Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Levine v. Vilsack (USDA)

Nov 20: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 08-16441. A number of parties including The Humane Society of the United States (collectively “Levine”) appealed from a summary judgment ruling in favor of the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (Secretary or USDA). The case involves a dispute concerning whether chickens, turkeys and other domestic fowl are excluded from the humane slaughter provisions of what the parties (and references subsequent to the enactment) term the “Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 (HMSA).” In particular, the parties dispute whether poultry should be considered “other livestock” as that phrase is used in that statute.

Levine challenged USDA’s enunciation of its position -- made most recently on September 28, 2005, in a Federal Register Notice issued by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service [see Treatment of Live Poultry before Slaughter, 70 FR 56,624, 9/28/05] -- that “there is no specific federal humane handling and slaughter statute for poultry.” In Levine v. Conner, 540 F. Supp. 2d 1113 (N.D. Cal. 2008), the United States District Court for the Northern District of California (district court) determined that, while the plain meaning of the word “livestock” as used in the HMSA of 1958 is ambiguous, Congressional intent behind the term was clear and consistent with the interpretation adopted by the USDA.

The Appeals Court said, "Because we conclude that Levine cannot satisfy the redressability prong of Article III standing, we vacate that decision and remand to the district court so that it can dismiss the action." Further, the Appeals Court concluded, "Because Levine’s alleged injuries are not redressable by way of this lawsuit, there is a lack of standing to proceed with this action. Consequently, the decision of the district court granting the USDA’s motion for summary judgment is vacated and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).