National Meat Association v. Harris

PETITIONER:National Meat Association
RESPONDENT:Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California, et al.
LOCATION:Renaissance Square

DOCKET NO.: 10-224
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 565 US (2012)
GRANTED: Jun 27, 2011
ARGUED: Nov 09, 2011
DECIDED: Jan 23, 2012

Benjamin J. Horwich – Assistant to the Solicitor Gen­eral, Department of Justice, for United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Susan K. Smith – Deputy Attorney General of California, for the respondents
Steven J. Wells – for the petitioner

Facts of the case

The National Meat Association contends that the Federal Meat Inspection Act prevents California from imposing its requirements on federally inspected slaughterhouses. In 2008, the state enacted the law after the Humane Society of the United States released a video of so-called downer cows being kicked, electrocuted, dragged with chains and rammed with a forklift at a slaughterhouse. The California law bans slaughterhouses from buying or selling downer cows and from butchering them for human consumption. The measure also requires humane handling of the animals.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to grant a preliminary injunction blocking the law. Although the court said the humane-handling provision probably was pre-empted by federal law, the three-judge panel declined to block it, saying the trade group hadn’t shown its members would suffer “irreparable injury.”


Is a California law requiring slaughterhouses to “immediately euthanize” any nonambulatory animal on its premises preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act?

Media for National Meat Association v. Harris

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 09, 2011 in National Meat Association v. Harris

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 23, 2012 in National Meat Association v. Harris

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

This morning, Justice Kagan has the opinion of the Court in Case 10-224, National Meat Association versus Harris.

Elena Kagan:

The issue in this case is whether a federal statute called the Federal Meat Inspection Act or FMIA preempts a California law to tell slaughterhouses how to deal with so-called nonambulatory animals, meaning animals that cannot walk.

This suit is brought by swine slaughterhouses, so it involves the application of the state law to nonambulatory pigs.

The FMIA, the federal law in this case, is designed to ensure both the safety of meat and the humane handling of animals.

It provides for federal officials to inspect each animal brought to a slaughterhouse to decide whether that animal can be made into food for human consumption.

It also sets out rules for house slaughterhouses are to — are to humanely handle animals at each step of the slaughtering process.

The FMIA, like many federal statutes, has what’s known as a Preemption Clause which prevents the application of certain state laws regulating similar subject matter.

The FMIA’s Preemption Clause sweeps broadly.

It essentially prevents a State from imposing any additional or different requirements concerning a slaughterhouse’s operations, facilities or premises.

The California law at issue here, Section 599f of the State’s penal code requires swine slaughterhouses immediately to euthanize any nonambulatory pig on its premises.

It also prohibits slaughterhouses from buying or receiving such pigs and from processing, butchering or selling their meat.

We hold today that the FMIA’s Preemption Clause forecloses operation of the state law and we therefore reverse the different judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

California’s law at every turn imposes different requirements on swine slaughterhouses than the FMIA does when it comes to handling nonambulatory pigs.

In essence, California statute substitutes a new regulatory scheme for the one the FMIA has established and that is precisely what is forbidden by the FMIA’s Preemption Clause.

Our opinion shows in detail how federal and state law differ in telling slaughterhouses what to do with nonambulatory pigs.

We first look at the situation in which a pig becomes nonambulatory after arrival at the slaughterhouse because of the strains of the slaughtering process itself.

In that circumstance, the state law instructs slaughterhouses to immediately take the pig out of the production process and euthanize it.

Correspondingly, the state law prohibits the slaughterhouse from turning that animal into meat, but the federal law permits a slaughterhouse to keep nonambulatory pigs in the production process so long as they do not suffer from certain serious diseases and the federal law also permits slaughterhouses to butcher, process and sell the meat of those animals, subject to a federal inspector’s approval.

So, California’s law imposes requirements, the FMIA does not.

That’s also true when a pig is delivered to the slaughterhouse in a nonambulatory condition, usually because of harsh transportation conditions.

The California bar — California law bars a slaughterhouse from purchasing or receiving such animals, essentially requiring the slaughterhouse to return the animals to their sender.

The federal law specifically authorizes the slaughterhouse to buy nonambulatory animals and indeed federal law contemplates that a slaughterhouse will accept custody of those animals and send them through the normal inspection process, so here too the state law tells the slaughterhouse one thing, while the federal law tells it another.

Our opinion considers various arguments California has made in defense of its statute.

The most fundamental and the one the Ninth Circuit relied on is that the California law escapes the purview of the FMIA’s Preemption Clause because it regulates only the kind of animal that may be slaughtered rather than the inspection or slaughtering process itself.

We think that is wrong.

Federal law concerns itself with this very same matter.

The FMAI — the FMIA operates to exclude many kinds of animals from the slaughtering process, including nonambulatory cows.

It is true enough that federal law does not ban the slaughter of nonambulatory swine, but that is to say only that federal law and state law differ, not that state law gets to govern.

The long and short of the matter is this.

The FMIA comprehensively regulates the treatment and handling of nonambulatory pigs throughout their time on a slaughterhouse’s premises from the moment a delivery truck arrives with them at the gate.

Elena Kagan:

California’s law regulates the same thing at the same time in the same place.

The federal law, the FMIA therefore preempts it.

We accordingly reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit.

Our opinion is unanimous.