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Maryland Pest Control Association v. Montgomery County

decided: September 8, 1989.

MARYLAND PEST CONTROL ASSOCIATION; MARYLAND ALLIANCE FOR THE RESPONSIBLE REGULATION OF PESTICIDES, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND; CHARLES W. GILCHRIST; PARRIS N. GLENDENING; PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore, No. CA-86-1688, J. Frederick Motz, District Judge.

Russell, Phillips, and Sprouse, Circuit Judges.

Author: Per Curiam

Per Curiam

Maryland Pest Control Association and Maryland Association for the Responsible Regulation of Pesticides appeal a district court decision holding that they are not entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 in conjunction with their suit, brought pursuant to the Supremacy Clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, charging local subdivisions of the State of Maryland with violations of Section 136v(a) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

In May 1986, Maryland Pest Control Association and Maryland Association for the Responsible Regulation of Pesticides (the "Associations") brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against the defendants Montgomery County and Prince George's County (the "Counties"), which are local subdivisions of the State of Maryland. The Associations claimed that the Counties' pesticide ordinances violated the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution*fn1 and deprived the Associations of rights protected by 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn2 Specifically, the Associations alleged that the Counties' ordinances conflicted with Section 136v(a) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, ("FIFRA") 7 U.S.C. § 136 et seq., which proscribed local government regulation of the sale or use of federally registered pesticides.

In September 1986, the district court granted judgment in favor of the Associations, holding that the Counties' ordinances were invalid under FIFRA.*fn3 This court affirmed.*fn4

Accordingly, the Associations filed a motion for an award of attorney's fees pursuant to the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988.*fn5 The district court ruled that the Associations were not entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to Section 1988 because the Supremacy Clause did not "secure rights" under Section 1983, and that the Associations' claim of a statutory violation of FIFRA Section 136v was not actionable under Section 1983. The Associations appealed, arguing (1) that the Supremacy Clause and FIFRA are actionable under Section 1983; (2) that their successful action entitled them to attorneys fees under Section 1988; (3) that FIFRA confers an "enforceable right" that entitles the Associations to attorneys fees; and (4) that Congress did not intend to foreclose private enforcement of FIFRA through Section 1983. Finding the Supremacy Clause issue dispositive of this case, we leave the appellants' remaining arguments for another day.

II.

Stated simply, the question in this case is whether the Associations' successful argument, grounded in the Supremacy Clause, that FIFRA pre-empted local laws will support a civil rights action under Section 1983 which would entitle them to attorney's fees under Section 1988. Because we hold that the Supremacy Clause does not of itself create "rights, privileges, or immunities" within the meaning of Section 1983, we affirm the district court's denial of the Associations' motion for attorney's fees.

III.

In their complaint, the Associations claimed that the Counties' ordinances violated the Supremacy Clause and deprived the Associations' members of federal statutory rights protected by Section 1983. The district court held that the case presented a simple Supremacy Clause issue: local ordinances conflicted with extant federal law. Relying on Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization, 441 U.S. 600, 60 L. Ed. 2d 508, 99 S. Ct. 1905 (1979), where the Supreme Court held that the Supremacy Clause did not "secure rights" for the purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3), the district court held that the Supremacy Clause did not "secure rights" within the meaning of Section 1983.

The threshold question, then, is whether the Counties deprived the Associations of "any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States within the meaning of Section 1983, which would entitle it to attorney's fees under Section 1988. We begin our analysis by noting that the Supremacy Clause is, in effect, a limit on a state's power to interfere with matters of national concern. The Supremacy Clause is grounded in the allocation of power between federal and state governments and is not a source of, nor does it protect, the individual rights which the Associations assert. For example, in Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Organization, 441 U.S. 600, 60 L. Ed. 2d 508, 99 S. Ct. 1905 (1979), the Supreme Court held that the Supremacy Clause was not a substantive constitutional provision that created rights within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).*fn6 441 U.S. at 612-615. The Court explained that "even though that Clause is not a source of any federal rights, it does 'secure' federal rights by according them priority whenever they come in conflict with state law." 441 U.S. at 613 (footnote omitted). The Court, however, added in explication: "an allegation of incompatibility between federal and state statutes and regulations does not, in itself, give rise to a claim 'secured by the Constitution' within the meaning of § 1343(3)." Id. at 615. In sum, the Supremacy Clause establishes the supremacy of federal over state law and is not of itself a source of substantive constitutional rights.

We note that several circuits have held that the Supremacy Clause is not a source of substantive individual rights that could support an action brought pursuant to Section 1983. For example, the Ninth Circuit, relying on Chapman, noted that "the Supremacy Clause, standing alone, 'secures' federal rights only in the sense that it establishes federal-state priorities; it does not create individual rights, nor does it 'secure' such rights within the meaning of § 1983." White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Williams, 810 F.2d 844, 848 (9th Cir.) (amended opinion), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1060, 107 S. Ct. 940, 93 L. Ed. 2d 990 (1987). As the Ninth Circuit explained, "preemption of state law under the Supremacy Clause -- at least if based on federal occupation of the field or conflict with federal goals -- will not support an action under § 1983, and will not, therefore, support a claim of attorney's fees under § 1988." 810 F.2d ...


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