Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, 128 S.Ct. 989552 U.S. 364 (2008)

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Status: Closed

Legal Issue

Whether a state was federally preempted from regulating the interstate sale of tobacco products via the Internet.

Overview

In 2003, the State of Maine passed a “tobacco delivery law” regulating the sale of tobacco products purchased through the Internet and by phone to ensure that these products did not reach minors and were not delivered by unlicensed tobacco retailers. The law allowed only Maine-licensed tobacco retailers to accept a tobacco delivery and required them to use a company that used recipient-verification delivery.  Several trade associations for delivery companies challenged the law in the US District Court for the District of Maine, arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) of 1994, which supports the free flow of interstate commerce, preempted the Maine law.

The district court declared that two of the three challenged provisions were preempted by the FAAAA and granted injunctive relief to prevent the Maine Attorney General from enforcing the law. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed in part, holding that all but one portion of the two provisions preempted.  The State of Maine petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.  

In 2003, the State of Maine passed a “tobacco delivery law” regulating the sale of tobacco products purchased through the Internet and by phone to ensure that these products did not reach minors and were not delivered by unlicensed tobacco retailers. The law allowed only Maine-licensed tobacco retailers to accept a tobacco delivery and required them to use a company that used recipient-verification delivery.  Several trade associations for delivery companies challenged the law in the US District Court for the District of Maine, arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAAA) of 1994, which supports the free flow of interstate commerce, preempted the Maine law.

The district court declared that two of the three challenged provisions were preempted by the FAAAA and granted injunctive relief to prevent the Maine Attorney General from enforcing the law. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed in part, holding that all but one portion of the two provisions preempted.  The State of Maine petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.  

Amicus Briefs

The Tobacco Control Legal Consortium filed two amicus briefs on behalf of the Maine Attorney General, arguing that the FAAAA did not preempt the Maine Tobacco Delivery Law. Both briefs were written by Kathleen Dachille, Director of the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation and Advocacy at the University of Maryland School of Law.

In October 2006, the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the State of Maine’s petition for certiorari. We argued that the First Circuit’s decision unreasonably restricted Maine and other states from regulating direct Internet or phone sales of tobacco and controlling youth access to tobacco. Our brief was joined by three national public health organizations.

On August 23, 2007, the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Maine, arguing that Maine’s tobacco delivery law is a legitimate exercise of the state’s public health police powers and a necessary response to Congress’s call to reduce youth access to tobacco. We argued that the increase in teen Internet use and the number of online tobacco retailers has made it difficult for the state to prevent youth access to tobacco, and states have the obligation and power to regulate tobacco even when sales are over the Internet.  Our brief was joined by nine national public health and advocacy organizations.

Outcome

On February 20, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned the State of Maine’s attempt to control the online sales of cigarettes by regulating the delivery of tobacco products.  It affirmed the lower court’s decision in favor of New Hampshire Motor Transport, ruling that state laws in this area are preempted by federal interstate trucking laws.

Case Documents & Information