430 U.S. 519 (1977), 75-1053, Jones v. Rath Packing

Docket Nº:No. 75-1053
Citation:430 U.S. 519, 97 S.Ct. 1305, 51 L.Ed.2d 604
Party Name:Jones v. Rath Packing
Case Date:March 29, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 519

430 U.S. 519 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1305, 51 L.Ed.2d 604



Rath Packing

No. 75-1053

United States Supreme Court

March 29, 1977

Argued December 7, 1976




Section 12211 of the California Business and Professions Code provides that

the average weight or measure of the packages or containers in a lot of any . . . commodity sampled shall not be less, at the time of sale or offer for sale, than the net weight or measure stated upon the package.

Article 5, § 2930 et seq., of Title 4 of the California Administrative Code, [97 S.Ct. 1307] in implementing § 12211, requires a statistical sampling process for determining the average net weight of a lot, which implicitly allows for variations from stated weight caused by unavoidable deviations in the manufacturing process, but makes no allowance for loss of weight resulting from moisture loss during the course of good distribution practice. Petitioner county Director of Weights and Measures, pursuant to § 12211, ordered removed from sale bacon packaged by respondent packing company and flour packaged by respondent millers after he had determined under Art. 5 that the packages were contained in lots whose average net weights were less than the net weights stated on the packages. Respondent packing company's bacon is also subject to inspection under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), as amended by the Wholesome Meat Act, which requires a meat or a meat product package to bear a label showing, inter alia, an accurate statement of the quantity of the contents in terms of weight, but permits "reasonable variations"; and implementing regulations permit

reasonable variations caused by loss or gain of moisture during the course of good distribution practices or by unavoidable deviation in good manufacturing practice.

The FMIA prohibits labeling or packaging requirements "different than" those imposed under that statute. The federal law governing net weight labeling of respondent millers' flour is contained in

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the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), which impose the same federal weight labeling standard for flour as the FMIA imposes for meat. The FDCA and implementing regulations permit the same kind of reasonable variations from the packaging requirements as does the FMIA and its implementing regulations. The FDCA contains no preemptive language, but the FPLA in 15 U.S.C. § 1461 provides that the Act supersedes any state laws that are "less stringent than or require information different from" the requirements of the FPLA or its implementing regulations. Respondents brought suits in Federal District Court, seeking declarations that § 12211 and Art. 5 were preempted by the federal laws and injunctions against enforcement of those provisions. The District Court granted the requested relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. With respect to respondent packing company's packaged bacon, § 12211 and Art. 5 are preempted by the FMIA. Since California makes no allowance for loss of weight resulting from moisture loss during the course of good distribution practice, the state law's requirement -- that the label accurately state the net weight, with implicit allowance only for reasonable manufacturing variations -- is "different than" the federal requirement, which permits manufacturing deviations and variations caused by moisture loss during good distribution practice. Pp. 528-532.

2. Although 15 U.S.C. § 1461 does not preempt § 12211 as implemented by Art. 5, since it appears that the California law is not "less stringent than," and does not "require information different from," the FPLA and implementing regulations, nevertheless, with regard to respondent millers' flour, enforcement of § 12211, as implemented by Art. 5, would prevent "the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress," Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67, in passing the FPLA, an impermissible result under the Constitution, and hence the state law must yield to the federal. The goal of the FPLA to facilitate value comparisons among similar products cannot be accomplished unless packages that bear the same indicated weight in fact contain the same quantity of the product for which the consumer is paying. Here, packages of flour that meet the federal labeling requirements and that have the same stated quantity of contents can be expected to contain the same amount of flour solids, since variations from stated weight caused by loss of moisture are permitted, whereas, as a result of the application of the California standard, which does not permit such variations, consumers who [97 S.Ct. 1308] attempt to compare the value of identically labeled packages of flour would not be comparing packages

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that contain identical amounts of flour solids, and hence would be misled. Pp. 532-543.

530 F.2d 1295 and 530 F.2d 1317, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 543.

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MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Jones is Director of the Department of Weights and Measures in Riverside County, Cal.1 In that capacity, he ordered removed from sale bacon packaged by respondent Rath Packing Co. and flour packaged by three millers, respondents General Mills, Inc., Pillsbury Co., and Seaboard Allied Milling Corp. (hereafter millers). Jones acted after determining, by means of procedures set forth in 4 Cal.Admin.Code c. 8, Art. 5, that the packages were contained in lots2 whose average net weight was less than the net weight stated on the packages. The removal orders were authorized by Cal.Bus. & Prof.Code § 12211 (West Supp. 1977).3

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Rath and the millers responded by filing suits in the District Court for the Central District of California.4 They sought both declarations that § 12211 and Art 5 are [97 S.Ct. 1309] preempted

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by federal laws regulating net weight labeling and injunctions prohibiting Jones from enforcing those provisions. The District Court granted the requested relief5 and, insofar as is relevant here, the Court of Appeals armed.6 We granted Jones' petition for certiorari, 425 U.S. 933 (1976),7 and now affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


In its present posture, this litigation contains no claim that the Constitution alone denies California power to enact

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the challenged provisions.8 We are required to decide only whether the federal laws which govern respondents' packing operations preclude California from enforcing § 12211, as implemented by Art. 5.

Our prior decisions have clearly laid out the path we must follow to answer this question. The first inquiry is whether Congress, pursuant to its power to regulate commerce, U.S.Const., Art. 1, § 8, has prohibited state regulation of the particular aspects of commerce involved in this case. Where, as here, the field which Congress is said to have preempted has been traditionally occupied by the States, see, e.g., U.S.Const., Art. I, § 10; Patapsco Guano Co. v. North Carolina, 171 U.S. 345, 358 (1898),

we start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.

Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218, 230 (1947). This assumption provides assurance that "the federal-state balance," United States v. Bass, 404 U.S. 336, 349 (1971), will not be disturbed unintentionally by Congress or unnecessarily by the courts. But when Congress has "unmistakably . . . ordained," Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 142 (1963), that its enactments alone are to regulate a part of commerce, state laws regulating that aspect of commerce must fall. This result is compelled whether Congress' command is explicitly stated in the statute's language or implicitly contained in its structure and purpose. City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal Inc., 411 U.S. 624, 633 (1973); Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., supra at 230.

[97 S.Ct. 1310] Congressional enactments that do not exclude all state legislation in the same field nevertheless override state laws

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with which they conflict. U.S.Const., Art. VI. The criterion for determining whether state and federal laws are so inconsistent that the state law must give way is firmly established in our decisions. Our task is

to determine whether, under the circumstances of this particular case, [the State's] law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.

Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941). Accord, De Canas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, 363 (1976); Perez v. Campbell, 402 U.S. 637, 649 (1971); Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, supra at 141; id. at 165 (WHITE, J., dissenting). This inquiry requires us to consider the relationship between state and federal laws as they are interpreted and applied, not merely as they are written. See De Canas v. Bica, supra at 363-365; Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 230 F.Supp. 398, 408 (SDNY 1964), appeal dismissed, 382 U.S. 111 (1965), aff'd on further consideration, 364 F.2d 241 (CA2 1966), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 1036 (1967).


Section 12211 of the Cal.Bus. & Prof.Code (West Supp. 1977) applies to both Rath's bacon and the millers' flour. The standard it establishes is straightforward:

[T]he average weight or measure of the packages or containers in a...

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