Watson v. Buck Buck v. Watson

Decision Date26 May 1941
Docket NumberNos. 610,611,s. 610
Citation313 U.S. 387,136 A.L.R. 1426,85 L.Ed. 1416,61 S.Ct. 962
PartiesWATSON et al. v. BUCK et al. BUCK et al. v. WATSON et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Thomas G. Haight, of Jersey City, N.J., Frank J. Wideman, of Washington, D.C., Louis D. Frohlich and Herman Finkelstein, both of New York City, and Manley P. Caldwell, of West Palm Beach, Fla., for Buck and others.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 388-391 intentionally omitted] Messrs. J. Tom Watson, Atty. Gen., of Florida, Lucien H. Boggs, of Jacksonville, Fla., Tyrus A. Norwood, Asst. Atty. Gen. of Florida, Andrew W. Bennett, of Washington, D.C., and George C. Gibbs, of Jacksonville, Fla., for Watson and others.

[Argument of Counsel from Pages 392-393 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In broad outline, these cases involve the constitutionality of Florida statutes regulating the business of persons hol ing music copyrights and declaring price-fixing combinations of 'authors, composers, publishers, (and) owners' of such copyrights to be illegal and in restraint of trade.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), one of the appellants in No. 611 and one of the appellees in No. 610, is a combination which controls the performance rights of a major part of the available supply of copyrighted popular music. The other appellants in No. 611 (appellees in No. 610) are individual composers, authors and publishers of music controlled by ASCAP. The appellees in No. 611 (appellants in No. 610) are the Attorney General and all the state prosecuting attorneys of Florida who are charged with the duty of enforcing certain parts of the statutes in question.

These who cases were originally a single action, in which ASCAP and its co-parties sought to enjoin the state officials from enforcing a 1937 Florida statute.1 A federal district court, composed of three judges under § 266 of Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C.A. § 380, granted a temporary injunction, and this Court affirmed without passing upon the merits of the constitutional questions involved. Gibbs v. Buck, 307 U.S. 66, 59 S.Ct. 725, 83 L.Ed. 1111. A supplemental bill of complaint was then filed, asking that the three judge court enjoin a 1939 Florida statute relating to the same subject.2 On final hearing, the three judge court again enjoined the state officials from enforcing any part of the 1937 statute, but granted the injunction only as to certain sections of the 1939 act. Buck v. Gibbs, D.C., 34 F.Supp. 510. No. 611 is an appeal by ASCAP and its co-complainants from the refusal to enjoin the state officials from enforcing the remainder of the 1939 act. No. 610 is an appeal by the state officials from the order granting the injunction as to the 1937 act and as to certain sections of the 1939 act.

The court below, without passing at all upon the validity of thirteen out of the twenty-one sections and subsections of the 1937 act, held that the remaining eight sections deprived copyright owners of rights granted them by the federal copyright laws, and that the statute must fall in its entirety. This it did upon the premise that the sections held invalid and the other parts of the bill were intended by the Florida legislature to form 'a harmonious whole' and to 'stand or fall together.' (34 F.Supp. 517.) The ultimate questions involved are such that we must first determine whether this ruling was correct. We hold that it was not, for the following reasons.

The Florida legislature expressed a purpose directly contrary to the District Court's finding. For what the legislature intended in this regard was spelled out in section 12 of the Act in the clear and emphatic language of the legislature itself. That section reads:

'If any section, sub-section, sentence, clause or any part of this Act, is for any reason, held or declared to be unconstitutional, imperative (sic) or void, such holding or invalidity shall not affect the remaining portions of this Act; and it shall be construed to have been the legislative intent to pass this Act without such unconstitutional, inoperative or invalid part therein; and, the remainder of this Act, after the exclusion of such part or parts, shall be held and deemed to be valid as if such excluded parts had not been included herein.'

This is a flat statement that the Florida legislature intended that the act should stand and be enforced 'after the exclusion of such part or parts' as might be held invalid. Unless a controlling decision by Florida's courts compels a different course, the federal courts are not justified in speculating that the state legislature meant exactly the opposite of what it declared 'to have been the legislative intent.' But the Supreme Court of Florida recognizes and seeks to carry out the legislative intent thus expressed. Speaking of a similar severabi ity clause of another statute, that court said: 'The act as a whole evinces a purpose on the part of the Legislature to impose a license tax on chain stores, and section 15 provides that if any section, provision, or clause thereof, or if the act as applied to any circumstances shall be declared invalid or unconstitutional, such invalidity shall not affect other portions of the act held valid nor shall it extend to other circumstances not held to be invalid. Under the liberal terms of section 15 it may be reasonably discerned that the Legislature intended that the act under review should be held good under any eventuality that did not produce an unreasonable, unconstitutional, or an absurd result. * * * The test to determine work-ability after severance, and whether the remainder of the act should be upheld, rests on the fact of whether or not the invalid portion is of such import that the valid part would be incomplete or would cause results not contemplated by the Legisla- ture.' Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee, 109 Fla. 477, 481, 147 So. 463, 149 So. 8, 9. Measured by this test the court below was in error, for there can be no doubt that section 1 and the other sections upon which the court failed to pass are complete in themselves; they are not only consistent with the statute's purpose but are in reality the very heart of the act, comprising a distinct legislative plan for the suppression of combinations declared to be unlawful. For as pointed out by the court below, the sections that were not passed on are those which outlaw combinations to fix fees and prescribe the means whereby the legislative proscription against them can be made effective.3 Since, therefore, that phase of the act which aimed at unlawful combinations is complete in itself and capable of standing alone, we must consider it as a separable phase of the statute in determining whether the injunction was properly issued against the state officials.

As a matter of fact, as the record stands the right of ASCAP and its co-complaintants to an injunction depends upon this phase of the statute and is not to be determined at all by the validity or invalidity of the particular sections which the court below thought inconsistent with the federal Constitution and the copyright laws passed pursuant to it. The ultimate determinative question, therefore, is whether Florida has the power it exercised to outlaw activities within the state of price fixing combinations composed of copyright owners. But before considering that question it is necessary that we explain why we do not discuss, and why an injunction could not rest upon, any other phase of Florida's statutory plan.

Defendants in the injunction proceedings are the state's Attorney General, who is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the state's criminal laws, and all of the state's prosecuting attorneys, who are subject to the Attorney General's authority in the performance of their official duties.4 Under the statutes before us, it is made the duty of the state's prosecuting attorneys, acting under the Attorney General's direction, to institute in the state courts criminal or civil proceedings. The original bill alleged that the defendants had threatened to—and would, unless restrained—enforce the 1937 statute 'in each and all of its terms and the hole thereof, and particularly against these complainants and others similarly situated * * *', and that as a consequence complainants would suffer irreparable injury and damages. The supplemental bill contained similar allegations as to the 1939 act. Both bills were drawn upon the premise that complainants were entitled to an injunction restraining all the state's prosecuting officers from enforc- ing any single part of either of the lengthy statutes, under any circumstances that could arise and in respect to each and every one of the multitudinous regulations and prohibitions contained in those laws. In their answers, the state's representatives specifically denied that they had made any threats whatever to enforce the acts against complainants or any one else. In their answer to the supplemental bill, however, they said that they would perform all duties imposed upon them by the 1939 act. The findings of the court on this subject were general, and were to the effect that 'Defendants have threatened to and will enforce such State Statutes against these Complainants and others similarly situated in the event that such Complainants and others similarly situated refuse to comply with said State Statutes or do any of the acts made unlawful by said State Statutes.' It is to be noted that the court did not find any threat to enforce any specific provision of either law. And there is a complete lack of record evidence or information of any other sort to show any threat to prosecute the complainants or any one else in connection with any specific clause or paragraph of the numerous prohibitions of the acts, subject to a possible exception to be discussed later. The most that can possibly be gathered from the meager record references to this vital allegation of complain...

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