Judge tosses lawsuit challenging California egg law

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2014 - A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit brought by six attorneys general challenging a California law requiring that eggs sold in the Golden State come from hens raised with enough space to stand up, turn around and spread their wings.

U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller ruled yesterday in Sacramento that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who brought the initial lawsuit, and his counterparts from Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Oklahoma lacked standing to attack the California law (AB 1437), which goes into effect in January.

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Plaintiffs' arguments focus on the potential harm each state's egg farmers face," Mueller wrote in her 25-page decision. “The alleged imminent injury, however, does not involve an injury the citizens of each state face but rather a potential injury each state's egg farmers face when deciding whether or not to comply with AB 1437.” In other words, they failed to show that the law does real harm to citizens, instead of possible future harm to some egg producers.

"It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state's egg farmers," Mueller wrote, "not on behalf of each state's population generally."

Koster filed the lawsuit in February in a bid to block the 2010 California law, which goes into effect at the start of 2015, arguing that the law violates the Commerce and Supremacy Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The other states joined the lawsuit later in the year.

The Missouri Attorney General's Office said in an emailed statement that it is reviewing options for further proceedings to resolve the constitutional questions in the lawsuit “and left unanswered by the court's summary dismissal.”

“We disagree with the federal court's opinion that Missouri lacks standing to defend its businesses and consumers against burdensome economic regulation imposed by out-of-state legislatures,” the Attorney General's Office noted.

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said in a statement that he would take further action on the issue.

“The court's dismissal of Attorney General Koster's lawsuit is a lose-lose proposition for all concerned - California egg producers who must comply with a costly, unnecessary and unconstitutional state law; other egg producers who cannot market eggs to California consumers without also complying with this contrived state law; California consumers who will pay higher prices for eggs; and American farmers throughout the nation who can expect similar marketing restrictions to affect their products,” Blake said.

Egg producers fear the law will significantly raise their cost of doing business in California the world's ninth largest market. The six states combine to produce 20 billion eggs a year, of which nearly 2 billion are sold in California. Koster contended Missouri farmers would have to spend about $120 million to remodel their cages to comply with California's law or lose out on sales to a crucial market. 

Voters in California approved a 2008 ballot measure that required pigs, calves and egg-laying hens to be raised with enough space to allow them to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs. The law was later expanded to ban the sale of eggs in the state from any hens that were not raised in compliance with its animal care standards.

The Humane Society of the United States helped defend the California law in court.

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