Toomer v. Witsell
334 U.S. 385 (1948)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Toomer v. Witsell, 334 U.S. 385 (1948)

Toomer v. Witsell

No. 415

Argued January 13-14, 1948

Decided June 7, 1948

334 U.S. 385


Fishermen who were citizens and residents of Georgia, and an incorporated fish dealers' association, sued in a federal court in South Carolina to enjoin state officials from enforcing statutes of that State regulating commercial shrimp fishing in the three-mile maritime belt off the coast, challenging the statutes as violative of the Federal Constitution.


1. Since the record does not show that enforcement of the statutes would irreparably injure the association of fish dealers, the association has no standing to ask a federal court to enjoin their enforcement. P. 334 U. S. 391.

2. Since the state law permits any taxpayer who believes a tax illegal to pay it under protest and sue in a state court to recover the amount so paid, and since the individual plaintiffs made no showing that they could not utilize that procedure to raise their constitutional objections to a statute imposing upon nonresidents an income tax on profits from operations in the state, it cannot be said that they are without an adequate remedy at law; and equitable relief was properly denied as to that statute. Pp. 334 U. S. 391-392.

3. Since defiance of other statutes defendants were attempting to enforce would involve risks of heavy fines and long imprisonment, and since compliance with them or withdrawal from further fishing until a test case could be litigated to a final conclusion would result in substantial financial losses for which no compensation could be obtained under the laws of the state, the individual plaintiffs sufficiently showed the imminence of irreparable injury for which there was no plain, adequate and complete remedy at law; and, if those statutes were unconstitutional, equitable relief against their enforcement was appropriate. Pp. 334 U. S. 391-392.

4. Since the fact that some of the individual plaintiffs had previously been convicted of shrimping out of season and in inland waters had no relation to the constitutionality of the challenged statutes, this misconduct did not call for application of the clean hands maxim. P. 334 U. S. 393.

Page 334 U. S. 386

5. Since the present case evinces no conflict between South Carolina's regulatory scheme and any assertion of federal power, the State has sufficient interests in the shrimp fishery within three miles of its coast so that it may exercise its police power to protect and regulate that fishery -- within the confines of generally applicable constitutional limitations. Pp. 334 U. S. 393-394.

6. Section 3374, S.C.Code, which imposes a tax of 1/8

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