Consolidated Rendering Co. v. Vermont,
207 U.S. 541 (1908)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Consolidated Rendering Co. v. Vermont, 207 U.S. 541 (1908)

Consolidated Rendering Co. v. Vermont

No. 364

Argued December 3, 4, 1907

Decided January 8, 1908

207 U.S. 541


Whether a notice to produce books and papers is broader than the state statute provides for is not a federal question.

So long as an opportunity to be heard is given to the party objecting to a notice to produce books and papers, before the proceeding to enforce such production is closed, due process of law is afforded, and if the state court has construed the statute providing for such production to the effect

Page 207 U. S. 542

that objections raised before a grand jury must be reported to the court for action, there is opportunity to be heard.

It is within the power of the state, and due process of law is not denied thereby, to require a corporation doing business in the state to produce before tribunals of the state books and papers kept by it in the state, although at the time the books may be outside of the state.

Nothing in the federal Constitution prohibits a state from conferring judicial functions upon nonjudicial bodies.

A corporation required to produce books.and papers cannot refuse to produce any of them on the ground that they might incriminate it. It is for the court, after an inspection, to determine the sufficiency of the objection and what portion, if any, of the books and papers produced should be excluded.

In this case, the notice, given under a state statute, to produce books and papers did not amount to an unreasonable search or seizure. Adams v. New York, 192 U. S. 585. Quaere, and not decided, whether the Fourteenth Amendment has made the provisions of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments immunities and privileges of citizens of the United States of which they cannot be deprived by state action.

An objection that a notice to produce books and papers is too broad cannot be urged against the validity of the order adjudging the party refusing to comply guilty of contempt. Hale v. Henkel, 201 U. S. 43. Nor is a notice to produce too broad if, as in this case, it is limited to books and papers relating to dealings with certain specified parties between certain specified dates.

If the person producing the books and papers is entitled, under the general law of the state, to compensation as a witness, the failure of the statute requiring the production of the books and papers of corporations to provide compensation to the corporation itself for the time, trouble and expense of such production does not amount to taking private property without compensation.

A state statute providing for the production of books and papers by corporations does not deny to corporations the equal protection of the laws; such a classification is a proper one.

The statute of Vermont of October 9, 1906, providing for the production of their books and papers by corporations before courts, grand juries, and other tribunals, and punishing corporations failing to comply therewith as for contempt, is not unconstitutional as depriving corporations of their property without due process of law, or as denying them the equal protection of the law, or as conferring judicial functions on nonjudicial bodies, or as taking private property for public use without compensation, or as constituting unreasonable searches and seizures or requiring corporations to incriminate themselves.

66 A. 790 affirmed.

This writ of error brings up for review a judgment of the

Page 207 U. S. 543

Supreme Court of the State of Vermont affirming a judgment of the County Court of the County of Chittenden adjudging the plaintiff in error, a corporation, hereinafter called "the company," in contempt and fining it $3,000, for the collection of which it was ordered that execution should issue.

The company in due form was served in Vermont with a notice to produce certain described books and papers before the grand jury sitting at Burlington, in that state. The notice was given pursuant to the provisions of a statute passed by the general assembly of the state, October 9, 1906. That statute provided for the service upon a corporation doing business in the state, whether organized under its laws or those of another state or country, of a notice to produce books and documents before any court, grand jury, etc., which contained any account or information concerning the subject of inquiry before the tribunal, acting under the authority of the state, and which books, etc., have at any time been made or kept within the State of Vermont, and were within the custody or control of the corporation in that state or elsewhere at the time of the service of the notice upon it. Such corporation, when notice to the above effect is served upon it, is, by the statute, directed to produce the books and papers as required. The notice is to be issued from the court or tribunal before whom the papers are required to be produced, and a general description of what is required is to be given in the notice. If the corporation, without reasonable cause, neglects or refuses to comply,

"it may be punished as for contempt by the court having jurisdiction in the premises to punish for the contempt. Execution may issue for the collection of such fine as may be imposed for such contempt."

This company was doing business at Burlington, Vermont, under a certificate from the secretary of state certifying that it had complied with all the requirements of the law authorizing it to do business in the state. On the seventeenth of October, 1906, the grand jury was in session at Burlington,

Page 207 U. S. 544

and had been investigating a complaint which had been made against certain individuals who were members of the Vermont cattle commission, the complaint being that such persons, or one of them, had unlawfully sold diseased meat for food purposes at Burlington. In order to continue the investigation, the grand jury had caused a notice under the above statute to be served upon the company directing it to produce certain books and papers described in such notice before the grand jury on the seventeenth of October, 1906. On the day named, a person representing the company appeared before the grand jury and produced some books of account and other data, but failed to produce others which were described in the notice, and which it was therein directed to produce. The grand jury reported the facts to the county court, stating in the report that the company had kept books which would have shown material facts for the purpose of the investigation, but had not produced them, as required in and by the notice, and that they were necessary for the further pursuit of the inquiry. The attorney general at the same time filed a petition to the court, containing, in substance, the same facts, and asked that the company should be proceeded against for contempt. The county court thereupon, on the nineteenth of October, 1906, made an order to show cause why the company should not be punished as for a contempt in failing to produce such books and papers. Upon the return of the order, the company appeared by counsel and made a motion to dismiss the proceeding on the ground that the memoranda and papers called for in the notice were not legal and material evidence before the grand jury, and also because it was sought by the notice to produce, and by the other proceedings to compel the company to bring into the State of Vermont, before the grand jury, papers which might tend to criminate the company and render it liable to criminal prosecution, contrary to the provisions of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Accompanying this motion to dismiss was the affidavit of counsel in which he stated that

Page 207 U. S. 545

the papers and memoranda which the company had failed to produce before the grand jury would, if produced in evidence before the jury, tend to criminate the company and render it liable to criminal prosecution. The company also answered and admitted that it had kept at Burlington, in Vermont, such papers as were described in the notice to produce, but that, on August 20, 1906, all such books and papers were sent to the main office of the company at Boston, Massachusetts, for the purpose of examination and verification, and that, after it was made, and long before the service of the notice, such papers or memoranda as were not produced before the grand jury had been destroyed at Boston. The state took issue upon the averments of the answer.

Upon the hearing before the court, one of the company's agents testified that the papers had been destroyed in Boston because they were of no consequence, and there was nothing in them to incriminate anybody.

The court, for reasons which it stated, found that the papers wanted were material to the inquiry which the grand jury was making, and that, without their presence, it was impossible to proceed to any effect with the investigation. It further found, upon all the evidence before it, that the books and papers had been in possession of the company at the time they were taken away from the state, and the court said that it failed to find that the papers were destroyed, and that it also failed to find that they were not then in the custody and control of the company so that it could produce them, and that, "thus failing to find, we find them guilty of contempt." This judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Vermont. 66 A. 790.

Page 207 U. S. 550

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