American Journal of Law & Medicine

Chickens and the Constitution: How California Hens Are Ruffling Feathers Missouri V. Harris

Chickens and the Constitution: How California Hens are Ruffling Feathers Missouri v. Harris (1)--The Attorneys General of Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Alabama ("Plaintiffs") are currently fighting the validity of a California law (2) requiring all whole eggs sold in California to come from hens housed in cages that allow the hens to stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. (3) Plaintiffs allege that the California law violates the U.S. Constitution under the Commerce and Supremacy Clauses. (4) To date, Plaintiffs' substantive claims have not been addressed because the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted Defendant State of California's motion to dismiss for lack of standing. (5) The district court held that the relevant parties to this action were the egg farmers, not the citizens of each state, and that this was an issue for private action. (6) However, Plaintiffs appealed the decision on March 11, 2015 and the case is now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. (7)

On November 4, 2008, California voters passed Proposition 28--a California ballot initiative enacting the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act (the "Farm Cruelty Act") (9)--which forbids the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that prohibits their ability to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. (10) The Act completely bans battery cages, (11) the industry standard for hen confinement, because they do not provide hens enough room. (12) California egg farmers received a grace period until January 1, 2015 to ensure their hen cages are adequately sized. (13)

On July 6, 2010, California expanded the geographic reach of Proposition 2 by enacting a separate law, Assembly Bill 1437 (AB 1437). (14) AB 1437 states that beginning on January 1, 2015, "a shelled egg may not be sold or contracted for sale for human consumption in California if it is the product of an egg-laying hen that was confined on a farm or place that is not in compliance with the animal care standards set forth in [the Farm Cruelty Act]." (15) The stated purpose for AB 1437 is to "protect California consumers from the deleterious, health, safety and welfare effects of the sale and consumption of eggs derived from egg-laying hens that are exposed to significant stress and may result in increased exposure to disease pathogens including salmonella." (16) The practical effect of the Bill is to extend the reach of the requirements contained in the Farm Cruelty Act to farmers outside of California. (17)

It was this extension of the Act's reach that led to the claims in Missouri v. Harris. Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint ("Harris Complaint") on March 5, 2014, claiming that AB 1437's "extraterritorial reach, its undue burden on interstate commerce, and its clear purpose to protect California farmers from out-of-state competition violate the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution." (18) Plaintiffs also argued that AB 1437 is preempted by the Federal Egg Products Inspection Act ("EPIA"). (19)

Plaintiffs' main claim (20) was that AB 1437 is in direct violation of the Commerce Clause because it is designed to protect California egg producers from interstate competition. …

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