Two years and three months after IDFA filed its lawsuit against the state of Ohio to protect members' rights to label, an appellate court ruling released yesterday provided a major victory for IDFA members. In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of IDFA, reversing a district court decision that would have allowed Ohio to ban the use of compositional claims and dictate the placement of disclaimer statements.
"We're pleased with the decision and feel that the court upheld our position that IDFA members have the constitutional right to make truthful and not misleading claims on their product labels," said Clay Hough, IDFA senior group vice president.
Specifically, the Appeals Court found that the Ohio rule's absolute ban on compositional claims, such as "rbST Free," and the prohibition against using an asterisk to connect any claim to any disclaimer violated the processors' First Amendment rights. In the ruling, the judges state, "Without the prophylactic ban on composition claims and the prohibition on asterisk use, however, the Rule will be largely indistinguishable from similar regulations in other states . . . The Processors' concerns regarding the allegedly more demanding scope of Ohio's regulation, including the extra cost of compliance, thus have been addressed by our rulings above . . ."
State Ban 'More Extensive than Necessary'
The Appeals Court concluded that the state's ban is "more extensive than necessary to serve the state's interest in preventing consumer deception." In their ruling, the judges said using a disclaimer is "reasonably related to the state's interest in preventing consumers from being deceived by production claims," but they found that the proposed prohibition on the use of an asterisk to link to the claim "lacks a rational basis."
The judges decided that Ohio could require a disclaimer and could require the font, style and color to be the same as the claim. They also agreed with the lower court that the rule does not impede interstate commerce.
IDFA originally filed the lawsuit on June 30, 2008, and filed its appeal in conjunction with the Organic Trade Association.
It remains to be seen what steps the state of Ohio will take next. State officials may appeal to the full Sixth Circuit for an En Banc, or all-judge, review or to the U.S. Supreme Court. Without an appeal, the case would return to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with the Appeals Court's decision. IDFA believes that settlement discussions between IDFA, OTA and state officials are also an option.
For more details on the court ruling, contact Hough at email@example.com