United States v. Swift & Co.,
Annotate this Case
286 U.S. 106 (1932)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Swift & Co., 286 U.S. 106 (1932)
United States v. Swift & Co.
Argued March 17, 18, 1932
Decided May 2, 1932*
286 U.S. 106
1. A court of equity has power to modify a continuing decree of injunction which is directed not to the protection of rights fully accrued upon facts substantially permanent, but to the supervision of future conduct in relation to changing conditions. P. 286 U. S. 114.
2. This power, if not reserved expressly in the decree, is still inherent, and it is the same whether the decree was entered by consent or after litigation. Id.
3. The decree in this case is to be treated as a judicial act, not as a contract; the consent to it was directed to events as they then were, and was not an abandonment of the right to exact revision in the future, if revision should become necessary in adaptation to events to be. P. 286 U. S. 115.
4. Mere size is not an offense against the Sherman Act unless it amounts to a monopoly, but size carries with it opportunity for abuse that is not to be ignored when the opportunity is proved to have been utilized in the past. P. 286 U. S. 116.
5. By a decree entered on consent in a suit brought by the United States under the Sherman Act, a monopolistic combination of meat packers was dissolved and the units that composed it were individually enjoined from selling meat at retail, and also from continuing to trade, whether at wholesale or at retail, in "groceries" -- i.e., in certain foodstuffs and other commodities not within the meat industry. The reasons for this last provision were (1) that, because of it great size and its ownership of refrigerator cars, branch houses, and other special facilities incident to its meat business, each of the defendants was in a position to distribute groceries with substantially no increase of overhead, and, by lowering prices temporarily, could eliminate competition of rivals less fortunately situated, and (2), that, by their conduct, they had proved their disposition to do this. Upon an application, years later, to modify the injunction so as to permit wholesaling of groceries,
(1) The question is not of reviewing the decree to determine whether it was right or wrong originally, but is whether, having been made to include the collateral lines of trade with the consent of each defendant, it should now be relaxed because of changed conditions. P. 286 U. S. 119.
(2) The changes that would justify removing this restraint would be such as did away with the reasons upon which it was founded. Id.
(3) In the absence of proof that the reasons for the restraint have vanished, or that the hardships of the decree amount to oppression, the injunction should not be modified. P. 286 U. S. 117 et. seq.
Appeals from a decree modifying an injunction in a suit under the Sherman Law. For other phases of the same litigation, see Swift & Co. v. United States, 276 U. S. 311, and United States v. California Canneries, 279 U. S. 553. One of the present appeals was by the United States, the other two were by associations of wholesale grocers which intervened to oppose the application.