United States v. Wiesenfeld Warehouse Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Wiesenfeld Warehouse Company
LOCATION: Taylor Street Pharmacy

DOCKET NO.: 92
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 376 US 86 (1964)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1964
DECIDED: Feb 17, 1964

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. Wiesenfeld Warehouse Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1964 in United States v. Wiesenfeld Warehouse Company

Earl Warren:

Number 92 United States Appellant versus Wiesenfeld Warehouse Company.

Mr. Claiborne.

Louis F. Claiborne:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is a direct appeal by the Government from a district court judgment dismissing an information filed under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 as amended in 1948.

The information charged the appellee Wiesenfeld Company, with violations of Section 301 (k) of the Act, which among other things makes it a misdemeanor to do any act with respect to food which has been shipped in interstate commerce and which is held for sale which results in the food becoming adulterated.

Specifically it was charged that the Wiesenfeld Company a public warehousing firm in Jacksonville, Florida stored certain foods which had been shipped from Louisiana or Arkansas and Illinois in a building which was accessible to rodents, birds, and insects and otherwise caused the foods to be exposed to contamination by rodents, birds, and insects.

But this amounted to a holding of the food under insanitary conditions and that the fed -- that the food in fact became contaminated by the leavings of the rodents, birds, and insects.

The food involved was rice, breading mix, and hamburger mix packaged in bags, presumably paper or cotton bags.

The information doesn't specify.

There were six counts in the information, each charging the same offense with respect to a particular lot of one of the commodities.

Each count charged the contamination of several bags of the food stubs involved.

The first four counts charged acts done in specified periods before August 1961.

For last two counts, charged similar acts done with respect to the period July 24, 1961 through the beginning of December in the same year.

The District Court dismissed the information on the ground that the statute, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, did not reach the mere holding of goods under insanitary conditions.

The court conceded that the legislative history of the 1958 amendments would seem to support the government's position but the court thought that the text of the provision was insufficiently clear and that to construe it broadly, as the Government urged, would make it unconstitutionally vague and indefinite.

It would seem, therefore, that the issue in this case was whether Section 301 (k) of the Act intends to reach a mere holding, as the District Court termed it, of food under insanitary conditions.

Whether that was the intent of Congress, and if so, whether Congress spoke its mind sufficiently clearly in the statute to avoid the constitutional objection.

That was the issue which the Government raised in its appeal and that is the issue to which we address in our brief.

But, if I rightly understand the appellee's brief in this Court, that basic question is no longer in controversy.

They seem to concede that the Act -- the particular provision of the Act does indeed proscribe holding of food under insanitary conditions.

They couldn't very well dispute it.

The Act expressly proscribes any act which results in adulteration.

The legislative history of 1958 Act makes it perfectly clear that storing in a warehouse is such an act.

The text of the provision itself when read in conjunction with other provisions of the Act makes it perfectly clear that a holding is one of the acts.

This Court's decision in the Sullivan case makes it clear that there's no limiting interpretation suggested by the initial words of the provision.

As to that point, since it seems to be conceded, we leave it to our brief which is very short.

But, after conceding this basic proposition, the appellee, it seems to us at least, tries to raise three subsidiary issues.

The first of which is whether the holder, the warehouseman in this case, must have knowledge of the insanitary condition of the place where he stores the food.

The second question is whether a building which is, in the words of the information, accessible to rodents, birds, and insects is an insanitary place.

And, finally -- thirdly, whether the statute reaches a public warehousemen who does not own the food he stores.