Rath Packing Company v. Becker, Civ. A. No. 72-607-R

Decision Date03 April 1973
Docket Number72-608-R.,Civ. A. No. 72-607-R
Citation357 F. Supp. 529
PartiesThe RATH PACKING COMPANY, a corporation, Plaintiff and Counter-Defendant, v. M. H. BECKER as Director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Weights and Measures, Defendant, C. B. Christensen as Director of Agriculture of the State of California, Intervenor. The RATH PACKING COMPANY, a corporation, Plaintiff, v. The PEOPLE OF the STATE OF CALIFORNIA, Joseph W. Jones as Director of the County of Riverside Department of Weights and Measures, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Sherman Welpton, Jr., Dean C. Dunlavey, Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiff.

John Maharg, County Counsel, Arnold K. Graham, Deputy County Counsel, Los Angeles, Cal., for M. H. Becker.

Ray T. Sullivan, Jr., County Counsel, Loyal E. Keir, Deputy County Counsel, Riverside, Cal., for Joseph W. Jones.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen. of Cal., Carl Boronkay, Asst. Atty. Gen., Herschel T. Elkins and Allan J. Goodman, Deputy Attys. Gen., for Intervenor C. B. Christensen.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

REAL, District Judge.

These matters have been consolidated for decision after trial of Case No. 72-607-R, and hearing of cross-motions for summary judgment in case No. 72-608-R. The facts of both cases have much commonality with little or no dispute of the facts necessary to disposition of both cases.

Plaintiff, The Rath Packing Company, (hereafter Rath), is a meat processor subject to inspection pursuant to the terms of the federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, 21 U.S.C. § 601 et seq.

Defendants M. H. Becker (hereafter Becker) and Joseph W. Jones (hereafter Jones) are Directors of County Department of Weights and Measures of Los Angeles and Riverside Counties respectively. C. B. Christensen, as Director of Agriculture of the State of California has heretofore been granted leave to intervene in the Becker action and has participated in presenting the defense in that action.

The controversy arises out of the actions of Becker and Jones through their respective deputies of ordering off-sale meat products delivered by Rath to retail stores found to be short of the weight stated on the label. Determination of short-weight has been made in each case by the application of the provision of Title 4, California Administrative Code, Chapter 8, subchapter 2, Article 5.

Fundamental to resolution of the validity of Becker and Jones' actions is a determination of the reach of the federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, 21 U.S. C. § 601 et seq., i.e., preemption by the federal government of the regulation of meat and meat products.

The federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967 was enacted by Congress with the finding that:

". . . Unwholesome, adulterated, or misbranded meat or meat food products impair the effective regulation of meat and meat food products in interstate or foreign commerce, are injurious to the public welfare, destroy markets for wholesome, not adulterated, and properly labeled and packaged meat and meat food products, and result in sundry losses to livestock producers and processors of meat and meat food products, as well as injury to consumers." 21 U.S.C. § 602.

A reading of the statutory scheme together with the legislative history1 demonstrates clearly, in the context of our concern here, that Congress intended to broaden federal regulation of meat and meat food products to cope with adulteration, unwholesomeness and misbranding for the welfare of consumers.

The essence of the controversy here is found in Congressional enactment of Title 21, United States Code, Section 601(n) which provides:

"(n) The term `misbranded' shall apply to any . . . meat or meat food product under one or more of the following circumstances:
(5) if in a package or other container unless it bears a label showing . . . (B) an accurate statement of the quantity of the contents in terms of weight, measure or numerical count: Provided, That under Clause (B) of this subparagraph (5), reasonable variations may be permitted, . . . by regulations prescribed by the Secretary."

Rath claims that it meets the criteria of 21 U.S.C. § 601(n)(5) when its products are considered under the application of regulations published by the Secretary of Agriculture in 9 C.F.R. § 316.1 et seq. and 21 U.S.C. § 607(b).

21 U.S.C. § 607(b) provides in its pertinent part:

"(b) All . . . meat and meat food products inspected at any establishment under the authority of this subchapter . . . shall at the time they leave the establishment bear, in distinctly legible form, directly thereon or on their containers . . . the information required under paragraph (n) of section 601 of this title."

Rath argues that section 607(b) limits the inquiry of accurate weight to the time meat or meat food products leave a processor's plant under federal inspection. Rath here argues for too much. To complete the regulatory scheme and maintain continuing enforcement, Congress gave federal meat inspectors the power of seizure of adulterated or misbranded meat or meat food products at any level of distribution. 21 U.S.C. § 673 makes clear that the provisions of section 601(n)(1-12) can be applied to packages of meat or meat food products at the ultimate end of a meat processor's distribution system —the retail store.

The defendants so argue—but they fall short in the recognition of what it is they are permitted to do by the federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967. The provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 679 limit the state in clear and unequivocal language. Therein, the states are admonished that ". . . Marking, labeling, packaging or ingredient requirements in addition to, or different than, those made under this chapter may not be imposed by any State . . . with respect to articles prepared at any establishment under inspection in accordance with the requirements under subchapter I of this chapter. . . ." Rath is clearly within these requirements.

Defendants defend their acts and rely —as the source of their authority and practice—upon state statutes. We now proceed to analyze that state statutory scheme to determine whether it meets the limitations of 21 U.S.C. § 678 when applied to the products of Rath.

Defendants cite as their primary source California Business and Professions Code section 12211 which provides in its pertinent part:

"§ 12211. Weighing or measuring commodities sold or being delivered; rules and regulations; off sale order; evidence. Each sealer shall . . . weigh or measure packages, containers or amounts of commodities sold, or in the process of delivery, in order to determine whether the same contain the quantity or amount represented. . . .
The director is hereby authorized and directed to adopt and promulgate necessary rules and regulations governing the procedures to be followed by sealers . . . in determining whether any package or container or a lot of such packages or containers complies with the provisions of this section.
* * * * * *
Whenever a lot or package of any commodity is found to contain . . . a less amount than that represented, the sealer shall in writing order same off sale. . . ."

Following the direction of the California legislature, the Director of Agriculture of the State of California has published in Title 4, California Administrative Code, Chapter 8, subchapter 2, Article 5 (hereafter Article 5) a comprehensive procedure for testing commodities to determine their compliance with California Business and Professions Code section 12211. In a detailed step by step process, the sealer is led to the determination of whether or not the commodities in question "contain a lesser amount than represented". The procedure is a statistical determination based upon normal and proven statistical standards. As such, the result can be no better than the objective, and the stated objective of Article 5 is to determine by sampling techniques the qualification of a lot of commodities to the requirements of section 12211, i.e., that the quantity represented on the label is what the package contains. These techniques are questioned by Rath as contravening the prohibition against adding to or differing from the labeling requirements of the federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967. Defendants argue validity, urging that preemption by the federal government is limited by 21 U.S.C. § 678 when it provides:

". . ., but any State or Territory or the District of Columbia may, consistent with the requirements under this chapter, exercise concurrent jurisdiction with the Secretary over articles required to be inspected under said subchapter I, for the purpose of preventing distribution . . . of any such articles which are adulterated or misbranded and are outside of such an establishment. . . ."

It is clear in the provisions for concurrent jurisdiction outside an inspected plant that such actions as are undertaken by states in the regulation of meat and meat food products must be consistent with the requirements of the federal Wholesome Meat Act of 1967. That Act has spoken upon the subject of misbranding—and more particularly when misbranding is related to comparison of the label with contents as provided in 21 U.S.C. § 601(n)(5) in this language:

"(n) The term `misbranded' shall apply to any . . . meat or meat food product . . .
* * * * * *
(5) if in a package or other container it bears a label showing . . . (B) an accurate statement of quantity . . . in terms of weight . . .: Provided, That under clause (B) of this subparagraph (5) reasonable variations may be permitted . . . by regulations prescribed by the Secretary."

To implement subsection (5), the United States Secretary of Agriculture published rules and regulations in Title 9, Code of Federal Regulations. In section 317.2(h)(2) the Secretary provides:

"(2) The statement as it is shown on a label shall not be false or misleading and shall express an accurate statement of the quantity of contents of the container
...

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11 cases
  • People v. Rath Packing Co.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • October 4, 1978
    ...alleged in the first amended complaint and in the complaint in intervention were barred by the prior judgment in Rath Packing Co. v. Becker (C.D.Cal.1973) 357 F.Supp. 529, claiming that the federal district court had held (1) that the People, Becker and Christensen cannot act under state la......
  • Jones v. Rath Packing Company 1976
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 29, 1977
    ...trial of the action against Becker and argument of cross-motions for summary judgment in the suit against Jones. Rath Packing Co. v. Becker, 357 F.Supp. 529, 531 (C.D.Cal.1973). The Director of Food and Agriculture of the State of California intervened as a defendant in the Becker proceedin......
  • People v. Rath Packing Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • July 18, 1978
    ...alleged in the first amended complaint and in the complaint in intervention were barred by the prior judgment in Rath Packing Co. v. Becker (C.D.Cal.1973) 357 F.Supp. 529, claiming that the federal district court had held (1) that the People, Becker and Christensen cannot act under state la......
  • General Mills, Inc. v. Jones
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • October 29, 1975
    ...II In finding that 21 CFR 1.8b(q), supra, was invalid, the district court referred to the reasoning it employed in Rath Packing Co. v. Becker,357 F.Supp. 529 (C.D.Cal.1973), to invalidate the analogous regulation under the Wholesome Meat Act of 1967, 21 U.S.C. § 601 et seq. In Rath the dist......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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