The U.S. Supreme Court has granted the petition for certiorari filed by the National Meat Association (NMA) to review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision denying NMA’s request for preliminary injunction in a challenge to the application of California’s rules requiring the humane treatment of downer animals in slaughterhouses. Nat’l Meat Ass’n v. Harris, No. 10-224 (U.S., cert. granted June 25, 2011). NMA represents the interests of swine producers and argued that, as applied to swine, the state regulations, prompted by a Humane Society video showing the mistreatment of downer cattle, were preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). More details about the case appear in Issue 344 of this Update.

The questions before the U.S. Supreme Court are as follows: (i) “Did the Ninth Circuit err in holding that a ‘presumption against preemption’ requires a ‘narrow interpretation’ of the FMIA’s express preemption provision, in conflict with this Court’s decision in Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 540 (1977), that the provision must be given ‘a broad meaning’?”; (ii) “Where federal food safety and humane handling regulations specify that animals (here, swine) which are or become nonambulatory on federally-inspected premises are to be separated and held for observation and further disease inspection, did the Ninth Circuit err in holding that a state criminal law which requires that such animals not be held for observation and disease inspection, but instead by immediately euthanized, was not preempted by the FMIA?”; and (iii) Did the Ninth Circuit err in holding more generally that a state criminal law which states that no slaughterhouse may buy, sell, receive, process, butcher, or hold a nonambulatory animal is not a preempted attempt to regulate the ‘premises, facilities, [or] operations’ of federally-regulated slaughterhouses?”

According to an NMA spokesperson, the Court took the case on the basis of a brief from the U.S. Solicitor General advising the Court that the Ninth Circuit erred. See Law360, June 27, 2011.