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Midwest States Can’t Fight Calif. Egg Law

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - Missouri and five other states cannot sue California for its law requiring that all eggs sold in state must be produced by hens housed in cages with ample room, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller dismissed the lawsuit Thursday after finding that the states lacked legal standing because they did not show that their citizens would be harmed by California's rules.

In 2008 California voters passed Proposition 2, which prohibits egg-laying hens from being confined in cages that prevent them from lying down, standing up, turning around or fully extending their limbs.

Two years later, legislators extended the standards to all producers selling eggs in the state. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sued in February , claiming that the purpose of the law was to protect California farmers from out-of-state competition, and that Missouri farmers would either incur massive costs building larger habitats for their hens or lose money by no longer selling eggs in California.

Koster estimated that Missouri farmers would have to spend $120 million on improvements to meet California's new standards.

The attorneys general for Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Oklahoma joined the lawsuit.

The states argued that they each had standing to bring the suit based on each state's "interests in protecting their citizens' economic health and constitutional rights as well as preserving its own rightful status within the federal system," according to Mueller's ruling.

They claimed they had standing to sue under the Commerce Clause, which calls for "the free flow of goods across state lines without undue burdens imposed by individual states."

The states argued that they cannot participate in setting public policy in California that affects them, and that they have no political recourse if they disagree with the policies.

The states "further clarified the issue they raise in this action is 'the right of the people to participate in the laws that govern them,'" Mueller wrote.

But the judge found that while the states "allege the egg farmers in each state may suffer an injury in the form of increased costs of production, this injury does not affect the citizens plaintiffs purport to represent."

Mueller said that the states' argument that implementation of the new law will affect citizens who are egg consumers by resulting in more expensive eggs is without merit.

"First, the allegations in plaintiffs' complaint point to a potential decrease in the cost of eggs, which may benefit plaintiffs' citizens rather than injure them. Second, even assuming plaintiffs' citizens may be faced with an increase in the cost of eggs, this speculative argument does not alone satisfy the requirement of showing an injury in fact," Mueller wrote.

The allegations in the lawsuit specifically focus on the impact the law will have on egg farmers, and fail to show that the states brought the action to protect their citizens' economic health or well-being. The states fail in their argument that the claims were brought on behalf of the residents in general because they do not have a voice in the law.

"Plaintiffs' arguments focus on the potential harm each state's egg farmers face. The alleged imminent injury, however, does not involve an injury the citizens of each state face but rather a potential injury each state's egg farmers face when deciding whether or not to comply with AB 1437," Mueller found. "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. Plaintiffs also point to nothing to show the threat of prosecution of their egg farmers is imminent."

Mueller dismissed the claims without leave to amend.

Koster's office said in a statement: "We disagree with the federal court's opinion that Missouri lacks standing to defend its businesses and consumers against burdensome economic regulation imposed by out-of-state legislatures. We are reviewing our options for further proceedings to resolve the important constitutional questions raised by this suit and left unanswered by the court's summary dismissal."

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