Edmund Nash v. United States

Citation33 S.Ct. 780,57 L.Ed. 1232,229 U.S. 373
Decision Date09 June 1913
Docket NumberNo. 197,197
PartiesEDMUND S. NASH, Spencer P. Shotter, et al., Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Samuel B. Adams, John C. Spooner, and George Rublee for petitioners.

Assistant to the Attorney General Fowler and Mr. Alexander Akerman for respondent.

Mr. Justice Holmes delivered the opinion of the court:

This is an indictment in two counts,—the first for a conspiracy in restraint of trade, the second for a conspiracy to monopolize trade, contrary to the act of July 2, 1890, chap. 647, 26 Stat. at L. 209, U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 3200, commonly known as the Sherman act. Originally there was a third count for monopolizing, but it was held bad on demurrer and was struck out.

The allegations of fact in the two counts are alike. Summed up in narrative form they are as follows: The American Naval Stores Company, a West Virginia corporation having its principal office in Savannah and branch offices in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc., was engaged in buying, selling, shipping, and exporting spirits of turpentine in and from Southern states to other states and abroad. Nash was the president; Shotter, chairman of the board of directors; Myers, vice president; Boardman, treasurer; DeLoach, secretary; and Moller, manager of the Jacksonville, Florida, branch. The National Transportation & Terminal Company, a New Jersey corporation, had warehouses and terminals for handling spirits of turpentine and naval stores at Fernandina, and other places named, in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, etc., was engaged in storing such turpentine and rosin and issuing warehouse receipts for the same. Myers was the president, DeLoach the secretary, and Moller manager of the Jacksonville branch. On May 1, 1907, it is alleged, these corporations and individuals conspired to restrain commerce in the articles named, among the states and with foreign nations,—the restraint to be effected in the following ways, among others: (1) by bidding down turpentine and rosin so that competitors could sell them only at ruinous prices; (2) by causing naval stores receipts that naturally would go to one port, to go to another; (3) by purchasing thereafter a large part of 'its' supplies at ports known as closed ports, and, with intent to depress the market, refraining from purchasing any appreciable part at Savannah, the primary market in the United States for naval stores, where purchases would tend to strengthen prices, the defendants taking the receipts at the closed ports named on a basis of the market at Savannah; (4) by coercing factors and brokers into contracts with the defendants for the storage and purchase of their receipts, and refusing to purchase from such factors and brokers unless such contracts were entered into; (5) by circulating false statements as to naval stores production and stocks on hand; (6) by issuing fraudulent warehouse receipts; (7) by fraudulently grading, regrading, and raising grades of rosins, and falsely gauging spirits of turpentine; (8) by attempting to bribe employees of competitors so as to obtain information concerning their business and stocks; (9) by inducing consumers, by payments and threats of boycotts, to postpone dates of delivery of contract supplies, and thus enabling defendants to postpone purchasing when to purchase would tend to strengthen the market; (10) by making tentative offers of large amounts of naval stores to depress the market, accepting contracts only for small amounts, and purchasing when the market had been depressed by the offers; (11) by selling far below cost in order to compel competitors to meet prices ruinous to everybody; (12) by fixing the price of turpentine below the cost of production,—all the foregoing being for the purpose of driving competitors out of business and restraining foreign trade, or, in the second count, of doing the same and monopolizing the trade.

The two counts before us were demurred to on the grounds that the statute was so vague as to be inoperative on its criminal side; that neither of the counts alleged any overt act; that the contemplated acts and things would not have constituted an offense if they had been done, and that the same acts, etc., were too vaguely charged. The demurrer was overruled and this action of the court raises the important questions of the case. We will deal with them before passing to matters of detail.

The objection to the criminal operation of the statute is thought to be warranted by Standard Oil Co. v. United States, 221 U. S. 1, 55 L. ed. 619, 34 L.R.A.(N.S.) 834, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 502, Ann. Cas. 1912 D, 734, and United States v. American Tobacco Co. 221 U. S. 106, 55 L. ed. 663, 31 Sup. Ct. Rep. 632. Those cases may be taken to have established that only such contracts and combinations are within the act as, by reason of intent or the inherent nature of the contemplated acts, prejudice the public interests by unduly restricting competition or unduly obstructing the course of trade. 221 U. S. 179. And thereupon it is said that the crime thus defined by the statute contains in its definition an element of degree as to which estimates may differ, with the result that a man might find himself in prison because his honest judgment did not anticipate that of a jury of less competent men. The kindred proposition that 'the criminality of an act cannot depend upon whether a jury may think it reasonable or unreasonable. There must be some definiteness and certainty,' is cited from the late Mr. Justice Brewer, sitting in the circuit court. Tozer v. United States, 4 Inters. Com. Rep. 245, 52 Fed. 917, 919.

But, apart from the common law as to the restraint of trade thus taken up by the statute, the law is full of instances where a man's fate depends on his estimating rightly, that is, as the jury subsequently estimates it, some matter of degree. If his judgment is wrong, not only may he incur a fine or a short imprisonment, as here; he may incur the penalty of death. 'An act causing death may be murder, manslaughter, or misadventure, according to the degree of danger attending it' by common experience in the circumstances known to the actor. 'The very meaning of the fiction of implied malice in such cases at common law was, that a man might have to answer with his life for consequences which he neither intended nor foresaw.' Com. v. Pierce, 138...

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