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Law School Case Brief

Poole & Creber Mkt. Co. v. Breshears - 343 Mo. 1133, 125 S.W.2d 23 (1939)

Rule:

The police power is not to be exercised capriciously, for the purpose of destroying or invading private rights. Extensive as this power is, it may be conceded that an act of the legislature in restraint of liberty or of property, which exceeds a reasonable exercise of it, so that in fact it is not an exercise of the police power, but a capricious invasion of private right, will be held unconstitutional and void by the judicial courts. Statutes enacted under the police power for the protection of the public health or safety, for the prevention of fraud and for the public welfare must have some substantial relation to those objects. But, notwithstanding this, it cannot be gainsaid that the legislature may do many things in the legitimate exercise of that and other powers, which, however unwise or injudicious they may be, are not obnoxious to the objection of being beyond the scope of legislative authority. From its very nature the police power is a power to be exercised within wide limits of legislative discretion and if a statute appears to be within the apparent scope of this power the courts will not inquire into its wisdom and policy, or undertake to substitute their discretion for that of the legislature. 

Facts:

Plaintiff Creber Market Company, a grocer, sold at its stores certain products in violation of the statute prohibiting milk products containing any fat other than milk fat. Defendants, the Commissioner of Agriculture and other government officials, informed the grocer that its practices violated the law and that he would be prosecuted. Plaintiff claimed that the statute is unconstitutional, Sections 12408, 12409, 12411, 12412, Revised Statutes 1929, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, possession, etc., of milk, cream, etc., to which has been added any fat or oil other than milk fat, or any milk, etc., which has been branded or compounded with any fat or oil other than milk fat, so that the resulting product is an imitation (providing an exception where such compound is used on order of physicians or shipped in interstate or foreign commerce), making it a violation of the statute a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment or both, since it deprived a retail dealer in such products of his property without due process of law and of a right to life, liberty and the enjoyment of his own industry.

Issue:

Was the federal statute restricting additives to milk other than those enumerated unconstitutional?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court determined that the statute was enacted in the exercise of the police power for the protection of the public health and the prevention of fraud. The prohibited products were lacking in an element, essential to growth and health, that the genuine article contained. Moreover, they closely resembled evaporated milk, lending themselves to fraud notwithstanding the fact that they were truthfully labeled. Although the statutory declaration that filled milk was an adulterated article of food injurious to the public health and its sale constituted a fraud upon the public could be construed to establish a conclusive presumption of guilt, it was not conclusive so as to render the statute unconstitutional. Furthermore, even if the statement was unconstitutional it would not affect the validity of the remainder of the statute. Accordingly, the court upheld the constitutionality and validity of the statutes.

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