Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Company

PETITIONER: Ruckelshaus
RESPONDENT: Monsanto Company
LOCATION: Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 83-196
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 467 US 986 (1984)
ARGUED: Feb 27, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1984

A. Raymond Randolph Jr. - on behalf of Appellee
A. Raymond Randolph, Jr. - on behalf of appellee
Lawrence G. Wallace - on behalf of Appellant

Facts of the case


Media for Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1984 in Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Company

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Wallace, you may proceed when you're ready.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This is an appeal from a district court judgment declaring unconstitutional and enjoining the enforcement of key provisions of FIFRA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, the Act under which EPA regulates the marketing and use of what are now known collectively as pesticides, although at one time in the federal statutes they were referred to as economic poisons.

Under FIFRA an EPA registration, which is essentially a license, is required in order to market a pesticide, and in determining whether to issue the registration EPA determines whether there will be unreasonable adverse effects on the environment, and makes that determination partially by consideration of health and safety test data which is either submitted by the applicant or cited by the applicant.

The provisions struck down by the district court are those that permit EPA to consider the health and safety data submitted by one applicant and cited by a subsequent applicant in support of the application for registration by the subsequent applicant, while requiring that subsequent applicant, if the registration is granted, to compensate the first applicant for a portion of the cost of conducting the tests, and provisions requiring EPA to disclose this health and safety data to qualifying members of the public.

The court also declared unconstitutional the provisions providing for a scheme of compulsory arbitration if the two applicants are unable to agree or the terms of compensation, but the parties are in agreement that that provision was not ripe for review by the district court for reasons stated in the briefs, and I won't refer further to that aspect of the case.

In many ways this decision is reminiscent of the constitutional litigation of the 1920's and the 1930's and again three terms ago in the Surface mining Act cases.

In striking down this major Congressional regulatory effort, the district court articulated its holding to be that Congress had exceeded its powers under the commerce clause.

Now, interstate commerce obviously is substantially affected by this industry--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Wallace, don't you think the district court meant that Congress had exceeded its powers unless it wanted to pay compensation?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

--Well, that is probably what it meant, and I don't intend to belabor anything else.

But I just do want to say that to the extent that this reflected what is discussed in the opinion, a reevaluation of the resolution Congress made of the competing policy considerations, that was obviously improper under this Court's decision, and Monsanto does not here try to defend the judgment on those grounds.

But it is pertinent to say that the present statute evolved through a repeated process of amendment in which Congress gave detailed consideration to some of the problems of the industry that seemed to move the district court to reach the judgment that it did, as well as to advances in scientific knowledge about problems in the use of these chemicals on the health and environment, and as well as its own experience with earlier versions of the statute, which it concluded were having some undesirable effects, such as extending periods of patent monopoly beyond the expirations of the patent.

And in response to the expenses involved in research and innovation, Congress included a number of provisions in the statute, including a protection for trade secrets as defined by the statute, the provision for compensation for the second user of data, and a provision for exclusive use for a ten-year period.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Wallace, before 1978 the law was clear, was it not, that none of the information supplied by a registrant would be released to anyone else?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Well, it would not be released to the public.

Sandra Day O'Connor:


Lawrence G. Wallace:

That was part of the--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

It would just be used by EPA.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

--It would be used by EPA or the Department of Agriculture.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Yes, right.

Now, why should information of that kind, which was disclosed before 1978, not continue to be protected?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Well, it could be protected.

The question is whether there's a constitutional impediment to the disclosure of the information under a different rule--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, you take the position that it isn't even property?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

--Yes, we are taking that position, and let me get to that question.

I think it is important for me to make a few general comments about trade secrets before getting to the specific questions involved in this case.

This Court has never held that a trade secret can qualify as property within the meaning of the taking clause of the Fifth Amendment, and while in order to rule for us the Court need not preclude the possibility that in any circumstances a trade secret could be so protected, we do think it's highly dubious that a trade secret in any circumstances should qualify as property under the taking clause or that that should be the focus of litigation concerning disclosure of trade secrets.


Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, certainly the district court thought that the law, the state law in Missouri created a property interest.