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Hawkins v. Leslie's Pool Mart, Inc.

Citation: 29 ELR 21364
No. No. 98-5229, 184 F.3d 244/48 ERC 2077/(3d Cir., 07/15/1999)

The court holds that although the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts a consumer's labeling claims, it does not preempt her defective packaging claim. The consumer brought suit against a pool company after she suffered burning sensations in her lungs and throat and had difficulty breathing after opening a chlorine tablet container she purchased from the company. The court first holds that FIFRA preempts the consumer's labeling claims. The consumer's claim that the company failed to warn of sudden decomposition and sudden reactivity of the pesticide is, on its face, preempted by the pesticide-specific labeling requirements established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under FIFRA. The consumer's claim that the company failed to provide adequate directions for opening and closing the container also falls within the realm of pesticide labeling. Moreover, because EPA carefully reviewed all printed matter that accompanied the tablets and even mandated specific language, allowing the consumer's labeling claim would impose a state requirement in addition to or different from federal labeling regulations.

The court, however, next holds that the consumer's defective packaging claims are not preempted. In contrast to the numerous regulations and statutes governing pesticide labeling, EPA has thus far limited its authority to regulate pesticide packaging to the area of child-resistant packaging. And where, as here, a preemption provision is dependant on government regulations, the court cannot extend the reach of that provision to areas not actively regulated by the federal government.

A dissenting judge would hold that the consumer should be permitted on remand to pursue claims based on the opening instructions on top of the container if indeed they were not reviewed and approved by EPA.

Counsel for Appellants
Gerald J. Williams
Williams & Cuker
1617 John F. Kennedy Blvd., Philadelphia PA 19103
(215) 557-0099

Counsel for Appellee
William T. Corbett Jr.
Shanley & Fisher
131 Madison Ave., Morristown NJ 07962
(973) 285-1000

Before Scirica, J., with Mansmann, J., dissenting