Donaldson v. Read Magazine

Decision Date08 March 1948
Docket NumberNo. 50,50
Citation333 U.S. 178,92 L.Ed.6 28,68 S.Ct. 591
PartiesDONALDSON, Postmaster General, v. READ MAGAZINE, Inc., et al. Re
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Robert L. Stern, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. John W. Burke, Jr., of New York City, for respondents.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents questions as to the validity of an order issued by petitioner, the Postmaster General, which directed that mail addressed to some of respondents be returned to the senders marked 'Fraudulent,' and that postal money order sums payable to their order be returned to the remitters.

The respondent Publishers Service Company has conducted many contests to promote the circulation of newspapers in which it has advertised that prizes would be given for the solution of puzzles. Through its corporate subsidiaries, respondents Literary Classics, Inc., and Read Magazine, Inc., it publishes books and two monthly magazines called Read and Facts. The place of business is in New York City.

In 1945 respondents to promote sales of their books put on a nationally advertised project, known as the Facts Magazine Hall of Fame Puzzle Contest. The Postmaster General after a hearing found 'upon evidence satisfactory to him' that the 'puzzle contest' was 'a scheme or device for obtaining money through the mails by means of false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, in violation of sections 259 and 732 of title 39, United States Code * * *.' Specifically, the Postmaster General found that the representations were false and fraudulent for two principal reasons. First, that prospective contestants were falsely led to believe that they might be eligible to win prizes upon payment of $3 as a maximum sum when in reality the minimum requirement was $9, and as it later developed they were finally called on to pay as much as $42 to be eligible for increased prize offers. Second, the Postmaster General found that though the contest was emphasized in advertisements as a 'puzzle contest' it was not a puzzle contest; that respondents knew from experience that the puzzles were so easy that many people would solve all the 'puzzles' and that prizes would be awarded only as a result of a tie-breaking letter-essay contest; and that contestants were deliberately misled concerning all these facts by artfully composed advertisements.

The contest was under the immediate supervision of respondents Henry Walsh Lee and Judith S. Johnson, editor-in-chief and 'contest editor' respectively of Facts. The Postmaster General's original fraud order related to mail and money orders directed to

'Puzzle Contest, Facts Magazine; Contest Editor, Facts Magazine; Judith S. Johnson, Contest Editor; Miss J. S. Johnson, Contest Editor; Contest Editor; Facts Magazine; and Henry Walsh Lee, Editor in Chief, Facts Magazine, and their officers and agents as such, at New York, New York.'

Respondents filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to enjoin enforcement of the order. They alleged its invalidity on the grounds that there was no substantial evidence to support the Postmaster General's findings of fraud, and that the statutory provisions under which the order was issued authorize the Postmaster General to act as a censor and hence violate the First Amendment. The District Court issued a temporary restraining order but directed that pending further orders respondents should deposit in court all moneys and the proceeds of all checks and money orders received through the mails as qualifying fees for the Hall of Fame Puzzle Contest. After a hearing the respondents' motion for summary judgment was granted on the ground that the findings were not supported by substantial evidence. 63 F.Supp. 318. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed on the same ground, one judge dissenting. 81 U.S.App.D.C. 339, 158 F.2d 542. We granted certiorari.

Th case has been twice argued in this Court. Briefs of both parties on the first argument dealt only with the question of whether the Postmaster General's findings of fraud were supported by substantial evidence. But assuming validity of the findings, questions arose during the first oral argument concerning the scope of the fraud order. That order had included a direction to the New York postmaster to refuse to deliver any mail or to pay any money orders to Facts, its officers and agents, including its editor in chief, who was also editor of Read. The two monthly magazines, both published in New York, had an aggregate circulation of nearly five hundred thousand copies. We were told the total deprivation of the right of Facts and of the editor of the two magazines to receive mail and to cash money orders would practically put both magazines out of business. See United States ex rel. Milwaukee Social Democratic Pub. Co. v. Burleson, 255 U.S. 407, 41 S.Ct. 352, 65 L.Ed. 704. Furthermore, the order was of indefinite duration and Facts and its affiliates have made a business of conducting contests to promote the circulation of books and magazines. The order, if indefinitely enforced, might have resulted in barring delivery of mail and payment of money orders in relation to other non-fraudulent contests as well as legitimate magazine business. All of the foregoing raised questions about the validity and scope of the original order, if unmodified, which we deemed of sufficient importance to justify further argument. For that reason we set the case down for reargument, requesting parties to discuss the validity and scope of the order, and whether, if invalid by reason of its scope, it could be so modified as to free it from statutory or constitutional objections.1

Thereafter, and before reargument, the Postmaster General revoked the order insofar as it applied to Facts magazine, its editor-in-chief, and its officers and agents. As modified, the order bars delivery of mail and payment of money orders only to addressees designated in the contest advertisements:

'Puzzle Contest, Facts Magazine; Contest Editor, Facts Magazine; Judith S. Johnson, Contest Editor; Miss J. S. Johnson, Contest Editor; Contest Editor.'

The Postmaster General, so we are informed, does not construe the modified order as forbidding delivery of mail or payment of money orders to Facts magazine or even to Miss Judith (J. S.) Johnson, individually. So construed, the order is narrowly restricted to mail and money orders sent in relation to the Hall of Fame Puzzle Contest found fraudulent, and would not bar deliveries t the magazines, to their editor, or to the three corporate respondents. It would bar deliveries to Judith (J. S.) Johnson, only if sent to her at the designated address and in her capacity as 'Contest Editor.' Likewise the District Court's order impounding funds is limited to qualifying fees received in the Hall of Fame Puzzle Contest. If the Postmaster General's action in modifying the order is valid, the questions we asked to have argued have largely been eliminated from the original order.

Respondents' contentions now are: (1) The Postmaster General lacked power to modify his original fraud order, and hence that order remains subject to any and all of its original infirmities. (2) The findings on which the order is based are not supported by substantial evidence. (3) The statutes under which the order was issued violate various constitutional provisions.

First. Respondents' contention that the Postmaster General was without power to modify the order by elimination of Facts magazine, its editor, and its officers and agents is based almost entirely on their two other grounds for asserting invalidity of the order. Of course, if the order were wholly invalid as to all of the respondents for these reasons, it could not have been validated merely by eliminating some of them from its terms. But laying aside respondents' other contentions for the moment, we have no doubt as to the Postmaster General's authority to modify the fraud order.

Having concluded that the original order was broader than necessary to reach the fraud proved, the Postmaster General not only possessed the power but he had the duty to reduce its scope to what was essential for that purpose. The purpose of mail fraud orders is not punishment, but prevention of future injury to the public by denying the use of the mails to aid a fraudulent scheme. See Com'r v. Heininger, 320 U.S. 467, 474, 64 S.Ct. 249, 251, 88 L.Ed. 171. Such orders if too broad could work great hardships and inflict unnecessary injuries upon innocent persons and businesses. No persuasive reason has been suggested why the Postmaster General should be without power to modify an order of this kind. Such an order is similar to an equitable injunction to restrain future conduct, and like such an injunction should be subject to modification whenever it appears that one or more of the restraints imposed are no longer needed to protect the public. United States v. Swift & Co., 286 U.S. 106, 114, 52 S.Ct. 460, 462, 76 L.Ed. 999; see Skinner & Eddy Corporation v. United States, 249 U.S. 557, 570, 39 S.Ct. 375, 380, 63 L.Ed. 772.

Furthermore, the modification here involved was for respondents' benefit; it gave them a part of the very relief for which they prayed. It removed the ban against delivery of mail and payment of money orders to their magazine, its editor and its agents—a ban which we were told would have done them irreparable injury if left in effect. The possibility that another order might be entered against the eliminated respondents is too remote to require us to consider the original order as though the modification had never been made. See United States v. Hamburgh-American S.S. Co., 239 U.S. 466, 475, 476, 36 S.Ct. 212, 216, 60 L.Ed. 387.

Nor does the modification subject respondents to any disadvantage in this case in reference to the impounded funds. Those funds are sums sent in as...

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