AG Curtis Hill: Indiana State Egg Board Lacks Authority to Regulate Online ‘Farmers Markets’ as Retailers

(INDIANAPOLIS) – The Indiana State Egg Board has no authority to regulate as retailers third-party websites that facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers of eggs, Attorney General Curtis Hill said in an advisory opinion issued today.

Attorney General Hill issued the opinion following an inquiry from the Indiana State Egg Board regarding an online business called Market Wagon that enables customers to connect with local agricultural producers.

Although Market Wagon maintains physical warehouses, all transactions for eggs between vendors and customers occur online, and Market Wagon itself never assumes ownership of the eggs. After a vendor fulfills the customer’s order, the vendor brings the order, sealed and labeled, to Market Wagon’s warehouse. The vendor then places the order in a customer’s designated tote for customer pick-up or delivery.

State law requires a permit to sell eggs at a farmers market, Attorney General Hill noted, but the law’s concept of a farmers market does not include the online platform currently offered by Market Wagon.

“The board’s statutory and regulatory provisions were not designed to address e-commerce,” Attorney General Hill said. “For the board to regulate in this area, there would likely need to be legislative changes to extend the board’s authority.”

Courts have held that websites that offer online marketplaces, such as Amazon and eBay, are not sellers of the products. The fact that a business such as Market Wagon collects money from the customer at the time of purchase does not make it a seller, Attorney General Hill said, because its share of the money is collected as a fee for providing access to its online marketplace rather than for the eggs themselves.

The Indiana State Egg Board does retain regulatory oversight over the egg vendors who use Market Wagon’s services, Attorney General Hill said.

The advisory opinion is attached.