Carson v. Monsanto

Carson v. Monsanto Company
11th Circuit Court of Appeals
Judge Rosenbaum
Topics: Failure to Warn; Preemption

The Eleventh Circuit provided an insightful comment: "State tort litigation plays an important role in protecting consumers from dangerous products." This is a statement to remind us that when state tort law conflicts with federal legislation and regulation, the former is preempted.

In this case, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act ("FIFRA") does not preempt a Georgia state failure-to-warn tort claim. The claim was initiated by a plaintiff who alleged that the widely-used herbicide, Roundup, was the cause of his cancer after having used it for several decades. Monsanto, the producer, was sued for their failure to provide adequate warnings, but they sought summary judgment asserting that FIFRA preempted the claim.

The preemption claim was rooted in the fact that FIFRA outlines a specific procedure for product label approval by the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"). The EPA approved the label for Roundup without a cancer warning, even categorizing its primary component as "not likely to be carcinogenic." Agreeing with this, the District Court ruled in favor of the motion, stating that abiding by FIFRA and the EPA's label process preempted the state-law tort claim. The decision was subsequently appealed by Carson, the plaintiff.

The Eleventh Circuit panel reviewed the case, but the court ultimately opted to hold an en banc session, which resulted in the revision of the panel's initial application of the law. The en banc court returned the case to the panel who concluded that FIFRA does not explicitly preempt the plaintiff’s failure-to-warn claim. FIFRA’s preemption provision applies only to those state requirements that are “in addition to or different from” federal requirements. Georgia common law does not impose duties “in addition to or different from” FIFRA’s requirements. Georgia's common law is less demanding than the federal requirements.

The panel also held that FIFRA did not implicitly preempt the failure-to-warn claim because Monsanto had not met its burden to show that the Agency would not have approved the warning label that Carson proposes. So, Monsanto has not established that it could not have complied with both state and FIFRA requirements. As a result, Monsanto has failed to show that FIFRA impliedly preempts Carson’s state-law claim.


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