Florida Avocado Growers v. Paul
373 U.S. 132 (1963)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Florida Avocado Growers v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132 (1963)

Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul

No. 45

Argued January 8, 1963

Decided May 13, 1963*

373 U.S. 132




Appellants, who are engaged in the business of growing, packing and marketing Florida avocados in interstate commerce, sued in a Federal District Court to enjoin appellees, state officers of California, from enforcing § 792 of the California Agricultural Code, which prohibits the transportation or sale in California of avocados containing less than 8% of oil by weight, against Florida avocados certified as mature under federal regulations issued under the Federal Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937. They contended that § 792 of the California statute, as so applied, was unconstitutional, because, (1) under the Supremacy Clause, it must be deemed displaced by the federal standard for determining the maturity of avocados grown in Florida; (2) its application to Florida avocados denied appellants the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (3) its application to them unreasonably burdened or discriminated against interstate marketing of Florida avocados in violation of the Commerce Clause. A three-judge District Court convened to hear the case denied an injunction on the ground that the proofs did not establish that application of § 792 to Florida avocados violated any provision of the Federal Constitution.


1. Section 792 is not invalid under the Supremacy Clause, because there is neither such actual conflict between the two schemes of regulation that both cannot stand in the same area, nor is there evidence of a congressional design to preempt the field. Pp. 373 U. S. 141-152.

(a) The present record demonstrates no inevitable collision between the two schemes of regulation, despite the dissimilarity of the standards. Pp. 373 U. S. 142-143.

Page 373 U. S. 133

(b) The subject matter of the California regulation, while not concerned with health or safety, is one traditionally within the scope of the power of the States to prevent deception of consumers in the retail marketing of foodstuffs. Pp. 373 U. S. 143-146.

(c) Neither the terms nor the history of the Federal Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 discloses a congressional intent to displace traditional state powers to regulate the retail distribution of agricultural commodities. Pp. 373 U. S. 146-152.

2. Section 792 does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because it does not work an irrational discrimination between persons or groups of persons. P. 373 U. S. 152.

3. The findings of the District Court with respect to the effect of § 792 upon interstate commerce cannot be reviewed, because of substantial uncertainty as to the content of the record on which those findings were predicated. Therefore, the judgment is reversed in this respect, and the case is remanded to the District Court for a new trial of appellants' contentions that § 792 unreasonably burdens or discriminates against interstate commerce in Florida avocados. Pp. 373 U. S. 152-156.

4. Since the appellants showed sufficient injury to warrant at least a trial of their allegations, the District Court properly refused to dismiss the complaint for want of equity jurisdiction. Pp. 373 U. S. 157-159.

197 F.Supp. 780, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 792 of California's Agricultural Code, which gauges the maturity of avocados by oil content, prohibits the transportation or sale in California of avocados which contain "less than 8 percent of oil, by weight . . .

Page 373 U. S. 134

excluding the skin and seed." [Footnote 1] In contrast, federal marketing orders approved by the Secretary of Agriculture gauge the maturity of avocados grown n Florida by standards which attribute no significance to oil content. [Footnote 2] This case presents the question of the constitutionality of the California statute insofar as it may be applied to exclude from California markets certain Florida avocados which, although certified to be mature under the federal regulations, do not uniformly meet the California requirement of 8% of oil.

Appellants in No. 45, growers and handlers of avocados in Florida, brought this action in the District Court for the Northern District of California to enjoin the enforcement of § 792 against Florida avocados certified as mature under the federal regulations. Appellants challenged the constitutionality of the statute on three grounds: (1) that, under the Supremacy Clause, Art. VI, the California standard must be deemed displaced by the federal standard for determining the maturity of avocados grown in Florida; (2) that the application of the California statute to Florida-grown avocados denied appellants the Equal

Page 373 U. S. 135

Protection of the Laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) that its application unreasonably burdened or discriminated against interstate marketing of Florida-grown avocados in violation of the Commerce Clause, Art. I, § 8. A three-judge District Court initially dismissed the complaint. 169 F.Supp. 774. On direct appeal, we held, Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Jacobsen,362 U. S. 73, that the suit was one for a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2281, and presented a justiciable controversy to be tried on the merits. After a trial, the three-judge court denied an injunction against the enforcement of § 792 on the ground that the proofs did not establish that its application to Florida-grown avocados violated any provision of the Federal Constitution. 197 F.Supp. 780. The District Court held for several reasons that the Supremacy Clause did not operate to displace § 792: no actual conflict existed between the statute and the federal marketing orders; neither the Agricultural Act nor the marketing orders occupied the field to the exclusion of the state statute, and Congress had not ordained that a federal marketing order was to give a license to Florida producers to "market their avocados without further inspection by the states" after compliance with the federal maturity test. 197 F.Supp. at 787. Rather, the court observed, "[t]he Federal law does not cover the whole field of interstate shipment of avocados," but, by necessary implication, leaves the regulation of certain aspects of distribution to the States. Further, the District Court found no violation of the Equal Protection Clause, because the California statute was applicable on identical terms to Florida and California producers, and was reasonably designed to enforce a traditional and legitimate interest of the State of California in the protection of California consumers. The District Court concluded, finally, that § 792 did not unreasonably burden or discriminate against interstate commerce in out-of-state

Page 373 U. S. 136

avocados -- that the 8% oil content test served, in practice, only to keep off California grocers' shelves fruit which was unpalatable because prematurely picked. This holding rested, in part, on the conclusion that mature Florida fruit had not been shown to be incapable of attaining 8% oil content, since only a very small fraction of Florida avocados of certain varieties in fact failed to meet the California test. [Footnote 3]

Both parties have brought appeals here from the District Court's judgment: the Florida growers urge in No. 45 that the court erred in not enjoining enforcement of the state statute against Florida-grown avocados; in No. 49, the California state officials appeal on the ground that the action should have been dismissed for want of equity jurisdiction, rather than upon the merits. We noted probable jurisdiction of both appeals. 368 U.S. 964, 965. We affirm the judgment in the respect challenged by the cross-appeal in No. 49. In No. 45, we agree that appellants have not sustained their challenges to § 792 under the Supremacy and Equal Protection Clauses. However, we reverse and remand for a new trial insofar as the judgment sustains

Page 373 U. S. 137

§ 792 against appellants' challenge to the statute grounded on the Commerce Clause. We hold that the effect of the statute upon interstate commerce cannot be determined on the record now before us.

The California statute was enacted in 1925. Like the federal marketing regulations applicable to appellants, this statute sought to ensure the maturity of avocados reaching retail markets. [Footnote 4] The District Court found on sufficient evidence that, before 1925, the marketing of immature avocados had created serious problems in California. [Footnote 5] An avocado, if picked prematurely, will not ripen properly, but will tend to decay or shrivel and become rubbery and unpalatable after purchase. Not only retail consumers, but even experienced growers, have difficulty in distinguishing mature avocados from the immature by physical characteristics alone. [Footnote 6] Thus, the District Court

Page 373 U. S. 138

concluded, "[t]he marketing of . . . [immature] avocados cheats the consumer" and adversely affects demand for and orderly distribution of the fruit. 19 F.Supp. at 783.

The federal marketing regulations were adopted pursuant to the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 7 U.S.C. §§ 601 et seq. The declared purposes of the Act are to restore and maintain parity prices for the benefit of producers of agricultural commodities, to ensure the stable and steady flow of commodities to consumers, and

"to establish and maintain such minimum standards of quality and maturity . . . as will effectuate such orderly marketing of such agricultural commodities as will be in the public interest,"

§ 2(3), 7 U.S.C. § 602(3). Whenever he finds that it would promote these declared policies, the Secretary is empowered, upon notice and hearing, to adopt federal marketing orders and regulations for a particular growing area, § 8c(3), (4), 7 U.S.C. § 608c(3), (4). Orders thus proposed by the Secretary become effective only when approved by a majority of the growers or producers concerned, § 8c(8), (9), 7 U.S.C. § 608c(8), (9).

In 1954, after proceedings in compliance with the statute, 19 Fed.Reg. 3439, the Secretary promulgated orders governing the marketing of avocados grown in South Florida. [Footnote 7] The orders established an Avocado Administrative Committee, composed entirely of South Florida avocado growers and handlers. 7 CFR § 969.20. This Committee has authority to draft and recommend to the Secretary various marketing regulations governing the

Page 373 U. S. 139

quality and maturity of South Florida avocados. The maturity test for the South Florida fruit is based upon a schedule of picking dates, sizes and weights annually drafted and recommended by the Committee and promulgated by the Secretary. [Footnote 8] The regulations forbid picking and shipping of any fruit before the prescribed date, although an exemption from the picking date schedule may be granted by the Committee. [Footnote 9] The regulations, drafted by the Committee and promulgated by the Secretary, concern other qualities and physical characteristics of Florida avocados besides maturity. See 22 Fed.Reg. 6205, 7 CFR §§ 51.3050 51.3053, 51.3064. All regulated avocados, including those shipped under picking date exemptions, must be inspected for compliance with certain quality standards by the Federal-State Inspection Service, a joint authority supervised by the United States and Florida Departments of Agriculture.

Page 373 U. S. 140

Almost all avocados commercially grown in the United States come either from Southern California or South Florida. The California-grown varieties are chiefly of Mexican ancestry, and, in most years, contain at least 8% oil content when mature. [Footnote 10] The several Florida species, by contrast, are of West Indian and Guatemalan ancestry. West Indian avocados, which constitute some 12% of the total Florida production, may contain somewhat less than 8% oil when mature and ready for market. They do not, the District Court found, attain that percentage of oil "until they are past their prime." 197 F.Supp. at 783. But that variety need not concern us in this case, since the District Court concluded on sufficient evidence that "poor shipping qualities and short retail store shelf life" make it commercially unprofitable, regardless of the oil test, to market the variety in California. On the other hand, the Florida hybrid and Guatemalan varieties, which do not encounter such handicaps, may reach maturity before they attain 8% oil content. The District Court concluded, nevertheless, that § 792 did not unreasonably interfere with their marketability, since these species "attain or exceed 8% oil content while in a prime commercial marketing condition," so that the California test was "scientifically valid as applied to" these varieties.

The experts who testified at the trial disputed whether California's "percentage of oil" test or the federal marketing orders' test of picking dates and minimum sizes and weights was the more accurate gauge of the maturity of

Page 373 U. S. 141

avocados. [Footnote 11] In adopting his calendar test of maturity for the varieties grown in South Florida, the Secretary expressly rejected physical and chemical test as insufficiently reliable guides for gauging the maturity of the Florida fruit. [Footnote 12]


We consider first appellants' challenge to § 792 under the Supremacy Clause. That the California statute and the federal marketing orders embody different maturity tests is clear. However, this difference poses, rather than disposes of, the problem before us. Whether a State may constitutionally reject commodities which a federal authority has certified to be marketable depends upon whether the state regulation "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress," Hines v. Davidowitz,312 U. S. 52, 312 U. S. 67. By that test, we hold that § 792 is not such an obstacle; there is neither such actual conflict between the two schemes of regulation that both cannot stand in the same area nor evidence of a congressional design to preempt the field.

We begin by putting aside two suggestions of the appellants which obscure, more than aid in, the solution of the problem. First, it is suggested that a federal license or certificate of compliance with minimum federal standards immunizes the licensed commerce from inconsistent or more demanding state regulations. While this suggestion draws some support from decisions which have invalidated direct state interference with the activities of interstate carriers, 348 U. S. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc.,

Page 373 U. S. 142

348 U. S. 61, even in that field of paramount federal concern, the suggestion has been significantly qualified, e.g., Huron Portland Cement Co. v. Detroit,362 U. S. 440, 362 U. S. 447-448; Kelly v. Washington,302 U. S. 1; cf. Bradley v. Public Utilities Comm'n,289 U. S. 92. That no State may completely exclude federally licensed commerce is indisputable, but that principle has no application to this case.

Second, it is suggested that the coexistence of federal and state regulatory legislation should depend upon whether the purposes of the two laws are parallel or divergent. This Court has, on the one hand, sustained state statutes having objectives virtually identical to those of federal regulations, California v. Zook,336 U. S. 725, 730-731; cf. De Veau v. Braisted,363 U. S. 144, 363 U. S. 156-157; Parker v. Brown,317 U. S. 341, and has, on the other hand, struck down state statutes where the respective purposes were quite dissimilar, First Iowa Hydro-Electric Cooperative v. Federal Power Comm'n,328 U. S. 152. The test of whether both federal and state regulations may operate, or the state regulation must give way, is whether both regulations can be enforced without impairing the federal superintendence of the field, not whether they are aimed at similar or different objectives.

The principle to be derived from our decisions is that federal regulation of a field of commerce should not be deemed preemptive of state regulatory power in the absence of persuasive reasons -- either that the nature of the regulated subject matter permits no other conclusion or that the Congress has unmistakably so ordained. See, e.g., Huron Portland Cement Co. v. Detroit, supra.


A holding of federal exclusion of state law is inescapable, and requires no inquiry into congressional design where compliance with both federal and state regulations is a

Page 373 U. S. 143

physical impossibility for one engaged in interstate commerce, cf. Union Bridge Co. v. United States,204 U. S. 364, 204 U. S. 399-401; Morgan v. Virginia,328 U. S. 373; Bibb v. Navajo Freight Lines, Inc.,359 U. S. 520. That would be the situation here if, for example, the federal orders forbade the picking and marketing of any avocado testing more than 7% oil, while the California test excluded from the State any avocado measuring less than 8% oil content. No such impossibility of dual compliance is presented on this record, however. As to those Florida avocados of the hybrid and Guatemalan varieties which were actually rejected by the California test, the District Court indicated that the Florida growers might have avoided such rejections by leaving the fruit on the trees beyond the earliest picking date permitted by the federal regulations, and nothing in the record contradicts that suggestion. Nor is there a lack of evidentiary support for the District Court's finding that the Florida varieties marketed in California "attain or exceed 8% oil content while in a prime commercial marketing condition," even though they may be "mature enough to be acceptable prior to the time that they reach that content. . . ." 197 F.Supp. at 783. Thus, the present record demonstrates no inevitable collision between the two schemes of regulation, despite the dissimilarity of the standards.


The issue under the head of the Supremacy Clause is narrowed then to this: does either the nature of the subject matter, namely, the maturity of avocados, or any explicit declaration of congressional design to displace state regulation require § 792 to yield to the federal marketing orders? The maturity of avocados seems to be an inherently unlikely candidate for exclusive federal regulation. Certainly it is not a subject by its very nature admitting only of national supervision, cf. 53 U. S. S. 144

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