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Kuiper v. American Cyanamid Co.

Citation: 28 ELR 20314
No. 96-1647, -97-1657, 131 F.3d 656/46 ERC 1166/(7th Cir., 12/05/1997)

The court holds that a Wisconsin farming family's state-law claims against a pesticide manufacturer are preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The family filed negligence and fraudulent representation claims based on the manufacturer's alleged off-label statements that the pesticide would not harm the family's corn crop. The court first holds that the family filed their statutory claim for fraudulent representation after the three-year statute of limitations had expired. The court rejects the family's request that because the family did not have knowledge of the manufacturer's wrongdoing the limitations period be extended. Although the family may have been unaware at first that the manufacturer knew the pesticide could damage the corn crop, the family had enough information to bring suit for fraudulent representation within the limitations period. In addition, the court disagrees with the family's argument that filing suit based on the information available during the limitations period would have violated Wisconsin's prohibition against frivolous suits. The court next holds that FIFRA preempts the family's negligence claim and request for punitive damages. A Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, which held that FIFRA did not preempt a negligent misrepresentation suit against the manufacturer, does not have issue preclusive effect on this case. The family's claims involve different alleged misrepresentations than those at issue in the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision. In addition, FIFRA preempts state common-law actions for labeling and packaging defects regarding products, such as the manufacturer's pesticide, that are regulated by FIFRA. The alleged misrepresentations relied on by the family essentially repeat the crop restrictions on the pesticide's label and, therefore, are preempted. The court rejects the family's argument that the statement made by the manufacturer's representative substantially differed from the statement on the label because the pesticide label's rotational crop restriction refers only to adverse effects on the environment and not to adverse effects on corn. FIFRA's definition of environment includes all plants. Thus, the statutory language suggests that when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the rotational crop restriction on the pesticide's label, EPA expressed its belief that planting corn after the application of the pesticide would have no unreasonable adverse effect on the environment, including corn. Further, EPA's regulations require EPA to consider harm to crops in its pesticide label approval process. Finally, even if EPA exceeded its authority in approving the pesticide's label and the label was misbranded, FIFRA would still preempt the family's claim. Although a claim premised on misbranding might appear to be protected from preemption under the rule authorizing state common-law actions to enforce FIFRA's own requirements, the rule is limited to common-law actions that do not challenge an EPA-approved label.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert H. Bichler
Hostak, Henzl & Bichler
840 Lake Ave., Racine WI 53401
(414) 632-7541

Counsel for Defendant
Winthrop A. Rockwell
Faegre & Benson
2200 Norwest Ctr.
90 S. 7th St., Minneapolis MN 55402
(612) 336-3000

Before Cudahy and Wood, JJ.