228 U.S. 115 (2020), McDermott v. Wisconsin

Citation:228 U.S. 115, 33 S.Ct. 431, 57 L.Ed. 754
Party Name:McDermott v. Wisconsin
Case Date:April 07, 1913
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 115

228 U.S. 115 (2020)

33 S.Ct. 431, 57 L.Ed. 754




United States Supreme Court

April 7, 1913




State legislation in regard to labeling articles in interstate commerce which are required to be branded under the federal Pure Food and Drugs Act is void so far as it interferes with the provisions of such act and imposes a burden on interstate commerce, and so held as to certain provisions of the Wisconsin statute.

Congress not only has the right to pas laws regulating legitimate commerce among the states and with foreign nations, but also has full power to bar from the channels of such commerce illicit and harmful articles.

Congress may itself determine the means appropriate to this purpose; and, so long as they do no violence to the other provisions of the Constitution, Congress is itself the judge of the means to be employed in exercising the powers conferred on it in this respect.

The Pure Food and Drugs Act must be construed in the light of the purpose and power of Congress to exclude poisonous and adulterated food from interstate commerce. Hipolite Egg Co. v. United States, 220 U.S. 45.

Articles the shipment or delivery of which in interstate commerce is prohibited by § 2 of the Food and Drugs Act are those which are adulterated or misbranded within the meaning of the act in the light of those provisions of the act wherein adulteration and misbranding are defined.

"Package" or its equivalent, as used in § 7 of the Food and Drugs Act, refers to the immediate container of the article which is intended for consumption by the public. To limit the requirements of the act to the outside box which is not seen by the purchasing public would render nugatory one of the principal provisions of the act.

Quaere, and not necessary to decide in this case, what is the exact meaning of the terms "original unbroken package" and "broken package" as used in §§ 2, 3 and 10 of the Food and Drugs Act.

While the enactment by Congress of the Food and Drugs Act does not

Page 116

prevent the state from making regulations not in conflict therewith to protect its people against fraud or imposition by impure food and drugs, Savage v. Jones, 225 U.S. 501, the state may not, under the guise of exercising its police power, impose burdens upon interstate commerce or enact legislation in conflict with the Act of Congress on the subject.

A state law on a subject within the domain of Congress must yield to the superior power of Congress; to the extent that it interferes with or frustrates the operation of the Act of Congress, a state statute is void.

Whether articles in interstate commerce have been branded in accordance with the terms of the Food and Drugs Act is not for the state to determine, but for the federal courts in the manner indicated by Congress.

As the federal Food and Drugs Act requires articles in interstate commerce to be properly labeled, a state cannot require a label when properly affixed under that statute to be removed and other labels authorized by its own statute to be affixed to the package containing the article so long as it remains unsold by the importer, whether it be in the original case or not.

The doctrine of original packages was not intended to limit the right of Congress, when it chose to assert it, as it has done in the Food and Drugs Act, to keep the channels of interstate commerce free from the carriage of injurious or fraudulently branded articles and to choose appropriate means to that end.

State legislation cannot impair legislative means provided by Congress in a federal statute for the enforcement thereof.

The statute of Wisconsin of 1907 prescribing a label for corn syrup and prohibiting all others is invalid so far as it relates to articles properly branded on the immediate container thereof under the federal Food and Drugs Act and brought into the state in interstate commerce, so long as they remain unsold by the importer, whether in the original outside package or not.

143 Wis. 18 reversed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of the Wisconsin Syrup Law and the construction of the federal Pure Food and Drug Law, are stated in the opinion.

Page 124

DAY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

The plaintiffs in error, George McDermott and T. H. Grady, were severally convicted in the Circuit Court of Dane County, in the State of Wisconsin, upon complaints made against them by an Assistant Dairy and Food

Page 125

Commissioner of that state, for the violation of a statute of Wisconsin relating to the sale of certain articles and for the protection of the public health. The convictions were affirmed by the decision of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin. 143 Wis. 18.

The complaint against McDermott charged that, on March 2, 1908, at Oregon, in Dane County, he

did unlawfully have in his possession with intent to sell, and did offer and expose for sale and did sell, a certain article, product, compound, and mixture composed of more than seventy-five percent glucose and less than twenty-five percent of cane syrup, said cane syrup being then and there mixed with said glucose, and that the can containing said compound and mixture was then and there unlawfully branded and labeled "Karo Corn Syrup," and was then and there further unlawfully branded and labeled, "10% Cane Syrup, 90% Corn Syrup," contrary to the statute in such case made and provided.

As to Grady, the complaint was similar to that against McDermott, except that the label designated the mixture as "Karo Corn Syrup with Cane Flavor," and added "Corn Syrup, 85%." The statute of Wisconsin for the violation of which plaintiffs in error were convicted is found in Laws of Wisconsin for 1907 at 646, being chapter 557, and the pertinent parts of it are as follows:

Section 1. . . . No person, . . . by himself . . . or agent . . . shall sell, offer, or expose for sale, or have in his possession with intent to sell, any syrup, maple syrup, sugar-cane syrup, sugar syrup, refiners' syrup, sorghum syrup, or molasses, mixed with glucose, unless the barrel, cask, keg, can, pail, or other original container, containing the same, be distinctly branded or labeled so as to plainly show the true name of each and all of the ingredients composing such mixture, as follows:

* * * *

Page 126

Third. In case such mixture shall contain glucose in a proportion exceeding 75 percent by weight, it shall be labeled and sold as "Glucose flavored with Maple Syrup," "Glucose flavored with Sugar-cane Syrup," . . . "Glucose flavored with Refiners' Syrup," . . . as the case may be. The address of the manufacturer or dealer. address of the manufacturer or dealer. . . . In all mixtures in which glucose [33 S.Ct. 433] is used in the proportion of more than 75 percent by weight, the name of the syrup or molasses which is mixed with the glucose for flavoring purposes, and the words showing that said syrup or molasses is used as a flavoring, as provided in this section, shall be printed on the label of each container of such mixture. . . . The mixture or syrups designated in this section shall have no other designation or brand than herein required that represents or is the name of any article which contains a saccharin substance, . . . nor shall any of the aforesaid glucose, syrups, molasses, or mixtures contain any substance injurious to health, nor any other article or substance otherwise prohibited by law in articles of food.

The facts are that the plaintiffs in error were retail merchants in Oregon, Dane County, Wisconsin; that, before the filing of the complaints against them, each had bought for himself for resale as such merchant from wholesale grocers in Chicago, and had received by rail from that city, twelve half-gallon tin cans or pails of the articles designated in the complaints, each shipment being made in wooden boxes containing the cans, and that, when the goods were received at their stores, the respective plaintiffs in error took the cans from the boxes, placed them on the shelves for sale at retail, and destroyed the boxes in which the goods were shipped to them, as was customary in such cases. From their nature, the articles thus canned and offered to be sold, instead of being labeled as they were, if labeled in accordance with

Page 127

the state law, should have been branded with the words "Glucose flavored with Refiners' Syrup," and, as the statute provides that the mixtures or syrups offered for sale shall have upon them no designation or brand which represents or contains the name of a saccharin substance other than that required by the state law, the labels upon the cans must be removed if the state authority is recognized.

Plaintiffs in error contend that the cans were labeled in accordance with the Food and Drugs Act passed by Congress, June 30, 1906, 34 Stat. 768, c. 3915, and that that fact is evidenced by the decision of the Secretaries of the Treasury, Agriculture, and Commerce and Labor, made under the claimed authority of that act, which is as follows:

Washington, D.C. February 13, 1908

We have each given careful consideration to the labeling, under the Pure Food Law, of the thick, viscous syrup obtained by the incomplete hydrolysis of the starch of corn, and composed essentially of dextrose, maltose, and dextrim. In our opinion, it is lawful to label this syrup as corn syrup, and if to the corn syrup there is added a small percentage of refiner's syrup, a product of cane, the mixture in our judgment is not misbranded if labeled "corn syrup with cane flavor."

George B. Cortelyou, Secretary of the Treasury

James Wilson, Secretary of Agriculture

Oscar H. Strauss, Secretary of Commerce and Labor

And it is insisted that the federal Food and Drugs Act, passed under the authority of...

To continue reading