San Francisco Fur Ban Survives Lawsuit

A fur industry trade group failed to convince a judge that San Francisco’s ban on fur sales violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by interfering in international or interstate trade.

San Francisco’s prohibition on selling fur clothing can remain in place, a federal judge in California ruled Tuesday, March 30. (Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay via Courthouse News)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Finding little support for claims that a citywide ban on fur sales hinders international trade, a federal judge on Tuesday scrapped a lawsuit challenging San Francisco’s prohibition on selling fur coats and clothing.

The International Fur Federation sued San Francisco in 2020, nearly two years after the city passed an ordinance banning the sale of fur within city limits. The trade group, which represents fur dealers, trappers, designers and retailers in 40 countries, argued the ordinance unconstitutionally burdens interstate commerce since all furs sold in San Francisco come from outside the city.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg dismissed three previous versions of the lawsuit before dealing a final blow to the litigation on Tuesday and booting it out of court without leave to file an amended complaint.

In a previous ruling, Seeborg rejected arguments that the ordinance regulates or impedes interstate and international commerce. The trade group said the ordinance would cause the fur industry to lose about $45 million in sales each year. Seeborg concluded that economic impact alone does not establish a substantial burden on commerce.

The trade group also argued the law had no bearing on public health and lacked a legitimate local purpose. Seeborg said he could not reach that argument because one has to show a law substantially burdens interstate commerce before a court can analyze if it has a legitimate purpose.

The judge also refused to address whether the city could enforce its ban against outside retailers who ship fur products to consumers within San Francisco. The city’s Department of Public Health stated in a “frequently asked questions” section on its website that it would not enforce the ban against outside retailers.

“The Fur Ban does not apply to fur products that are manufactured and sold wholly out of state,” Seeborg wrote in a ruling issued on July 16, 2020.

The city also vowed to provide “reasonable notice” and “due process” if it decides to change its interpretation of the law. If the city fails to honor that pledge, Seeborg said the trade group could take legal action at that time.

In its most recent version of the lawsuit, the trade group complained that the city intended to enforce the ban against retailers who have a physical presence in the city but sell and ship furs to San Francisco consumers from a different location.

The federation asked the court to rule that the ordinance could not be applied to online sales for retailers like Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, which have physical locations in San Francisco but also sell products online.

The city confirmed that the ban applies to retailers located in San Francisco who also sell products to San Francisco consumers online.

Seeborg rejected the trade group’s argument that the text of the ordinance did not give the city power to enforce the fur ban in that way.

The judge wrote that the federation “selectively and misleadingly” quoted the ordinance to make it look like it only bans the sale of fur products when the law actually makes it illegal to “offer for sale, display for sale, trade, give, donate or otherwise distribute” fur products.

“The list of banned activities must be read to apply to the broadest range of sales, which necessarily includes internet sales where both the buyer and seller are located in San Francisco,” Seeborg wrote in a nine-page ruling Tuesday.

The trade group also argued that interpreting the ordinance in that way would lead to “absurd results,” such as allowing the city to enforce its ban against a national retailer who employs two accounting assistants at a shared workspace in San Francisco.

The city said it would not apply the fur ban in that scenario, adding that enforcement would only be targeted at companies with a physical location in San Francisco.

Seeborg concluded that the trade group’s interpretation of the ordinance would lead to a more absurd result, one that would thwart the law’s objective to prevent the sale and distribution of fur within city limits.

“IFF’s approach would allow a retailer, after declining to sell a fur in its store, to direct the customer to its website,” Seeborg wrote. “This workaround would obviously frustrate the very purpose of the ordinance.”

San Francisco passed its fur ban in March 2018, making it the third U.S. city to ban fur sales following the lead of two other California cities — West Hollywood and Berkeley. Parts of the ordinance did not fully take effect until Jan. 1, 2020.

Former San Francisco Superivsor Katy Tang, who authored the legislation, said the ordinance was intended to help curtail the inhumane treatment of millions of animals raised on fur farms each year.

The fur industry trade group argued that the ordinance inexplicably bans fur from foxes who die of old age and fur coats from places like Denmark, which raises minks “under some of the world’s highest animal welfare standards.”

The International Fur Federation’s representation and a spokesman for San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office did not immediately return requests for comment on Tuesday.

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