APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA.
Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge
MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.
This record presents for review the action of a specially constituted district court in enjoining, on final hearing, the Commissioner of Agriculture of the State of Florida and his agents from enforcing against the United States the provisions of the Florida Commercial Fertilizer Law. Judicial Code, §§ 266 and 238.
By this Florida act the sale or distribution of commercial fertilizer is comprehensively regulated. There is included a requirement of a label or stamp on each bag evidencing the payment of an inspection fee. Unless so identified, the bags may be seized and sold by the sheriff of the county. The purpose of the legislation is to assure the consumers that they will obtain the quality of fertilizer for which they pay and that substances deleterious to the land will be excluded from the material sold. Florida Statutes, 1941, c. 576.
The United States, under the direction of the Secretary of Agriculture, acting under the provisions of the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act,*fn1 purchased commercial fertilizer outside of Florida and undertook its distribution to consumers within that state during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1943, without state inspection and without paying for or affixing to the bags the inspection stamps required by the Florida act. This distribution was a part of the national soil conservation program.*fn2 Through
the use of fertilizers with a high content of superphosphate on winter legumes the plan sought, by plowing under the legumes, to obtain scarce nitrogen for the commercial crops which were to follow. To secure a heavy growth of the legumes before plowing time, the fertilizer should be applied and the legumes planted prior to October 15th. Farmers who desire to participate in the conservation program follow the required practices under the supervision of county committees or associations which are federal instrumentalities for carrying out the plans. § 8 (b).
The soil-building and soil-conserving practices, when carried out by a participating farmer, entitle him to a grant or benefit payment. § 8. In order that the farmer may earn this grant, phosphate fertilizers are furnished to him in advance by the Government through the county committee. The cost is deducted from the grant. For the purpose of carrying out the program, the United States caused fertilizers purchased by its agents to be shipped into Florida to the local agricultural associations for such distribution. As the sacks were without stamps, the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture on September 10, 1942, gave a "stop sale" notice to the county agricultural association to cease distribution.
The Attorney General of the United States directed the filing of a complaint against the Florida officials who are charged with the enforcement of the Florida law. The complaint set out the "stop sale" notice, the refusal of numerous persons utilized by the United States in its work to proceed with the distribution of the fertilizer without the protection of an injunction, the frustration of the conservation program of the Secretary of Agriculture, the imminency of irreparable damage because of the necessity of prompt distribution of the fertilizer and the lack of any efficient remedy other than a temporary and permanent injunction. Florida objected to the complaint for failure to state a cause of action and set up numerous defenses
which have now been reduced by the specification of errors and the brief to the fundamental one that the United States as to fertilizer to be used upon Florida soil is not exempt by Constitution or statute from compliance with reasonable state regulation or the payment of reasonable inspection fees. At any rate, it is urged, inspection fees may be collected under the facts heretofore stated as the Government is merely a conduit or service agent for the fertilizer manufacturer or the Florida farmer.
The District Court disposed, we think, of the conduit or service agent argument by its finding that the Government "became the owner" of the fertilizer at the manufacturing plants which are outside the state and was engaged in distributing it in Florida as a part of the national soil conservation program. In promoting soil conservation by precept and demonstration through the Department of Agriculture, the United States, as in its other authorized activities, acts in a governmental capacity.*fn3 Prior to the Soil Conservation Act, Congress had, as a matter of custom, put money and responsibility in the hands of the executive to promote agriculture in the most general sense. It is commonplace for appropriations to be made for loans to farmers.*fn4 The distribution of fertilizer owned by the United States as a charge against grants to aid soil ...