Mayo v. Lakeland Highlands Canning Co

Decision Date26 February 1940
Docket NumberNo. 270,270
Citation84 L.Ed. 774,309 U.S. 310,60 S.Ct. 517
PartiesMAYO, Com'r of Agriculture of Florida, et al. v. LAKELAND HIGHLANDS CANNING CO., Inc., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Florida.

Messrs. William C. Pierce and O. K. Reaves, both of Tampa, Fla., and H. E. Carter, of Tallahassee, Fla., for appellants.

Mr. G. L. Reeves, of Tampa, Fla., for appellees.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellees, corporations of Florida and other states, and individuals, engaged in the canning of citrus fruits in that state, filed their bill in the District Court for Southern Florida against Nathan Mayo, as Commissioner of Agriculture of Florida, praying injunctions, temporary and final, to restrain him from cancelling their licenses as citrus fruit dealers, from enforcing against them a regulation made pursuant to a state statute, and from interfering with the conduct of their business by reason of their failure to comply with the statute.

On presentation of the bill and motion for temporary relief, the court issued a restraining order and convened a court of three judges. The Florida Citrus Commission was permitted to intervene as a defendant. After hearing on affidavits, filed by appellees and appellant Mayo, and, on evidence offered by the appellees, the court granted a temporary injunction pending final hearing. 1 The Commissioner and the intervener have appealed.

The bill alleges the importance of the grapefruit canning industry in the State, and asserts that the appellees, in the conduct of their business, packed over sixty per cent. of the total grapefruit and grapefruit juice canned in the State in seasons prior to that of 19381939. It recites the adoption by the legislature of the Growers' Cost Guarantee Act, Chap. 16862 of the Acts of 1935, which, after declaring that the production and distribution of citrus fruit is a paramount industry of the State, upon which the prosperity of the State largely depends, and assigning reasons for the protection of the industry and the maintenance of prices commensurate with the cost of production of citrus fruit, authorizes the Commissioner of Agriculture, in his discretion, with the consent and advice of the Governor, to declare the existence of an emergency in the industry; and provides that, if he does so, then—upon petition of owners or controllers of fifty per cent. or more of the producing acreage of citrus fruit, and, upon procurement by the Florida Citrus Commission from producers, shippers, or handlers, not subject to the provisions of the act, of binding agreements to conform thereto and abide by its terms—the Commission shall determine and record annually the average reasonable cost, per standard backed box, of producing citrus fruit. The statute provides that, thereupon, every contract with a grower for the purchase of fruit is to be held to require the purchaser to pay the grower a price per box equal to such ascertained and recorded cost; and continues: 'Any contract, plan, scheme or device whereby it shall be attempted to preclude the grower from recovering such cost of production shall to that extent be held to be unlawful and against the public policy of this State, but in all other respects and particulars contracts of sale * * * shall be valid and binding and the terms thereof shall measure the rights of the respective parties.' Section 3. By its terms the act is to apply to any one or more of the varieties of citrus fruit.

The complaint further refers to the Bond and License Act, Chap. 16860, Laws of Florida, 1935, as amended by Chap. 17777, Acts of 1937, which requires every dealer (which term includes processors of citrus fruit) to take a license and provides that if the Commissioner determines that any dealer has violated the provisions of any applicable act he may suspend or revoke the license of the offender. Operation as a dealer without license is made a misdemeanor.

The bill alleges that the packing season for canning citrus products in Florida begins about November 1st of each year and continues until June or July of the following year; that preparations for canning include the ordering of cans, labels, contracting for purchase of fruit, securing labor, planning of factory operations, and obtaining orders for the product.

It is alleged that, under the Growers' Cost Guarantee Act, the appellant Mayo, as Commissioner of Agriculture, with the consent and advice of the Governor, declared an emergency in the citrus industry on January 13, 1939, and that the Citrus Commission passed a resolution Jan- uary 16, 1939, reciting that more than fifty per cent. of the owners or controllers of producing acreage of grapefruit in the State have requested the Commission to determine the cost of production of grapefruit, fixing the cost per standard packed box at thirty-two cents for the season 1938-1939, and decreeing that every contract with a grower shall be held to require that the purchaser shall, in any event, pay the grower the amount so fixed as the cost of production.

The bill states that the expected pack of grapefruit for the season 1938-39 was large, but that, due to the regulation, the output of the cannel product has been less, by two million cases, than that of the previous season; that, since January 19, 1939, each of appellees has been offered quantities of grapefruit by Florida growers, at prices ranging from twelve cents per box for fruit to be processed into juice, to twenty-five cents per box for fruit to be canned into sections or hearts, and that, but for the regulation in question, each could, and would, have purchased such fruit, canned the same, and sold the canned product at a large profit; that, as a result of the regulation, much of the fruit remains unsold and is spoiling.

The bill further asserts that many growers own their own canning plants and may, therefore, process their fruit without being subject to the burden of the Cost Guarantee Law; and that many growers, with like immunity, process their fruit through cooperative organizations to which the Commissioner does not apply the cost price provisions of the law and regulations.

According to the bill a large proportion of the Florida canned fruit is sold in interstate and foreign commerce and much of it competes with that produced in other states which brings lower prices, and, consequently, the appellees cannot pay thirty-two cents per box and sell in competition with fruit elsewhere processed.

It is further averred that one of the appellees had made binding contracts of purchase prior to issue of the regulation, the obligation of which has been impaired thereby.

After alleging that each appellee has a large investment; that the payment of thirty-two cents per box would render it impossible for them to sell their processed grapefruit except at a loss; that the enforcement of the regulation will cause them large losses and irreparable damage; that if they do not comply with the regulation the Commissioner will revoke their licenses, and that, if he should do so, they will be compelled to suspend business or subject themselves to risk of fine and imprisonment under the Bond and License Act, the bill charges that the Growers' Cost Guarantee Law, as administered and as applied to them, is unconstitutional and void as illegally attempting to regulate interstate commerce, as violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because discriminating between cooperatives and the complainants, as taking their property without due process of law, and as impairing the obligation of contracts. The bill also challenges the regulation on the ground that the Commission failed to ascertain, in accordance with the law, that fifty per cent. of the owners or controllers of acreage had requested regulation and also failed to observe the condition precedent to making any order, namely, that all persons not subject to the provisions of the act should execute binding agreements to be governed thereby.

At the time of hearing and decree for preliminary injunction no answer or motion to dismiss had been filed. The court in its opinion stated that the defendants had appeared and, though they had not filed answers, argued the case 'and requested the Court to pass on all questions presented, and especially on the constitutionality of the Act involved.' (28 F.Supp. 45.)

The court in its opinion, after a running commentary, concluded: 'We find the Act unconstitutional.' The court then went on to say that there was no proof before it that the Commission had procured agreements, as required by the act, from shippers or handlers not subject to the provisions of the act, and that, while this fact might not render the act violative of the Constitution, it required an injunction to restrain the Commission from enforcing the prices fixed. An injunction was issued to remain in force until final hearing.

We think the court committed serious error in this dealing with the case upon motion for temporary injunction. The question before it was not whether the act was constitutional or unconstitutional; was not whether the Commission had complied with the requirements of the act, if valid, but was whether the showing made raised serious questions, under the federal Constitution and the state law, and disclosed that enforcement of the act, pending final hearing, would inflict irreparable damages upon the complainants.

The observations made in the course of the opinion are not, in any proper sense, findings of fact upon these vital issues. Statements of fact are mingled with arguments and inferences for which we find no sufficient basis either in the affidavits or the oral testimony.

It is of the highest importance to a proper review of the action of a court in granting or refusing a preliminary injunction that there should be fair compliance with Rule 52(a) of the Rules...

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