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Supreme Court decides not to hear PhRMA Case v. Alameda County

Alameda County, California’s drug disposal ordinance will stand, paving the way for more states and local governments to pass similar drug take-back laws. 

Boston, Mass. – The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in a case brought by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and two other industry trade groups, which challenged the constitutionality of Alameda County, California’s drug disposal law. The ordinance – the first of its kind – requires drug manufacturers to fund and manage the safe disposal of unwanted medications. The Supreme Court decision means that the Alameda ordinance, as well as similar laws passed in San Francisco, CaliforniaSan Mateo, California, and King County, Washington, will stand.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the challenge brought by PhRMA, the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization will pave the way for more extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws, which hold manufacturers responsible for the end-of-life management of their products. By taking accountability for these items once consumers are done with them, producers can help protect both communities and the environment.

Product Stewardship Institute Chief Executive Officer and Founder Scott Cassel joined environmental groups and local government officials in applauding the decision. “This is good news for the residents of Alameda County, San Francisco, San Mateo County, King County, and others, who will have a safe and convenient way to dispose of their unused and expired medications. Not only that, this decision paves the way for other municipalities and states around the nation to pursue similar legislation.”

“As the Supreme Court declined to hear this case, the Ninth Circuit court’s opinion is the controlling law in that jurisdiction. Policymakers in the region who seek to implement extended producer responsibility laws like the one in Alameda County should be able to move forward comfortably,” noted Jayni Foley Hein, Policy Director at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law.

Back in 2012, Alameda County unanimously approved the landmark Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance, requiring pharmaceutical companies that sell, offer for sale, or distribute their drugs in the county to fund and manage a drug take-back program. The three aforementioned industry groups filed suit, claiming that the ordinance violated a legal doctrine called the dormant Commerce Clause, derived from Article I of the U.S. Constitution. A federal district court ruled in favor of the county in August 2013. PhRMA and the two trade groups appealed, and in September 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also ruled in favor of Alameda. The industry then filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court.

During this three-year legal battle, Alameda County moved forward with its stewardship program. San Francisco, San Mateo County, and King County also adopted similar laws. The Supreme Court’s decision not to grant certiorari in this case means that those programs, all located within the Ninth Circuit jurisdiction, will continue to proceed as planned.

PSI has advocated for EPR laws on pharmaceuticals since 2004, developing model legislation to help counties like Alameda take action. The organization has effectively worked to change federal requirements to provide more convenient collection opportunities for controlled substances. In 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration released its final rule on the Controlled Substances Act, granting greater flexibility as to when, where, and how consumers may dispose of their unwanted medication. To aide in local efforts, PSI has offered technical assistance to implement effective, convenient drug take-back sites around the country. PSI has also been working with King County to implement its pharmaceutical EPR program, and will continue to promote the introduction of new programs in light of this decision.

Looking to learn more? Check out PSI’s fact sheet exploring the implications of the Supreme Court decision, and another fact sheet outlining the history behind the case.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 26th, 2015.