My sincere thanks to Kelly Chen, who just passed the bar (congratulations, Kelly!), for attending Tuesday's argument in Farm Raised Salmon Cases, no. S147171, and for providing the following detailed report (complete with an outcome prediction):
Case Name: FARM RAISED SALMON CASES
California Supreme Court
Case No.: S147171 December 4, 2007 -- 9 a.m.
This morning in Los Angeles, the California Supreme Court heard oral argument in Farm Raised Salmon Cases. The issue presented before the court is: Does the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”) impliedly preempt plaintiffs' state law claims, including claims based on the UCL and CLRA?
Craig R. Spiegel argued on behalf of the plaintiffs (i.e., consumers). Rex S. Heinke argued for the defendants. Justice George recused himself from the case, and Justice Mihara from the court of appeal was assigned as justice pro tempore for this case. Justice Kennard took over the role as chief justice in this session.
Mr. Spiegel started his argument by discussing the reasoning behind the court of appeal’s holding that section 337(a) of the FDCA preempts plaintiffs’ state claims. Citing to the history of the regulation on the use of coloring on food, Mr. Spiegel discussed how California enacted regulations concerning this area as early as in 1905, long before the FDCA (which was enacted in 1938).
Justice Kennard then interjected and asked: Isn’t there another section of the FDCA that would help the argument against preemption? Specifically, Kennard referred to section 343-1, which permits states to establish standards concerning the use of coloring on food so long as those standards are “identical” to those imposed by FDCA. She asked: “Am I right to say that the language of these provisions helps your position?” Mr. Spiegel affirmed.
Note: Congress enacted section 343-1 in the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (“NLEA”).
Mr. Spiegel then discussed how Congress enacted section 337 in 1938, but in 1990, Congress via the enactment of section 341-1 permitted the states to establish and continue in effect regulations that are identical to the federal requirements.
Justice Moreno then jumped in and asked: “Are you relying on any of the FDCA violations?” Spiegel: “No.” Spiegel then explained that plaintiffs are relying on UCL violations, and that plaintiffs are only claiming that Congress via the enactment of section 341-1 says that states may establish or continue in effect regulations that are identical to the FDCA requirements.
Justice Kennard interjected and asked whether Spiegel’s reasoning is based on the language in section 341-1, which says that no states may establish or continue in effect a requirement for labeling of food “that is not identical to the requirement” of FDCA. Spiegel affirmed.
Justice Kennard continued: “So section 343-1 expressly preempts only non-identical state labeling requirements?” Spiegel: “Yes.”
Justice Kennard then asked: “What about the police power … as being another argument?” Spiegel agreed that the police power is another argument against preemption.
At this time, Justice Mihera jumped in (but I missed the question). Mr. Spiegel’s response talked about two cases that were cited against plaintiffs’ position, one of which is Buckman (where the USSC held that section 337(a) is clear evidence that Congress intended FDCA be enforced exclusively by the federal government). Spiegel nicely distinguished Buckman from the present case, explaining that the plaintiff in Buckman alleged “fraud on the FDA” -- thus, there was no police power argument in Buckman, because fraud on a federal agency is not within the realm of the police power.
Justice Moreno asked Spiegel whether FDA has a position regarding state enforcement. Spiegel was very prepared to answer this question. He cited a 1993 official rule and quoted “nothing in this act will preclude the states from enforcing their own requirement under their own [law].”
Spiegel then went on to talked about the interplay between sections 343 and 343-1 and 337(b), noting that 343 and 343-1 were adopted as part of the FDCA in 1990. I think his main idea was that if Congress meant to create FDCA preemption in section 337, then why did Congress bother to enact section 343-1, which permits states to “establish or continue in effect” state requirements?
Justice Mihera noted that barring non-identical state requirements seems to infer that identical state requirements will be okay. He then asked about defendants’ argument based on NLEA section 343-1, subsection 6(c)(3).
At this point, Justice Kennard pointed to subsection 6(c) of section 343-1 which states that NLEA “shall not be construed to preempt any provision of State law, unless such provision is expressly preempted….” Justice Kennard asked: “Is there any express preemption in the statute?” Response: “No.”
Mr. Heinke then argued on behalf of the defendants.
Justice Baxter jumped in with his first question: “Why wouldn’t Congress want private enforcement of these requirements?” Justice Chin then asked about the plain language of NLEA which seems to say there is no preemption if state requirements are identical to those required by NLEA. Mr. Heinke responded by explaining that the question presented is whether there can be private enforcement, citing section 337. Mr. Heinke noted that Congress in 1938 via section 337 said there is no private enforcement of FDCA. He added: “Did Congress really intend to change that by section 334-1? If yes, then Congress would have just said that it overturned the bar on private enforcement instead.”
Mr. Heinke then emphasized that section 334-1 didn’t say anything about “private enforcement.”
Justice Kennard, at this point, interjected and asked about the language in NLEA. She specifically asked why this court should agree with defendants’ arguments? Mr. Heinke’s response was that NLEA is not the basis for defendants’ argument. Instead, he noted that defendants are arguing section 337 as the basis for preemption. He then argued that Congress didn’t change a word in section 337 (since its enactment).
Justice Mihera jumped in: “But they added section 334-1!” Mihera then asked: “Who bears the burden?” Response: “There is no burden.” Mihera: “There is!”
Justice Mihera then explained that because there is no express preemption, the defendants are relying on “implied” preemption -- which means that the defendants will need to establish an “obstacle to a federal objective.” He then asked what is the obstacle that will result in the private enforcement of state law that is identical & parallel to FDCA?
In response, Heinke cited the preamble of NLEA and talked about legislative history of what Congress is doing concerning private enforcement.
Justice Kennard then asked about the two USSC cases cited by the plaintiffs (i.e., Bates and Medtronics, in both cases the USSC upheld state private actions as long as they are not inconsistent to the federal requirement). Mr. Heinke’s response focused on 337 and the idea that there is no private enforcement of FDCA. First, he indicated Bates is not about FDCA. Second, he noted Medtronics was an FDCA case, but Medtronics did not discuss section 337, and therefore is not controlling here. Heinke then noted it is Buckman that should be looked at here.
Justice Moreno asked: “But one of the principles of Medtronics is to allow private enforcement of claims?” Response: “Yes, but that’s without looking at section 337.”
Justice Mehera and Mr. Heinke then had some discussion back and forth about the language in 334-1. Mr. Heinke said that Congress changed the language to “state enforcement” and not “private enforcement.” Justice Mehera corrected him by noting that section 334 does not use the word “enforcement” -- rather, it only talks about state “establishment” of it own requirements.
At this point, Justice Werdegar asked her first question: “What’s the policy reason [for no private enforcement]?” Response: Congress wants to ensure expertise -- private parties don’t have expertise in this area (and I think he mentioned something about plaintiffs’ lawyers and fees!).
Justice Baxter then said: “Congress did not provide private enforcement in the federal courts?” Response: “Exactly.”
Justice Kennard then jumped in: “You were saying you are not relying on NLEA, right? But just a moment ago you cited Congressman Waxman's comment which started out with ‘The NLEA….’” Justice Kennard was basically saying that in one context Mr. Heinke is relying on NLEA; whereas, in another context, he chose not to rely on NLEA.
At this time, it was Mr. Spiegel’s turn again. He started out indicating that the defendants had mischaracterized plaintiffs’ argument. Spiegel clarified that plaintiffs are basically arguing that defendants’ claim concerning section 337 is incorrect.
He then talked about how defendants are arguing Congress in 1938 through section 337 basically decided that there should be no more state law claims (without saying a word about it in the statute). He also noted that the cases defendants have cited all concerned FDA “approval” process and that states have never regulated such approval processes.
Justice Werdegar then asked questions that focused on “private enforcement” and the policy reason of whether private enforcement is a problem. Mr. Spiegel indicated the issue of private enforcement of FDCA has nothing to do with this case.
Justice Baxter then asked why shouldn’t section 334(b)[??] control? Mr. Spiegel explained because that section says “enforcement of FDCA.” Justice Baxter followed up with a question on section 337. Spiegel’s response talked about Buckman. He again explained that the claim in Buckman is preempted because the plaintiff there only relied on FDCA violations (and not state claims).
Mihera, Kennard, Chin, Moreno: for the plaintiffs.
Werdgar, Baxter: for defendants.
Corrigan: not sure.
Thank you, Kelly, for providing such a detailed and interesting report of the argument! Yesterday's Daily Journal also had a (much less detailed) report on the argument, and also predicted that the plaintiffs are the likely winners: "Court Backs Salmon-Labeling Suit" (subscription). The decision is due by early March.