West Lynn Creamery, Inc. v. Healy

PETITIONER:West Lynn Creamery, Inc.
LOCATION: West Lynn Creamery

DOCKET NO.: 93-141
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

CITATION: 512 US 186 (1994)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1994

Douglas H. Wilkins – on behalf of the Respondent
Steven J. Rosenbaum – on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

On January 28, 1992, in response to the serious financial hardships of Massachusetts dairy farmers, the Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture issued a pricing order. The order required all dealers who sold milk to Massachusetts retailers to make a monthly premium payment to be distributed among in-state dairy farmers. Two Massachusetts milk dealers –West Lynn Creamery and LeComte’s Dairy — sell dairy products in Massachusetts. West Lynn Creamery relies on out-of-state producers; LeComte purchases all of its milk from West Lynn. The dealers filed an action in state court claiming that the order violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The state court rejected their claims; the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed.


Is the Massachusetts pricing order a breach of the Commerce Clause?

Media for West Lynn Creamery, Inc. v. Healy

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 02, 1994 in West Lynn Creamery, Inc. v. Healy

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 17, 1994 in West Lynn Creamery, Inc. v. Healy

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 93-141, West Lynn Creamery, Inc. versus Healy will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

The Massachusetts’ pricing order imposes an assessment on all fluid milk sold by dealers to Massachusetts’ retailers.

About two third of that milk is produced out of state.

The entire assessment, however, is distributed to Massachusetts’ dairy farmers.

The question presented is whether the pricing order unconstitutionally discriminates against interstate commerce.

The petitioners in this case are two milk dealers who import milk from neighboring states and distribute it to Massachusetts’ retailers.

After paying the assessment for two months, they refuse to make further payments.

When respondent, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture, initiated proceedings to revoke their licenses.

Petitioners filed an action in State Court seeking an injunction against the enforcement of the pricing order on the ground that it has violated the Commerce Clause of the Federal Constitution.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld the order reasoning that although it had an adverse impact on interstate commerce, the local benefits provided to the Commonwealth Dairy Industry outweigh any such incidental burden on interstate commerce.

We reverse.

The pricing order does violate the Commerce Clause of the Federal Constitution because it discriminates against out of state producers.

Assessments under the pricing order are effectively a tax which makes milk produced out of state more expensive.

Although the tax also applies to milk produced in Massachusetts, its effect on Massachusetts’ producers is more than offset by the subsidy provided exclusively to the local dairy farmers.

Respondent’s argument that the burden on interstate commerce is outweighed by the local benefits of preserving the Massachusetts’ dairy industry would make a virtue of the vice that the rule against interstate discrimination condemns.

Preservation of local industry by protecting it from the rigorous of interstate competition is the hallmark of the economic protectionism that the Commerce Clause forbids.

Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Blackmun has joined.