120 A.2d 708 (Me. 1956), State v. Union Oil Co. of Me.

Citation120 A.2d 708, 151 Me. 438
Opinion JudgeTAPLEY, J.
Party NameSTATE of Maine v. UNION OIL COMPANY OF MAINE.
AttorneyBoyd Bailey, Asst. Atty. Gen., William Donahue, County Atty., Biddeford, for the State., Armstrong, Marshall & Melnick, Biddeford, for respondent. Boyd Bailey, Assistant Attorney General, William Donahue, for plaintiff. Armstrong, Marshall & Melnick, for defendant.
Judge PanelBefore FELLOWS, C. J., and WILLIAMSON, WEBBER, TAPLEY and CLARKE, JJ.
Case DateFebruary 03, 1956
CourtSupreme Judicial Court of Maine

Page 708

120 A.2d 708 (Me. 1956)

151 Me. 438

STATE of Maine

v.

UNION OIL COMPANY OF MAINE.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

February 3, 1956

Boyd Bailey, Asst. Atty. Gen., William Donahue, County Atty., Biddeford, for the State.

Armstrong, Marshall & Melnick, Biddeford, for respondent.

Before FELLOWS, C. J., and WILLIAMSON, WEBBER, TAPLEY and CLARKE, JJ.

Page 709

TAPLEY, Justice.

On report. This case originated in the Municipal Court of the City of Biddeford and comes to this Court on an agreed statement of facts. This procedure, in [151 Me. 439] taking this case directly to the Law Court on agreed statement from the Biddeford Municipal Court, is authorized by Chap. 82 of the Public and Special Laws of 1881.

The only issue presented for determination is whether the Statute, being Chap. 420 of the Public Laws of 1955, is valid or is unconstitutional in that it violates the due process or equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution or Secs. 1 or 6 of Art. 1 of the Maine State Constitution.

The questionable statute reads as follows:

Chapter 420.

"Sec. 200-A. Signs. No signs stating or relating to the price of motor fuel, and no signs designed or calculated to cause the public to believe that they state or relate to the price of motor fuel, other than one or two signs of a size not larger than 6 inches by 8 inches and displayed on each pump or dispensing unit, shall be posted or displayed on or about the premises where motor fuel is sold at retail or displayed within view of any public highway."

This law became effective on August 20, 1955.

There were two criminal warrants issued against the respondent, Union Oil Company of Maine, a corporation, on the thirtieth day of August, 1955, returnable to the Municipal Court of the City of Biddeford, one warrant alleging that the respondent 'unlawfully did post and display upon the premises where said Union Oil Company of Maine sold motor fuel at retail, a sign relating to the price of motor fuel which said sign was then and there larger than 6 inches by 8 inches, to wit, a circular sign measuring 3 1/2 feet in diameter and said sign reading 'New-Era Gasoline, Save 4cents Per Gal.'' and the other warrant charged that the respondent 'unlawfully did post and display upon the premises where said Union Oil Company of Maine sold motor [151 Me. 440] fuel at retail, a sign stating and relating to the price of motor fuel, which said sign was then and there larger than 6 inches by 8 inches, to wit, 3 feet by 3 1/2 feet, and said sign reading 'Save, Highest Octane, Lowest Prices, .269/10, Tax. Inc.'' It was agreed that the respondent, Union Oil Company of Maine, committed the acts complained of in these complaints dated August 30, 1955 and that they were committed in places and at the times set forth in the complaints. It is to be noted that the respondent does not admit that these acts complained of violated any valid law of the State of Maine. It is further agreed that the signs in no way obstructed the view of traveling motorists or that the use of them violated any law of the State of Maine excepting Chap. 420, P.L. 1955, which law is being attacked by these proceedings.

The respondent is engaged in the sale of motor fuels as an independent retail dealer as distinguished from that retail dealer who sells nationally advertised brands of motor fuel. The respondent became an independent retail dealer in motor fuels on April 1, 1950 by opening a service station at Biddeford, Maine and has been continually so engaged to the present time. It has confined itself to the sale of a private brand of gasoline known as 'New-Era Gasoline' since the commencement of its operation on April 1, 1950. It has expanded its service to include eight stations in this State, all of which specialize in the sale of 'New-Era Gasoline.'

The business policy of the respondent is to sell its product at lower prices than those charged by dealers of the so-called nationally advertised brands. Pursuant to the policy of selling its product at lower prices, the respondent has displayed within view of passing motorists, and on its own premises, the type of signs which are complained of in the warrants.

There are certain photographs taken shortly prior to August 20, 1955 depicting the kind and composition of the [151 Me. 441] signs used by the respondent at its service stations and which form the basis of the complaints.

Page 710

The constitutional provisions involved are: Article XIV of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution:

'* * * nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'

and Sec. 1 of Article I of the Constitution of the State of Maine:

'All men * * * have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.'

The respondent has abandoned any contention that Sec. 6 of Article I of the Constitution is involved in this case. According to our view of the issues, we find it unnecessary to discuss this section which deals with the right of an accused in a criminal case to demand the nature and cause of the accusation.

The issues of law set forth by the respondent are:

'I. Whether the retail sale of motor fuel per se is a business so affected with the public interest as to warrant the exercise of the police power in the regulation of same without some showing of a particular evil affecting the public.

'II. Assuming that the Legislature found or assumed that some evil existed which warranted this legislation, whether Chapter 420, P.L.1955 bears a reasonable relation to the evil sought to be cured.

'III. Whether Chapter 420, P.L.1955 violates the equal protection clauses of our State and [151 Me. 442] Federal Constitutions in that it is discriminatory in its effect.'

The Maine Statute, in essence, provides that if any signs are used stating or relating to the price of motor fuel or signs designed or calculated to cause the public to believe that they state or relate to the price of motor fuel, they shall be restricted to a number of not more than two and to a size not larger than 6 inches by 8 inches to be displayed on each oump or dispensing unit. These restrictions as to the signs concern premises where motor fuel is sold at retail or displayed within view of any public highway. Under this statute no other signs of any description relating to the price of motor fuel or designed or calculated to cause the public to believe that they state or relate to the price of motor fuel are permitted. State v. Miller, 1940, 126 Conn. 373, 12 A.2d 192. The Miller case concerns the constitutional aspect of a law very similar to the Maine Statute wherein the retail price of gasoline or other fuel for motor vehicles must be displayed on a sign not exceeding 126 square inches in size. No other signs affecting the price of gasoline or other fuel for motor vehicles are permitted to be displayed on the premises.

In this case no objection was made to that provision of the statute which required the price of gasoline to be displayed on the pumps, referring, of course, to the sign limited to a size of 126 square inches. The part objected to as being unconstitutional was that portion of the law which forbade the display of price signs on other parts of the premises or in the vicinity. It is interesting to note that the defendant in this case was also engaged in the sale of a motor fuel which was not nationally known or widely advertised. The Court said in its opinion, 12 A.2d on page 194:

'The only grounds advanced in support of...

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