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

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case

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� a pound on green shrimp taken in the maritime belt, does not tax imports or unduly burden interstate commerce in violation of Art. I, §§ 8 and 10, of the Constitution. Pp. 334 U. S. 394-395.

7. Section 3379, S.C.Code, requiring nonresidents of South Carolina to pay a license fee of $2,500 for each shrimp boat and residents to pay a fee of only $25, violates the privileges and immunities clause of Art. IV, § 2, of the Constitution. Pp. 334 U. S. 395-403.

(a) The privileges and immunities clause was intended to outlaw classifications based on the fact of noncitizenship unless there is something to indicate that noncitizens constitute a peculiar source of the evil at which the statute is aimed, and, in this case, there is no convincing showing of a reasonable relationship between the alleged danger to the shrimp supply represented by noncitizens, as a class, and the severe discrimination practiced upon them. Pp. 334 U. S. 396-399.

(b) Commercial shrimping in the marginal sea, like other common callings, is within the purview of the privileges and immunities clause. McCready v. Virginia, 94 U. S. 391, distinguished. Pp. 334 U. S. 399-403.

8. Section 3414, S.C.Code, which requires that owners of shrimp boats fishing in the maritime belt off South Carolina dock at a South Carolina port and unload, pack, and stamp their catch (with a tax stamp) before "shipping or transporting it to another state," burdens interstate commerce in shrimp in violation of the commerce clause of Art. I, § 8, of the Constitution. Geer v. Connecticut, 161 U. S. 519, distinguished. Pp. 334 U. S. 403-407.

73 F.Supp. 371, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

A federal district court denied an injunction against the enforcement of certain allegedly unconstitutional South Carolina statutes governing commercial shrimp fishing in the three-mile maritime belt off the coast of that State. 73 F.Supp. 371. On direct appeal to this Court, affirmed in part and reversed in part, p. 334 U. S. 407.

Page 334 U. S. 387

Primary Holding
The Privileges and Immunities Clause prevents states from discriminating against out-of-state individuals if there is no substantial reason to treat them differently.
While South Carolina placed a $25 fee on commercial shrimp boats owned by its residents, it placed a $2,500 fee on the same type of boat if it was owned by a non-resident. Georgia fishermen argued that the difference in fees violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause. The stated purposes of the law were to conserve shrimp and compensate for the financial burden on the state of the additional conservation measures that were required to account for outside fishing. The lower court dismissed the case.



  • Frederick Moore Vinson (Author)
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Felix Frankfurter
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Frank Murphy
  • Robert Houghwout Jackson
  • Wiley Blount Rutledge
  • Harold Hitz Burton
  • Hugo Lafayette Black

States are allowed to discriminate against non-residents, notwithstanding the Privileges and Immunities Clause, if there is a substantial reason to treat them differently from residents. This is because states have a substantial degree of authority over local matters. Here, the state does have a legitimate interest in conserving the shrimp supply and preventing excessive fishing, but this is not substantially related to the fee differential because it is disproportionate to the scope of the problem that is caused by non-residents.

Case Commentary

This is a relatively rare situation in which the state had no legitimate reason for discriminating against non-residents. When a legitimate interest is involved, the analysis would fall more properly under the dormant Commerce Clause. (The alleged basis of the law was the need to protect the state shrimp industry, but there was nothing to suggest that discriminating against non-residents would solve this problem.)

Disclaimer: Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.