Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC
Peanut farmers in Texas threatened to sue Dow Agrosciences in state court for damage to their crops allegedly caused by one of the company's herbicides. The farmers alleged that the herbicide violated Texas product labeling requirements. Dow brought a case to the federal district court alleging that FIFRA preempted the state court claims of the farmers. Both the district court and the Fifth Circuit ruled that FIFRA expressly prohibits any additional state labeling requirements. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to answer the preemption question.
In a 7-2 opinion delivered by Justice Stevens in which Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer joined the majority, the Court ruled that the lawsuit by the farmers could move forward in state court. The Court held that FIFRA's preemption provision only applies to state law requirements for labeling or packaging. The Court found that the farmers' claims for defective design, defective manufacture, negligent testing, and breach of express warranty claims are not necessarily based on requirements for labeling or packaging and that the Fifth Circuit erred in finding that liability under these claims would make Dow change its label. The Court said that deciding to change a label because of a jury verdict does not constitute a requirement, which is what FIFRA preempts. Furthermore, the Court found that only laws that differ from or add to FIFRA's labeling requirements are preempted, while an equivalent or consistent labeling requirement would not be preempted. Since the issue of whether or not the Texas law that covers the failure to warn and fraud claims is equivalent to those in FIFRA was not briefed sufficiently, the case was remanded to the Fifth Circuit to resolve. Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part and Justice Scalia joined.