373 U.S. 132 (1963), 45, Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul

Docket Nº:No. 45
Citation:373 U.S. 132, 83 S.Ct. 1210, 10 L.Ed.2d 248
Party Name:Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul
Case Date:May 13, 1963
Court:United States Supreme Court

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373 U.S. 132 (1963)

83 S.Ct. 1210, 10 L.Ed.2d 248

Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc.



No. 45

United States Supreme Court

May 13, 1963

Argued January 8, 1963




Appellants, who are engaged in the business of growing, packing and marketing Florida avocados in interstate commerce, sued in a Federal District Court to enjoin appellees, state officers of California, from enforcing § 792 of the California Agricultural Code, which prohibits the transportation or sale in California of avocados containing less than 8% of oil by weight, against Florida avocados certified as mature under federal regulations issued under the Federal Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937. They contended that § 792 of the California statute, as so applied, was unconstitutional, because, (1) under the Supremacy Clause, it must be deemed displaced by the federal standard for determining the maturity of avocados grown in Florida; (2) its application to Florida avocados denied appellants the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (3) its application to them unreasonably burdened or discriminated against interstate marketing of Florida avocados in violation of the Commerce Clause. A three-judge District Court convened to hear the case denied an injunction on the ground that the proofs did not establish that application of § 792 to Florida avocados violated any provision of the Federal Constitution.


1. Section 792 is not invalid under the Supremacy Clause, because there is neither such actual conflict between the two schemes of regulation that both cannot stand in the same area, nor is there evidence of a congressional design to preempt the field. Pp. 141-152.

(a) The present record demonstrates no inevitable collision between the two schemes of regulation, despite the dissimilarity of the standards. Pp. 142-143.

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(b) The subject matter of the California regulation, while not concerned with health or safety, is one traditionally within the scope of the power of the States to prevent deception of consumers in the retail marketing of foodstuffs. Pp. 143-146.

(c) Neither the terms nor the history of the Federal Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 discloses a congressional intent to displace traditional state powers to regulate the retail distribution of agricultural commodities. Pp. 146-152.

2. Section 792 does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because it does not work an irrational discrimination between persons or groups of persons. P. 152.

3. The findings of the District Court with respect to the effect of § 792 upon interstate commerce cannot be reviewed, because of substantial uncertainty as to the content of the record on which those findings were predicated. Therefore, the judgment is reversed in this respect, and the case is remanded to the District Court for a new trial of appellants' contentions that § 792 unreasonably burdens or discriminates against interstate commerce in Florida avocados. Pp. 152-156.

4. Since the appellants showed sufficient injury to warrant at least a trial of their allegations, the District Court properly refused to dismiss the complaint for want of equity jurisdiction. Pp. 157-159.

197 F.Supp. 780, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 792 of California's Agricultural Code, which gauges the maturity of avocados by oil content, prohibits the transportation or sale in California of avocados which contain "less than 8 percent of oil, by weight . . .

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excluding the skin and seed."1 In contrast, federal marketing orders approved by the Secretary of Agriculture gauge the maturity of avocados grown n Florida by standards which attribute no significance to oil content.2 This case presents the question of the constitutionality of the California statute insofar as it may be applied to exclude from California markets certain Florida avocados which, although certified to be mature under the federal regulations, do not uniformly meet the California requirement of 8% of oil.

Appellants in No. 45, growers and handlers of avocados in Florida, brought this action in the District Court for the Northern District of California to enjoin the enforcement of § 792 against Florida avocados certified as mature under the federal regulations. Appellants challenged the constitutionality of the statute on three grounds: (1) that, under the Supremacy Clause, Art. VI, the California standard must be deemed displaced by the federal standard for determining the maturity of avocados grown in Florida; (2) that the application of the California statute to Florida-grown avocados denied appellants the Equal

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Protection of the Laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) that its application unreasonably burdened or discriminated against interstate marketing of Florida-grown avocados in violation of the Commerce Clause, Art. I, § 8. A three-judge District Court initially dismissed the complaint. 169 F.Supp. 774. On direct appeal, we held, Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Jacobsen, 362 U.S. 73, that the suit was one for a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2281, and presented a justiciable controversy to be tried on the merits. After a trial, the three-judge court denied an injunction against the enforcement of § 792 on the ground that the proofs did not establish that its application to Florida-grown avocados violated any provision of the Federal Constitution. 197 F.Supp. 780. The District [83 S.Ct. 1214] Court held for several reasons that the Supremacy Clause did not operate to displace § 792: no actual conflict existed between the statute and the federal marketing orders; neither the Agricultural Act nor the marketing orders occupied the field to the exclusion of the state statute, and Congress had not ordained that a federal marketing order was to give a license to Florida producers to "market their avocados without further inspection by the states" after compliance with the federal maturity test. 197 F.Supp. at 787. Rather, the court observed, "[t]he Federal law does not cover the whole field of interstate shipment of avocados," but, by necessary implication, leaves the regulation of certain aspects of distribution to the States. Further, the District Court found no violation of the Equal Protection Clause, because the California statute was applicable on identical terms to Florida and California producers, and was reasonably designed to enforce a traditional and legitimate interest of the State of California in the protection of California consumers. The District Court concluded, finally, that § 792 did not unreasonably burden or discriminate against interstate commerce in out-of-state

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avocados -- that the 8% oil content test served, in practice, only to keep off California grocers' shelves fruit which was unpalatable because prematurely picked. This holding rested, in part, on the conclusion that mature Florida fruit had not been shown to be incapable of attaining 8% oil content, since only a very small fraction of Florida avocados of certain varieties in fact failed to meet the California test.3

Both parties have brought appeals here from the District Court's judgment: the Florida growers urge in No. 45 that the court erred in not enjoining enforcement of the state statute against Florida-grown avocados; in No. 49, the California state officials appeal on the ground that the action should have been dismissed for want of equity jurisdiction, rather than upon the merits. We noted probable jurisdiction of both appeals. 368 U.S. 964, 965. We affirm the judgment in the respect challenged by the cross-appeal in No. 49. In No. 45, we agree that appellants have not sustained their challenges to § 792 under the Supremacy and Equal Protection Clauses. However, we reverse and remand for a new trial insofar as the judgment sustains

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§ 792 against appellants' challenge to the statute grounded on the Commerce Clause. We hold that the effect of the statute upon interstate commerce cannot be determined on the record now before us.

The California statute was enacted in 1925. Like the federal marketing regulations applicable to appellants, this statute sought to ensure the maturity of avocados reaching retail markets.4 The District Court found on sufficient evidence [83 S.Ct. 1215] that, before 1925, the marketing of immature avocados had created serious problems in California.5 An avocado, if picked prematurely, will not ripen properly, but will tend to decay or shrivel and become rubbery and unpalatable after purchase. Not only retail consumers, but even experienced growers, have difficulty in distinguishing mature avocados from the immature by physical characteristics alone.6 Thus, the District Court

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concluded, "[t]he marketing of . . . [immature] avocados cheats the consumer" and adversely affects demand for and orderly distribution of the fruit. 19 F.Supp. at 783.

The federal marketing regulations were adopted pursuant to the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 7 U.S.C. §§ 601 et seq. The declared purposes of the Act are to restore and maintain parity prices for the benefit of producers of agricultural commodities, to ensure the stable and steady flow of commodities to consumers, and

to establish and maintain such minimum standards of quality and maturity . . . as will effectuate such orderly marketing of such agricultural commodities as will be in the public interest,

§ 2(3), 7 U.S.C. § 602(3). Whenever he finds that it would promote these declared policies, the Secretary is empowered, upon notice and hearing, to adopt federal marketing orders and regulations for a particular growing area, § 8c(3), (4), 7 U.S.C. § 608c...

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