On June 13, 2023, the full Eleventh Circuit heard oral arguments in the case Carson v. Monsanto Co. The case hinges on whether a Georgia law that requires Monsanto to warn consumers about risks the company knows about or has reason to know about is preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
The appellant, John D. Carson Sr., alleges that he developed cancer due to regular use of Roundup, a glyphosate-based pesticide manufactured by Monsanto. Carson claims that Monsanto “has known for decades” that Roundup use can cause cancer and failed to label their products in a way that notified consumers of this risk as required by Georgia law.
FIFRA requires pesticide manufacturers to include warning labels on products that adequately protect consumer health, but EPA has concluded that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic” to humans. FIFRA prohibits state labelling laws that are “in addition to or different from” FIFRA requirements (7 U.S.C. § 136v(b)). Monsanto argues that this language expressly preempts the Georgia law, while Carson contends that the Georgia law merely “parallels” FIFRA’s provisions. Carson cites Bates v. Dow AgroSciences LLC, interpreting the ruling to mean that claims “equivalent to” or narrower than FIFRA provisions are not preempted (544 U.S. 431, 447 (2005)).
Also at issue in the case is the question of whether EPA’s actions with regard to Roundup constitute “force of law.” Carson asserts that EPA’s registration of Roundup does not have the force of law necessary to preempt Georgia law. Monsanto argues that no force-of-law analysis is required because “EPA determinations define the scope of preemption as a matter of statutory construction,” but also argues that EPA’s actions constitute force of law even if such an analysis is undertaken.
During oral arguments the court posed questions to Carson’s attorney regarding whether a force-of-law analysis is necessary and questioned the attorney representing Monsanto on whether the grounds for an impossibility preemption were met. In addition, both attorneys were asked whether the appeal was “collusive” due to the type of settlement the parties reached in the case.
Carson’s suit was initially dismissed by a Georgia court, which held that FIFRA expressly preempted the Georgia law. In July 2022, it was reinstated by a three-judge Eleventh Circuit panel which ruled in favor of Carson. The panel reached the same result in a new opinion in October 2022. Last December, the full Eleventh Circuit vacated the opinion, ordering that the case be heard en banc.