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Bates v. Dow Agrosciences L.L.C.

Supreme Court of the United States

January 10, 2005, Argued ; April 27, 2005, Decided

No. 03-388

Opinion

 [*434]  [**1792]   Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners are 29 Texas peanut farmers who allege that in the 2000 growing [**1793]  season their crops were severely damaged by the application of respondent's newly marketed pesticide named "Strongarm." The question presented is whether the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. § 136 et seq. (2000 ed. and Supp. II), pre-empts their state-law claims for damages.

Pursuant to its authority under FIFRA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conditionally registered Strongarm on March 8, 2000, thereby granting respondent (Dow) permission to sell this pesticide--a weed killer 1--in  [*435]  the United States. Dow obtained this registration in time to market Strongarm to Texas farmers, who normally plant their peanut crops around May 1. According to petitioners--whose version of the facts we assume to be true at this stage--Dow knew, or should have known, that Strongarm would stunt the growth of peanuts in soils with pH levels of 7.0 or greater. 2 Nevertheless, Strongarm's label stated, "Use of Strongarm [****8]  is recommended in all areas where peanuts are grown," App. 108, and Dow's agents made equivalent representations in their sales pitches to petitioners. When petitioners applied Strongarm on their farms--whose  [***698]  soils have pH levels of 7.2 or higher, as is typical in western Texas--the pesticide severely damaged their peanut crops while failing to control the growth of weeds. The farmers reported these problems to Dow, which sent its experts to inspect the crops.

Meanwhile, Dow reregistered its Strongarm label with EPA prior to the 2001 growing season. EPA approved a "supplemental" label that was for "[d]istribution and [u]se [o]nly in the states of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas," id., at 179, the three States in which peanut farmers [****9]  experienced crop damage. This new label contained the following warning: "Do not apply Strongarm to soils with a pH of 7.2 or greater." Id., at 181.

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544 U.S. 431 *; 125 S. Ct. 1788 **; 161 L. Ed. 2d 687 ***; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 3706 ****; 73 U.S.L.W. 4311; 35 ELR 20087; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P17,255; 60 ERC (BNA) 1129; 18 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 255

DENNIS BATES, et al., Petitioners v. DOW AGROSCIENCES LLC

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.

 Dow Agrosciences L.L.C. v. Bates, 332 F.3d 323, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 12012 (5th Cir. Tex., 2003)

Disposition: Vacated and remanded.

CORE TERMS

labeling, pesticide, pre-empted, manufacturers, EPA, pre-emption, common-law, misbranding, state-law, packaging, registered, registration, efficacy, warranty, induce, peanut, failure-to-warn, crops, misleading, farmers, Environmental

Antitrust & Trade Law, Consumer Protection, Deceptive Labeling & Packaging, State Regulation, Business & Corporate Compliance, Environmental Law, Hazardous Wastes & Toxic Substances, Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act, Torts, Procedural Matters, Preemption, General Overview, Environmental Law, Federal Versus State Law, Federal Preemption, Governments, Agriculture & Food, Pesticides, Contracts Law, Types of Contracts, Express Warranties, Contracts Law, Sales of Goods, Warranties, Products Liability, Theories of Liability, Breach of Warranty, Legislation, Interpretation, Civil Procedure, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Requests for Instructions