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Dean Milk Co. v. City of Madison, Wis

    Brief Fact Summary. The City of Madison, Wisconsin passed a law stating that milk had to be supplied from a producer located within twenty-five miles of the city and pasteurized within five miles of the city. Dean Milk sued when they were denied a license to sell their products within Madison because their pasteurization plants were more than five miles away.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Even if a statute is facially non-discriminatory, the court can find that it discriminates in practice by imposing a burden on interstate commerce which outweighs local benefits. Even if the state is acting in self-protection of health and safety within its borders it may not regulate interstate commerce unless such regulation is absolutely necessary to protect such health and safety. The court will often inquire into alternative means that are less restrictive on interstate commerce but allow the state to achieve the same goal.

    Facts. The City of Madison, Wisconsin had a law stating that milk had to be processed and bottled at an approved pasteurization plant within five miles of the central square of Madison. Another section said the milk had to be produced within a twenty-five mile radius. The purpose of the ordinance was to promote convenient, economical and efficient plant inspection. The plants in the five-mile radius and farms in the twenty-five mile radius were inspected once a month. Dean Milk collected milk from 900 farms outside the twenty-five mile radius, and processed the milk about sixty-five miles away from Madison. They were denied a license to sell their products within Madison because their pasteurization plants were more than five miles away.

    Issue. Was the Madison statute regulating the sale of milk unconstitutional because it placed too great a burden on interstate commerce and was not the least restrictive means of meeting its safety goal?

    Held. Justice Clark’s opinion: Yes. Supreme Court of Wisconsin judgment reversed as to the five mile radius limitation and vacated and remanded for the twenty five mile limitation.
    The statute is facially non-discriminatory, so the question is whether the burdens on interstate commerce outweigh the local benefits. The local benefits are sanitary regulation of milk and milk products originating in remote areas. The Court agrees that this is an important purpose for the statute. However, the practical effect is to exclude milk produced and pasteurized in Illinois, and thus erecting an economic barrier that would protect local industry against competition.
    Madison is not using the least restrictive means to achieve their safety goal. Reasonable and adequate alternatives are available. The City of Madison could charge companies who wish to import milk the cost of inspecting plants and farms outside the five and twenty five mile radius. Madison may also require milk produced outside the state to conform to the same standards as those enforced in the state.
    The consequences of allowing Madison to prohibit milk that is not produced locally would invite other localities to do the same and create multiple trade barriers, thus stifling competition.

    Dissent. Justice Black, Douglas and Minton.
    The Madison statute would not exclude whole milk from Illinois or anywhere else and thus stifle competition or create trade areas destructive of interstate commerce. Dean Milk could have pasteurized within the defined geographical area.
    The Madison statute was not protectionist legislation but a good faith attempt to safeguard public health by making adequate sanitation inspection possible. A small burden on trade does not automatically run afoul of the Commerce Clause.
    The Madison statute should not be invalidated merely because the Court believes that alternative milk inspection methods might also ensure the cleanliness of Dean’s Illinois milk. Federal courts have traditionally left decisions about bona fide health regulations to the states and the states are subject only to the paramount authority of Congress if it decides to assume control. There is no precedent for striking down a bona fide health law because there are alternatives to safeguard health that would be as good or better than the one chosen.
    There is evidence in the record that the substitute health measures suggested by the Court would not insure milk safety as effectively as the Madison ordinance.

    Discussion. Originally, Dormant Commerce Clause decisions only struck down laws that were blatantly discriminatory against out-of-state economic interests. This case, which dealt with a facially neutral statute, placed a greater emphasis on the requirement that a state use the least restrictive means available when creating laws that favor local businesses.


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