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Sleath v. West Mont Home Health Services, Inc.

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20367
Nos. 99-185, 16 P.3d 1042/(Mont., 12/28/2000)

The court holds that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) does not preempt individuals' failure-to-warn claims against property owners and two pesticide manufacturers even though the claims are based on or implicate the pesticides' labels. The claims, which were pleaded in negligence, strict liability, and breach of express warranty, were filed after the individuals suffered injuries from pesticide exposure in the workplace. The court previously held, in McAlpine v. Rhone-Poulenc Agriculture Co., 947 P.2d 474 (Mont. 1997), that state-law claims based on a failure to warn are preempted by FIFRA to the extent they expressly or implicitly challenge the adequacy of warnings in a pesticide's labels. However, when the court decided McAlpine, it did not have the benefit of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's position on FIFRA preemption. Nor did it have the benefit of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470 (1996), in which the Court held that the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 do not preempt state-law failure-to-warn claims regarding medical devices even though they are properly labeled under the Act. Therefore, after revisiting its McAlpine decision, the court first holds that Congress did not intend to extinguish damages remedies under state common law. FIFRA §136v(b) provides that a state may not impose any labeling or packaging "requirements" in addition to or different from those required under FIFRA, and Congress intended the term "requirements" to mean enactments of positive law by legislative or administrative bodies, not state-law damage actions. The court, therefore, vacated its McAlpine decision insofar as it holds that state-law claims based on a failure to warn are preempted by FIFRA and reversed a lower court decision holding that FIFRA preempted the individuals' failure-to-warn claims.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (19 pp., ELR Order No. L-324).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Peter M. Meloy
Meloy & Morrison
80 S. Warren St., Helena MT 59601
(406) 442-8670

Counsel for Defendants
Ronald F. Waterman
Gough, Shanahan, Johnson & Waterman
33 S. Last Chance Gulch St., Helena MT 59601
(406) 442-8560