Polk Co v. Glover

Decision Date07 November 1938
Docket NumberNo. 29,29
Citation59 S.Ct. 15,305 U.S. 5,83 L.Ed. 6
PartiesPOLK CO. et al. v. GLOVER, County Solicitor of Polk County, Fla., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

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

Messrs. H. Thomas Austern, of Washington, D.C., and John B. Sutton, of Tampa, Fla., for appellants.

Messrs. Wm. C. Pierce, of Tampa, Fla., and John L. Graham, of Tallahassee, Fla., for appellee.


Plaintiffs, engaged in the business of canning citrus products grown in the State of Florida, challenged by this suit the validity of Chapter 17783 of the Acts of 1937 of that State upon the ground that the statute violated the state constitution and also the commerce clause, and the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, of the Federal Constitution, U.S.C.A.Const. Amend. 14. An interlocutory injunction was sought and a court of three judges was convened.

Reciting that certain persons are engaged in importing into Florida citrus fruit and citrus juice produced and canned elsewhere, and in labeling the same in Florida whence it is sold, with the result that dealers are deceived and producers and canners in Florida are injured, the statute provides that every label upon any container of canned citrus fruit or juice shall show accurately the name of the State or country in which the fruit or juice was produced, and that every container used for such fruit or juice produced in Florida 'shall have stamped into or embossed upon the tin, glass or other substance of which such container is made' the word 'Florida', and it is made unlawful for anyone to use any container bearing the name 'Florida' for any canned citrus fruit or juice produced elsewhere. Section 2. The Florida Citrus Commission is authorized to prescribe the method of marking the labels and embossing the containers. Violation of the Act is punishable by imprisonment or fine, or both, and by confiscation of all goods misbranded.

The Act was approved June 10, 1937, and provided that it should take effect immediately. On September 4, 1937, the Commission resolved that 'for the present' it felt that 'an educational and adjustment period' was necessary before the labeling provisions were enforced. On October 4, 1937, the Commission adopted regulations prescribing the method of stamping or embossing the cans.

The bill of complaint set forth facts relating to the character of the trade, the process of canning and the trade practices as to labeling. It alleged that plaintiffs were without knowledge as to the authority of the Commission to postpone the enforcement of the labeling provisions of the Act and had no assurance from any enforcement officer that failure to comply therewith would not result in criminal prosecution or in the confiscation of products packed; that the 'classification, sorting and overprinting of both packer and private brand labels now on hand' would result in immediate increased cost to each of the plaintiffs in an amount in excess of $3,000; that as to the required embossing, the statute made no provision for the use of the tin containers not so embossed which the plaintiffs had on hand in a value in excess of $33,000; that these containers would no longer be usable in the packing of canned citrus products if the statute were enforced; that the embossing of the tin plate of the can would cause what is known as 'hydrogen flippers' due to action of the acid in the fruit upon the sheet steel underlying the tin plate through the weakening or penetration of the tin covering; that this would result in 'un told spoilage, swelling of cans, unmarketability and loss of products, loss of consumers' good will, and other damage', in an amount not presently calculable; and that the requirement of embossing would cause each of the plaintiffs a loss in excess of $3,000 because of the refusal of distributors to purchase and handle cans so embossed. The effect of the Act upon plaintiffs' trade was described in support of the claim that the enforcement of its provisions would inflict immediate and irreparable injury.

Defendants, including the Florida Citrus Commission (which intervened) and other officials, filed answers putting in issue the allegations as to the injurious operation of the statute. They also moved to dismiss the bill of complaint upon the ground that it failed to state a cause of action. On the application for interlocutory injunction, the parties submitted affidavits setting forth facts in support of their respective contentions. At the same time the court heard the motions to dismiss. Injunction was denied, the motions to dismiss were granted, and a final decree was entered accordingly. D.C., 22 F.Supp. 575. This is a direct appeal from the decree of dismissal. 28 U.S.C. § 380, 28 U.S.C.A. § 380.

The District Court made findings. After reciting the statements in the preamble of the statute, the court found that no sufficient facts had been shown by affidavits or otherwise to overcome the findings of fact so made by the legislature; that the statute was enacted in pursuance of the police power of the State and that all citrus fruit canners in Florida were affected by its provisions, without exceptions; that plaintiffs had on hand unembossed containers of a value in excess of $33,000 which would no longer be usable if the Act were enforced, but that 'such containers could be used for packing of vegetables or commodities other than citrus products' and that there was no showing 'thay they could not be exchanged with the manufacturer for properly embossed cans at little or no extra expense'; that if the practices and abuses as found by the legislature were not stopped 'the price which the producer of citrus fruit grown in Florida receives for his product will be greatly reduced' and he will 'ultimately be forced out of business'; that it did not sufficiently appear that the embossing of cans would be injurious or harmful to the citrus contents; that, 'apart from the conflicting affidavits, numerous embossed cans were produced before the court, some of which were used for canning citrus products and there was no showing that the contents of such cans had been injuriously affected by the embossing'.

At the same time the court made an order restraining the enforcement of the statute pending this appeal, upon the plaintiffs giving a bond. That order recited that the court was of the opinion 'that the questions involved are novel and of great importance' and further that the plaintiffs 'will suffer irreparable loss and damage during said appeal' if the Florida statute is enforced and this Court should reverse the decree.

We are of the opinion that the District Court erred in dismissing the bill of complaint. Plaintiffs did not submit the case to be decided upon the merits upon the bill, answers and affidavits. Defendants' motion to dismiss, like the demurrer for which it is a substitute (Equity Rule 29, 28 U.S.C.A. following section 723) was addressed to the sufficiency of the allegations of the bill. For the purpose of that motion, the facts set forth in the bill stood admitted. For the purpose of that motion, the court was confined to the bill and was not at liberty to consider the affidavits or the other evidence produced upon the application for an interlocutory injunction. But the findings of the court indicate that that evidence, in part at least, underlay the final decree it entered.

We think that the facts alleged in the bill were sufficient to entitle the plaintiffs to an opportunity to prove their case, if they could, and that the court should not have undertaken to dispose of the constitutional issues (as to which we intimate no opinion) in advance of that opportunity. The allegations of the bill as to trade conditions and practices, and as to the effect of the required embossing of cans, raise particular questions which can hardly be said to lie within the range of judicial notice. The salutary principle that the essential facts should be determined before passing upon grave constitutional questions is applicable. See Borden's Farm Products Co. v. Baldwin, 293 U.S. 194, 211—213, 55 S.Ct. 187, 192, 193, 79 L.Ed. 281, and cases cited. And that determination requires a hearing in due course upon the issue raised by the pleadings.

The decree is reversed and the cause is remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion. It is so ordered.

Reversed and remanded.

Mr. Justice BLACK, dissenting.

A Florida law designed to prevent fraud, requires that citrus products grown and canned in Florida carry the label, 'Made in Florida' and that containers of these products be embossed with the single word, 'Florida.' The majority do not decide that this State law violates the Federal Constitution. Nor do they decide that proof of the allegations of petitioners' bill of complaint will show that the Florida law violates the Constitution. While petitioners are held entitled to produce evidence, they are not held entitled to relief if they prove their entire bill. If on remand petitioners prove every allegation in their complaint, still—after time and State funds have been spent in taking evidence—either the District Court or this Court may decide that the complaint did not allege facts sufficient to invalidate the law. The the meantime, the State of Florida is forced to litigate the validity of its duly enacted law, with no decision on its substantial defense that petitioners' bill is wholly defective because of 'insufficiency of fact to constitute a valid cause of action'1 or 'failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.' 2

The important consequences of this remand raise far more than mere questions of procedure. State laws are continually subjected to constitutional attacks by those who do not wish to obey them. Accordingly, it becomes increasingly important to protect State governments from needless expensive burdens and...

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