, the Minnesota legislature enacted the statute banning the sale of milk and plastic nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers but permitting such sale in other nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers, such as paperboard milk cartons.

And respondents challenged the constitutionality of that statute is violated on the Equal Protection and Commerce Clauses of the Federal Constitution.

The Minnesota Supreme Court sustained the challenge on the equal protection ground without reaching the Commerce Clause challenge.

We granted certiorari and we now reverse.

The Minnesota Legislature recited expressly in a preamble to the act that the purposes of its passage were to promote resource conservation, ease solid waste disposal problems and conserve energy.

And all of the parties are in agreement that these are entirely legitimate state purposes.

The equal protection inquiry has thus narrowed to the inquiry whether the legislative classification distinguishing between plastic and nonplastic nonreturnable milk containers is rationally achieve to the — related rather to achievement of the statutory purposes.

In other words, voluminous evidence bearing on that subject before the Minnesota Legislature prior to enactment of the law and the Minnesota District Court in this proceeding also had voluminous evidence on the question.

We hold however that where as plainly was the case here, there was evidence before the Minnesota Legislature reasonably supporting the classifications even though conflicting with other evidence before the legislature.

Litigants may not procure in validation of the legislation merely by tendering evidence in court that the legislature was mistaken in its choice.

Insofar as the ban of the act is limited to plastic containers, we hold further that this is a case for application of the well settled principle that a legislature, without violating the Equal Protection Clause, need not strike at all evils at the same time or on the same way, but may implement its program step by step adopting regulations that only partially ameliorate a perceived evil and deferring complete elimination of the evil to future regulations.

In other words, the Equal Protection Clause does not deny the State of Minnesota the authority to ban one type of milk container, in this instance plastic, conceded the cause environmental problems, merely because another type paperboard containers already established in the Minnesota market are permitted to continue in use.

The Minnesota Legislature on the record before it could rationally have decided that its ban on plastic might foster greater use of environmentally desirable alternatives.

Although the Minnesota Supreme Court did not address the Commerce Clause challenge, our opinion does so and here also, we hold the challenges without merit.

The statute does not as claimed affect simple protectionism favoring in-state manufacturers and the cardboard container over out-of-state manufacturers of plastic containers.

Rather the statute regulates evenhandedly by prohibiting all milk retailers from selling their products and plastic without regard to whether the milk, the containers of the sellers are from outside the State.

The judgment of the Minnesota Supreme Court is reversed, Justice Powell has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.

Justice Rehnquist took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Justice Brennan.