Ninth Circuit Weighs in on “Field and Obstacle Preemption,” Reversing District Court’s Finding of Preemption


Whenever a claim is made that a state law has  been prempted by an analogous federal law, the courts will rigorously test the strength of the claim.  As as example, in a preemption case decided on September 15, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Association des Éleveurs de Canards et d’Oies du Québec, et al., v. Becerra, the Ninth Circuit reversed the holding of the District Court that California’s statutory ban against the sale of products made from force-fed birds such as foie gras was preempted by the provisions of the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).

As described, the practice of force-feeding these birds to enlarge their livers is especially brutal. The California Assembly found that the process is “so hard on the birds that they would die from the pathological damage it inflicts if they weren’t slaughtered first.” Nevertheless, the District Court held that California statutory ban imposes an “ingredient requirement,” which was the sole province of the federal law.

After reviewing the law and various doctrines of “field and obstacle” preemption, the Ninth Circuit held that “section 25982 was not expressly preempted.” Specifically, the Ninth Circuit panel held that

Based on the ordinary meaning of “ingredient” and the plain language and purpose of the PPIA, we hold that section 25982 is not expressly preempted by the PPIA.

The ordinary meaning of “ingredient” (in line with the statutory context and the presumption of consistent usage) and the purpose and scope of the PPIA together make clear that “ingredient requirements” pertain to the physical components that comprise a poultry product, not animal husbandry or feeding practices.

The Ninth Circuit panel went onto explain that

The fact that Congress established “ingredient requirements” for poultry products that>produced does not preclude a state from banning products—here, for example, on the basis of animal cruelty—well before the birds are slaughtered.

The Ninth Circuit, discussing field preemption, explained

Plaintiffs’ field preemption argument ignores the states’ role in poultry regulation… The express preemption clause at the heart of Plaintiffs’ case clearly provides that the PPIA “shall not preclude any State . . . from making requirement[s] or taking other action, consistent with [the PPIA], with respect to any other matters regulated under [it].” It also explains that state laws regarding storage and handling are preempted only if the Secretary of Agriculture finds those laws to “unduly interfere with the free flow of poultry products in commerce . . . .” In addition, states may implement standards for the inspection of poultry sold in-state, even if those standards are more rigorous than the ones imposed by federal law. Because the PPIA itself contemplates extensive state involvement, Congress clearly did not intend to occupy the field of poultry products. (Internal citations omitted.)

The Ninth Circuit confirmed that the Plaintiffs’ obstacle preemption argument “fares no better”

Obstacle preemption, which is a form of conflict preemption, occurs “where the challenged state law ‘stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.’” As with express preemption, courts “assume that ‘the historic police powers of the States’ are not superseded ‘unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.’”

It found that the Plaintiffs failed to carry their burden

Because Health and Safety Code section 25982 is not preempted by the PPIA, California is free to enforce it. We REVERSE the district court’s grant of summary judgment, the district court’s permanent injunction, and REMAND the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.