327 U.S. 186 (1946), 61, Oklahoma Press Publishing Co. v. Walling

Docket Nº:No. 61
Citation:327 U.S. 186, 66 S.Ct. 494, 90 L.Ed. 614
Party Name:Oklahoma Press Publishing Co. v. Walling
Case Date:February 11, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court

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327 U.S. 186 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 494, 90 L.Ed. 614

Oklahoma Press Publishing Co.



No. 61

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 11, 1946

Argued October 17, 18, 1945




1. The Fair Labor Standards Act, as applied to the business of publishing and distributing newspapers, does not violate the First or Fifth Amendment or exceed the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause. P. 192.

2. The provisions of § 11(a) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, authorizing the Administrator to investigate conditions and practices of employment in any industry subject to the Act, and of § 9, incorporating the provisions of § 9 of the Federal Trade Commission Act authorizing the issuance and judicial enforcement of subpoenas, do not violate the prohibitions of the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures or any other provision of the Constitution. Pp. 194, 208, 214.

3. A review of the cases applicable to the production of corporate records and papers in response to a subpoena or order authorized by law and safeguarded by judicial sanction discloses that they hold, in effect, that:

(a) The Fifth Amendment affords no protection by virtue of the self-incrimination provision, whether for the corporation or for its officers. P. 208.

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(b) The Fourth Amendment, if applicable, guards against abuse only by way of too much indefiniteness or breadth in the things required to be "particularly described," if the inquiry is one the demanding agency is authorized by law to make and the materials specified are relevant, the gist of the protection being the requirement that the disclosure sought shall not be unreasonable. P. 208.

(c) The requirement of "probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation," literally applicable in the case of a warrant, is satisfied, in the case of an order for production, by the court's determination that the investigation is authorized by Congress and is for a purpose Congress can order, and that the documents sought are relevant to the inquiry. P. 209.

(d) Beyond this, the requirement of reasonableness, including particularity in "describing the place to be searched, and the persons to be seized," also literally applicable to warrants, comes down to specification of the documents to be produced, adequate but not excessive, for the purposes of the relevant inquiry. P. 209.

4. There was no violation of petitioners' rights in these cases, since both petitioners were corporations; the only records or documents sought were corporate ones; no element of self-incrimination was presented or claimed; all the records sought were relevant to an inquiry for the purpose of determining whether petitioners were subject to the Act and, if so, whether they were violating it; and such an inquiry was authorized by §11(a) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. P. 209.

5. The Administrator of the Wage and our Division of the Department of Labor is entitled to judicial enforcement of a subpoena duces tecum issued by him pursuant to § 9 of the Fair Labor Standards Act in the course of an investigation conducted pursuant to §11(a) of the Act, without a prior adjudication that the industry or activity sought to be investigated is covered by the provisions of the Act. Pp. 209, 214.

(a) Congress has authorized the Administrator, rather than the district courts in the first instance, to determine the question of coverage in the preliminary investigation of possible violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act; in doing so, to exercise his subpoena power for securing evidence upon that question by obtaining the production of relevant books, records and papers; and, in case of refusal to obey his subpoena, to have the aid of the district courts in enforcing it. P. 214.

(b) The explicit language of §§ 9 and 11(a) of the Act leaves no room to doubt that the intent of Congress, in authorizing investigations

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supported by subpoenas and enforcement orders, was to enable the Administrator to discover and procure evidence, not to prove a pending charge or complaint, but to enable him to make one if, in his judgment, the facts thus discovered should justify doing so. Pp. 194, 197, 201, 214.

(c) Since there has been no change in the language of the statute, expressions in committee reports on subsequent appropriations, coming largely from one house of Congress, can not be held to change or qualify the plain and unambiguous wording of the statute. P. 197, n. 20.

6. In § 9 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (incorporated in § 9 of the Fair Labor Standards Act), which authorizes the Administrator to invoke the aid of the court "in case of disobedience of the subpoena" and authorizes the court to give assistance "in case of contumacy or refusal to obey a subpoena," Congress made no express requirement of any showing of "probable cause"; and any possible constitutional requirement of that sort was satisfied when the Administrator, in invoking the aid of a court to enforce a subpoena against a corporation, set forth that it was a newspaper publisher, that the Administrator had reason to believe it was violating the Act, that it was "engaged in commerce and in the production of goods for commerce," that he was proceeding with his investigation in accordance with the mandate of Congress, and that the specified records sought were relevant for that purpose. P. 215.

7. The Administrator's investigative function, in searching out violations with a view to enforcing the Act, is essentially the same as the grand jury's or the court's in issuing other pretrial orders for the discovery of evidence, and is governed by the same limitations -- that he shall not act arbitrarily or in excess of hi statutory authority. P. 216.

147 F.2d 658; 148 F.2d 57, affirmed.

No. 61. Upon application of the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, a district court issued an order directing that he be given access to certain documents and records of a newspaper publishing corporation, pursuant to §§ 9 and 11(a) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. 7 Wage Hour Rep. 656. The circuit court of appeals affirmed. 147 F.2d 658. This Court granted certiorari. 325 U.S. 845. Affirmed, p. 218.

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RUTLEDGE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases bring for decision important questions concerning the Administrator's right to judicial enforcement of subpoenas duces tecum issued by him in the course of investigations conducted pursuant to § 11(a) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 52 Stat. 1060. His claim is founded directly upon § 9, which incorporates the enforcement provisions of §§ 9 and 10 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 38 Stat. 717.1 The subpoenas sought the production of specified records to determine whether petitioners were violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, including records relating to coverage. Petitioners, newspaper publishing corporations, maintain that the Act is not applicable to them, for constitutional and other reasons, and insist that the question of coverage must be adjudicated before the subpoenas may be enforced.

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In No. 61, involving the Oklahoma Press Publishing Company, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has rejected this view, holding that the Administrator was entitled to enforcement upon showing of "probable cause," which it found had been made. 147 F.2d 658. Accordingly it affirmed the District Court's order directing that the Administrator be given access to the records and documents specified.2

In No. 63, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit likewise rejected the company's position, one judge dissenting on the ground that probable cause had not been shown. 148 F.2d 57. It accordingly reversed the District Court's order of dismissal in the proceeding to show cause, which in effect denied enforcement for want of a showing of coverage. Application of Walling, 49 F.Supp. 659.3 The

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Court of Appeals thought that requiring the Administrator

to make proof of coverage would be to turn the proceeding into a suit to decide a question which must be determined by the Administrator in the course of his investigation

(148 F.2d 60), and relied upon Endicott Johnson Corp. v. Perkins, 317 U.S. 501, as being persuasive that this could not be done. Regarding the subpoena as containing no unreasonable demand, it conceived the return and affidavits filed by the company, together with the Administrator's allegations of coverage,4 as a showing sufficient to require enforcement. Hence, it directed that the District Court's discretion be exercised with that effect.

[66 S.Ct. 497] Because of the importance of the issues for administration of the Act and also on account of the differences in the grounds for the two decisions, as well as between them

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and decisions from other circuits,5 certiorari was granted in both cases. 325 U.S. 845.

The issues have taken wide range. They are substantially the same in the two causes, except in one respect to be noted.6 In addition to an argument from Congress' intent, reliance falls upon various constitutional provisions, including the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as well as the limited reach of the commerce clause, to show that the Administrator's conduct and the relief he seeks are forbidden.


Coloring almost all of petitioners' position, as we understand them, is a primary misconception that the First Amendment knocks out any possible application of the Fair Labor Standards Act to the business of publishing and distributing newspapers. The argument has two prongs.

The broadside assertion that...

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