McAlpine v. Rhone-Poulenc Ag. Co.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana
Citation285 Mont. 224,947 P.2d 474
Docket NumberRHONE-POULENC,No. 96-531,96-531
Parties, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 15,106 Thomas P. McALPINE and Ruby McAlpine, Husband and Wife, and Simmes Brothers, a Partnership, Plaintiffs and Appellants, v.AG. CO. and Ben Taylor, Inc., a Montana Corporation, Defendants and Respondents.
Decision Date29 October 1997

Page 474

947 P.2d 474
285 Mont. 224, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 15,106
Thomas P. McALPINE and Ruby McAlpine, Husband and Wife, and
Simmes Brothers, a Partnership, Plaintiffs and Appellants,
RHONE-POULENC AG. CO. and Ben Taylor, Inc., a Montana
Corporation, Defendants and Respondents.
No. 96-531.
Supreme Court of Montana.
Argued Aug. 19, 1997.
Submitted Sept. 4, 1997.
Decided Oct. 29, 1997.

Page 475

[285 Mont. 226] Dan L. Spoon, John R. Gordon and Robert T. Bell (argued); Reep, Spoon Gordon, Missoula, for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

William O. Bronson (argued); James, Gray, Bronson & Swanberg, Great Falls, for Rhone-Poulenc Ag Company.

Neil E. Ugrin and Roger T. Witt (argued); Ugrin, Alexander, Zadick & Higgins, Great Falls, for Ben Taylor, Inc.

LEAPART, Justice.

Appellants Thomas P. and Ruby McAlpine, husband and wife, and Simmes Brothers, a partnership, appeal the order of the Ninth Judicial District Court, granting summary judgment in favor of Respondents Rhone-Poulenc Ag. Company (Rhone-Poulenc) and Ben Taylor, Inc. (Ben Taylor) and dismissing their amended complaint with prejudice. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

We address whether the Appellants' claims of negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability are preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

Factual and Procedural Background

The Appellants are farmers near Sunburst, Montana. Rhone-Poulenc and Ben Taylor are the manufacturer and distributor, respectively, of a herbicide called "Weedone LV6." In May 1990, the Appellants mixed Weedone LV6 according to the instructions provided by Rhone-Poulenc and Ben Taylor and applied it to their barley and spring wheat. For several weeks after Appellants applied the herbicide to their crops, the nighttime temperatures in Sunburst were near freezing. Soon after, Appellants discovered that their crops had been severely damaged. Appellants were informed by experts from Montana State University and the Montana Department of Agriculture that cool or cold temperatures following the application of Weedone LV6 can cause crop damage.

[285 Mont. 227] In July 1992, Appellants filed a complaint stating claims for negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. In December 1992, Appellants amended their complaint to plead damages with more specificity. Appellants' amended complaint alleged that Rhone-Poulenc and Ben Taylor were negligent in manufacturing, advertising, and selling Weedone LV6, a product they knew or should have known would be applied in cool, spring temperatures typical in Montana and, thus, a product that would cause crop damage even when applied according to its own instructions. They also alleged that Rhone-Poulenc and Ben Taylor negligently failed to warn them of the damage that could result from Weedone LV6.

Appellants' claims for breach of express and implied warranties are based on representations allegedly made by an employee of Ben Taylor that, if applied according to its directions, Weedone LV6 would control weeds. Appellants assert that Rhone-Poulenc and Ben Taylor carelessly and negligently designed, manufactured, sold and delivered a deficient product, which caused their crops to be damaged. Under strict liability, Appellants claim that Weedone LV6's performance in cold temperatures shows it is an unreasonably dangerous product.

Both Rhone-Poulenc and Ben Taylor filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that

Page 476

FIFRA expressly preempts states from imposing independent labeling requirements on pesticides and that because all of Appellants' claims are based on deficiencies in Weedone LV6's label, they are barred by FIFRA. The District Court granted summary judgment and dismissed Appellants' amended complaint with prejudice. The court held that each of Appellants' claims presented a state law challenge to Weedone LV6's label and was therefore preempted.

Standard of Review

This Court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Motarie v. Northern Montana Joint Refuse Disposal Dist. (1995), 274 Mont. 239, 242, 907 P.2d 154, 156. Thus, we proceed to determine whether any genuine issues of fact exist and whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Bruner v. Yellowstone County (1995), 272 Mont. 261, 264, 900 P.2d 901, 903.


I. Scope of FIFRA Preemption

[285 Mont. 228] Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, the laws of the United States are"the supreme Law of the Land." U.S. Const., art. VI, cl. 2. Thus, where a state law or constitution conflicts with federal law or where it is the clear and manifest intent of Congress, state law is preempted. Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc. (1992), 505 U.S. 504, 112 S.Ct. 2608, 120 L.Ed.2d 407. Congressional intent to preempt may be found in the express language of the statute or where federal law so occupies an entire field "as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it." Cipollone, 505 U.S. at 516, 112 S.Ct. at 2617 (quoting Fidelity Federal Sav. & Loan Assn. v. de la Cuesta (1982), 458 U.S. 141, 153, 102 S.Ct. 3014, 3022, 73 L.Ed.2d 664, 675).

When first enacted in 1947, FIFRA was primarily a licensing and labeling statute. Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier (1991), 501 U.S. 597, 111 S.Ct. 2476, 115 L.Ed.2d 532. In 1972, FIFRA was substantially amended by the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act and currently provides a comprehensive scheme for regulation of the use, sale, and labeling of pesticides. See 7 U.S.C. §§ 136-136y. The section at issue here, 7 U.S.C. § 136v, states:

(a) A State may regulate the sale or use of any federally registered pesticide or device in the State, but only if and to the extent the regulation does not permit any sale or use prohibited by this subchapter.

(b) Such State shall not impose or continue in effect any requirements for labeling or packaging in addition to or different from those required under this subchapter.

The congressional intent to preempt is clearly found in the express language of § 136v and, thus, need not be inferred. However, FIFRA still leaves open a substantial portion of the field of pesticide regulation. Mortier, 501 U.S. at 613, 111 S.Ct. at 2486. In this case, while the parties agree that this statute preempts state law claims based exclusively on omissions or inclusions in the product label, they dispute whether Appellants have, in fact, pled claims that extend beyond the scope of this FIFRA preemption.

In Cipollone, 505 U.S. at 504, 112 S.Ct. at 2608, the Supreme Court addressed a nearly identical preemption question in the context of cigarette labeling regulation. Rose Cipollone began smoking in 1942 and died of lung cancer in 1984. Cipollone, 505 U.S. at 508, 112 S.Ct. at 2613. The plaintiff, Rose's son, claimed that the Liggett Group caused his mother's death by failing to provide adequate warnings on [285 Mont. 229] its cigarettes and by misrepresenting the dangers of smoking to the public. Cipollone, 505 U.S. at 508, 112 S.Ct. at 2613. The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 states that "[n]o requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health shall be imposed under State law with respect to the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes the packages of which are labeled in conformity with the provisions of this chapter." 15 U.S.C. § 1334. The Supreme Court held that the phrase "requirement or prohibition" included state common law damage actions...

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