Capitol Alert

Judge tosses lawsuit challenging California egg laws

A Sacramento federal judge has dismissed a February lawsuit brought by leaders of six Midwestern and Southern states with large egg industries that sought to overturn California rules requiring more space for egg-laying hens.

The plaintiffs, led by Missouri’s attorney general, Chris Koster, had challenged the constitutionality of Prop. 2, the 2008 ballot measure that set standards for egg-laying hens, and AB 1437, a 2010 law that extended the initiative’s provisions’ to out-of-state eggs sold in California. Five more states – Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky and Iowa – quickly signed on to the suit.

“Egg producers in Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, and Iowa face a difficult choice” the plaintiffs argued in the suit. “Either they can incur massive capital improvement costs to build larger habitats for some or all of their egg-laying hens, or they can walk away from the largest egg market in the country.”

But in a ruling this week, Judge Kimberly Mueller rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that they were acting to protect their residents from the California rules, which take effect Jan. 1. Her ruling also shuts the door on the plaintiffs revising their suit and trying again.

“Nothing before the court supports the conclusion this action is brought by plaintiffs because their residents face imminent injury as a result of California’s shell egg laws, or that their residents in general intend to or are even capable of violating California’s shell egg laws,” she wrote. “Plaintiffs also point to nothing to show the threat of prosecution of their egg farmers is imminent.”

The Humane Society of the United States, which sponsored Proposition 2 and AB 1437, intervened in the case and joined Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office in defending the laws. The Association of California Egg Farmers also joined in the defense.

“We are delighted that Judge Mueller has dismissed this baseless lawsuit, and ordered that it can never be filed again,” Jonathan Lovvorn, the humane society’s chief counsel for animal protection litigation, said in a statement. “The judge’s opinion not only found that Attorney General Koster and the other attorneys general do not even have standing to file their case, but that their entire theory for why California’s food safety and hen protection law will harm egg farmers is totally without merit.”

Koster’s office could not be reached for comment Thursday.