449 U.S. 456 (1981), 79-1171, Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co.

Docket Nº:No. 79-1171
Citation:449 U.S. 456, 101 S.Ct. 715, 66 L.Ed.2d 659
Party Name:Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co.
Case Date:January 21, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 456

449 U.S. 456 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 715, 66 L.Ed.2d 659

Minnesota

v.

Clover Leaf Creamery Co.

No. 79-1171

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 21, 1981

Argued November 3, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MINNESOTA

Syllabus

For the stated purposes of promoting resource conservation, easing solid waste disposal problems, and conserving energy, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a statute banning the retail sale of milk in plastic nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers, but permitting such sale in other nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers, such as paperboard cartons. Respondents filed suit in Minnesota District Court, seeking to enjoin enforcement of the statute on constitutional grounds. The District Court held that the statute violated, inter alia, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Commerce Clause. Finding that "the evidence conclusively demonstrate[d] that the discrimination against plastic nonrefillables [was] not rationally related to the Act's objectives," the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed on the equal protection ground without reaching the Commerce Clause issue.

Held:

1. The ban on plastic nonreturnable milk containers bears a rational relation to the State's objectives, and must be sustained under the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 461-470.

(a) The Equal Protection Clause does not deny Minnesota the authority to ban one type of milk container conceded to cause environmental problems merely because another already established type is permitted to continue in use. Whether in fact the statute will promote more environmentally desirable milk packaging is not the question. The Equal Protection Clause is satisfied if the Minnesota Legislature could rationally have decided that its ban on plastic milk jugs might foster greater use of environmentally desirable alternatives. Pp. 465-466.

(b) The fact that the state legislature, having concluded that nonreturnable, nonrefillable milk containers pose environmental hazards, decided to ban the most recent entry in the field, and thus, in effect, "grandfathered" paperboard containers, at least temporarily, does not make the ban on plastic containers arbitrary or irrational. Cf. New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297. Pp. 466-468.

(c) Where the evidence as to whether the statute would help to conserve energy was "at least debatable," the Minnesota Supreme Court erred in substituting its judgment for that of the legislature by finding, contrary to the legislature, that the production of plastic nonrefillable

Page 457

containers required less energy than production of paper containers. Pp. 468-69.

(d) Similarly, the Minnesota Supreme Court erred in finding, contrary to the legislature's finding based on a reputable study, that plastic milk jugs take up less space in landfills and present fewer solid waste disposal problems than do paperboard containers. Pp. 469-470.

2. The statute does not violate the Commerce Clause as constituting an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce. Pp. 470-474.

(a) The statute does not discriminate between interstate and intrastate commerce, but regulates evenhandedly by prohibiting all milk retailers from selling their products in plastic containers, without regard to whether the milk, the containers, or the sellers are from outside the State. Pp. 471-472.

(b) The incidental burden imposed on interstate commerce by the statute is not excessive in relation to the putative local benefits. Milk products may continue to move freely across the Minnesota border, and since most dairies package their products in more than one type of container, the inconvenience of having to conform to different packaging requirements in Minnesota and the surrounding States should be slight. Even granting that the out-of-state plastics industry is burdened relatively more heavily than the Minnesota pulpwood industry, this burden is not "clearly excessive" in light of the substantial state interest in promoting conservation of energy and other natural resources and easing solid waste disposal problems. These local benefits amply support Minnesota's decision under the Commerce Clause. Pp. 472-474.

289 N.W.2d 79, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 474. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 477. REHNQUIST, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 458

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court:

In 1977, the Minnesota Legislature enacted a statute banning the retail sale of milk in plastic nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers, but permitting such sale in other nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers, such as paperboard milk cartons. 1977 Minn. Laws, ch. 268, Minn.Stat. § 116F.21 (1978). Respondents1 contend that the statute violates the Equal Protection and Commerce Clauses of the Constitution.

I

The purpose of the Minnesota statute is set out as § 1:

The legislature finds that the use of nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers for the packaging of milk and other milk products presents a solid waste management problem for the state, promotes energy waste, and depletes natural resources. The legislature therefore, in

Page 459

furtherance of the policies stated in Minnesota Statutes, Section 116F.01,2 determines that the use of nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers for packaging milk and other milk products should be discouraged, and that the use of returnable and reusable packaging for these products is preferred, and should be encouraged.

1977 Minn.Laws, ch. 268, § 1, codified as Minn.Stat. § 116F.21 (1978). Section 2 of the Act forbids the retail sale of milk and fluid milk products, other than sour cream, cottage cheese, and yogurt, in nonreturnable, nonrefillable rigid or semirigid containers composed at least 50% of plastic.3

The Act was introduced with the support of the state Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, Consumer Services Division, and Energy Agency,4 and debated vigorously in both houses of the state legislature. Proponents of the legislation argued that it would promote resource conservation, ease solid waste disposal problems, and conserve energy. Relying on the results of studies and other information,5 they stressed the need to

Page 460

stop introduction of the plastic nonreturnable container before it became entrenched in the market. Opponents of the Act, also presenting empirical evidence, argued that the Act would not promote the goals asserted by the proponents, but would merely increase costs of retail milk products and prolong the use of ecologically undesirable paperboard milk cartons.

[101 S.Ct. 722] After the Act was passed, respondents filed suit in Minnesota District Court, seeking to enjoin its enforcement. The court conducted extensive evidentiary hearings into the Act's probable consequences, and found the evidence "in sharp conflict." App. A-25. Nevertheless, finding itself "as factfinder . . . obliged to weigh and evaluate this evidence," ibid., the court resolved the evidentiary conflicts in favor of respondents, and concluded that the Act "will not succeed in effecting the Legislature's published policy goals. . . ." Id. at A-21. The court further found that, contrary to the statement of purpose in § 1, the "actual basis" for the Act

was to promote the economic interests of certain segments of the local dairy and pulpwood industries at the expense of the economic interests of other segments of the dairy industry and the plastics industry.

Id. at A-19. The court therefore declared the Act "null, void, and unenforceable" and enjoined its enforcement, basing the judgment on substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Art. 1 § 7, of the Minnesota Constitution; equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment; and prohibition of unreasonable burdens on interstate commerce under Art. I, § 8, of the United States Constitution. App. A-23.

The State appealed to the Supreme Court of Minnesota, which affirmed the District Court on the federal equal protection and due process grounds, without reaching the Commerce Clause or state law issues. 289 N.W.2d 79 (1979). Unlike the District Court, the State Supreme Court found that the purpose of the Act was

to promote the state interests

Page 461

of encouraging the reuse and recycling of materials and reducing the amount and type of material entering the solid waste stream,

and acknowledged the legitimacy of this purpose. Id. at 82. Nevertheless, relying on the District Court's findings of fact, the full record, and an independent review of documentary sources, the State Supreme Court held that "the evidence conclusively demonstrates that the discrimination against plastic nonrefillables is not rationally related to the Act's objectives." Ibid. We granted certiorari, 445 U.S. 949, and now reverse.

II

The parties agree that the standard of review applicable to this case under the Equal Protection Clause is the familiar "rational basis" test. See Vance v. Bradley, 440 U.S. 93, 97 (1979); New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297, 303 (1976).6 Moreover, they agree that the purposes [101 S.Ct. 723] of the Act

Page 462

cited by the legislature -- promoting resource conservation, easing solid waste disposal problems, and conserving energy -- are legitimate state purposes. Thus, the controversy in this

Page 463

case centers on the narrow issue whether the legislative classification between plastic and nonplastic nonreturnable milk...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP