GREAT A&P TEA CO., INC. V. COTTRELL, 424 U. S. 366 (1976)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Great A&P Tea Co., Inc. v. Cottrell, 424 U.S. 366 (1976)

Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Inc. v. Cottrell

No. 74-1148

Argued December 1, 1975

Decided February 25, 1976

424 U.S. 366


A Mississippi regulation provides that milk and milk products from another State may be sold in Mississippi only if the other State accepts milk or milk products produced and processed in Mississippi on a reciprocal basis. Appellant's application for a permit to distribute for sale at its retail outlets in Mississippi milk and milk products from its Louisiana processing plant was denied solely on the ground that Louisiana had not signed a reciprocity agreement with Mississippi as required by the regulation. Appellant then brought suit claiming that the regulation violated the Commerce Clause, but a three-judge District Court upheld the regulation as a valid exercise of state police powers, even though it incidentally burdened interstate commerce.

Held: The mandatory character of the regulation's reciprocity requirement unduly burdens the free flow of interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause, and cannot be justified as a permissible exercise of any state power. Pp. 424 U. S. 370-381.

(a) Only state interests of substantial importance can save the regulation in the face of its devastating effect upon the free flow of interstate milk by in practical effect, though not in absolute terms, excluding from Mississippi wholesome milk produced in Louisiana. Cf. Dean Milk Co. v. Madison, 340 U. S. 349. Pp. 424 U. S. 372-375.

(b) The reciprocity requirement cannot be justified as serving Mississippi's vital interests in maintaining the State's health standards, for even if Louisiana's standards were lower than Mississippi's, such requirement, if met, permits Louisiana milk to be admitted to Mississippi if Louisiana enters into a reciprocity agreement. And even if the requirement enables Mississippi to assure itself that the reciprocating State's health standards are the "substantial equivalent" of its own, Mississippi has available for accomplishing that objective the alternative, substantially less burdensome on commerce, of applying its own inspection

Page 424 U. S. 367

standards to milk shipments from a nonreciprocating State. Pp. 424 U. S. 375-378.

(c) Nor can the reciprocity requirement be justified as an economic "free trade" measure, since it is

"precisely the kind of hindrance to the introduction of milk from other states . . . condemned as an 'unreasonable clog upon the mobility of commerce'"

and "hostile in conception as well as burdensome in result.'" Polar Ice Cream & Creamer Co. v. Andrews, 375 U. S. 361, 375 U. S. 377. Pp. 424 U. S. 378-381.

383 F.Supp. 569, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except STEVENS, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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