Nos. 438, 439, 440.

242 U.S. 539 (1917)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided January 22, 1917.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Edward C. Turner, Attorney General of the State of Ohio, for appellants.

Mr. John A. Shauck and Mr. Timothy S. Hogan, with whom Mr. A.M. McCarty, Mr. E.N. Huggins, Mr. M.B. Johnson, Mr. H.H. Johnson and Mr. Francis R. Marvin were on the briefs, for appellees:

Mr. George Cosson, Attorney General of the State of Iowa, and Mr. Walter C. Owen, Attorney General of the State of Wisconsin, by leave of court, filed a brief as amici curice on behalf of the National Association of Attorneys General of the United States.

Mr. George W. Wickersham, Mr. Robert R. Reed and Mr. Charles K. Allen, by leave of court, filed a brief as amici curice on behalf of the Investment Bankers Association of America.

MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

It will be observed that these cases bring here for judgment an asserted conflict between national power and state power, and bring, besides, power of the State as limited or forbidden by the National Constitution.

The assertion of such conflict and limitation is an ever-recurring one; and yet it is approached as if it were a new thing under the sun. The primary postulate of the State is that the law under review is an exercise of the police power of the State, and that power, we have said, is the least limitable of the exercises of government. Sligh v. Kirkwood, 237 U.S. 52. We get no accurate idea of its limitations by opposing to it the declarations of the Fourteenth Amendment that no person shall be deprived of his life, liberty or property without due process of law or denied the equal protection of the laws. Noble State Bank v. Haskell, 219 U.S. 104, 110. A stricter inquiry is necessary, and we must consider what it is of life, liberty and property that the Constitution protects.

What life is and what may or may not affect it, we have quite accurate tests; and what liberty is in its outside sense, and, in like sense, what property is. We know that it is of the essence of liberty — indeed, we may say, of life — that there shall be freedom of conduct, and yet there may be limitations upon such freedom. We know that in the concept of property there are the rights of its acquisition, disposition and enjoyment — in a word, dominion over it. Yet all of these rights may be regulated. Such are the declarations of the cases, become platitudes by frequent repetition and many instances of application.

The question then is, Is the statute of Ohio within the principles declared? The statute is a restraint upon the disposition of certain property, and requires dealers in securities evidencing title to or interest in such property to obtain a license — a requirement simple enough in itself and yet of itself asserted to be an illegal control of a private business, made especially so by the conditions which are imposed. These conditions, summarized, are as follows:

To obtain the license there must be filed with the superintendent of banks and banking (termed in the act "commissioner") application for such license, together with information in such form as the commissioner shall determine, setting forth:

"(a) The names and addresses of the directors and officers if such applicant be a corporation or association and of all partners if it be a partnership, and of the person if the applicant be an individual, together with names and addresses of all agents of such applicant assisting in the disposal of such securities;

"(b) Location of the applicant's principal office and of his principal office in the state, if any;

"(c) The general plan and character of the business of said applicant, together with references which the `commissioner' shall confirm by such investigation as he may deem necessary, establishing the good repute in business of such applicant, directors, officers, partners and agents.

"If the applicant be a corporation organized under the laws of any other state, territory or government, or have its principal place of business therein, it shall also file a copy of its articles of incorporation, certified by the proper officer of such state, territory or government, and of its regulations and by-laws; and if it be an unicorporated association, a certified copy of its articles of association, or deed of settlement."

The applicant is also required to file a written instrument irrevocably consenting to be sued in a particular county and, if personal service there cannot be had, consenting to service upon the sheriff of the county.

It is also provided that all of the applications shall be published in a daily newspaper and if the commissioner be satisfied that the applicant is of good business repute, he shall, upon payment of certain fees, register the applicant as a licensed dealer in securities. Pending disposition of the application temporary permission to transact business may be given. Yearly renewals of the licenses are provided for.

The commissioner may revoke a license upon ascertaining that the licensee: (a) is of bad business repute; (b) has violated any provision of the act; or (c) has engaged, or is about to engage, under favor of such license, in illegitimate business or fraudulent transactions.

It will be observed, therefore, that the law is a regulation of business, constrains conduct only to that end, the purpose being to protect the public against the imposition of unsubstantial schemes and the securities based upon them. Whatever prohibition there is, is a means to the same purpose, made necessary, it may be supposed, by the persistence of evil and its insidious forms and the experience of the inadequacy of penalties or other repressive measures. The name that is given to the law indicates the evil at which it is aimed, that is, to use the language of a cited case, "speculative schemes which have no more basis than so many feet of `blue sky'"; or, as stated by counsel in another case, "to stop the sale of stock in fly-by-night concerns, visionary oil wells, distant gold mines and other like fraudulent exploitations." Even if the descriptions be regarded as rhetorical, the existence of evil is indicated, and a belief of its detriment; and we shall not pause to do more than state that the prevention of deception is within the competency of government and that the appreciation of the consequences of it is not open for our review. The Trading Stamp Cases, 240 U.S. 342, 391. Therefore, the purpose being legal, the question only remains whether the manner in which it is accomplished is illegal. This is contended, and the provisions which render the law void are found, it is stated, in: (1) Power conferred upon the commissioner to grant or refuse licenses; (2) the authority given the commissioner to place forbidden restrictions and burdens on the conduct of the business of one who has obtained a license.

The basis of these contentions is that the law confers arbitrary power upon the commissioner. In considering the contentions we must keep in mind that the law is addressed to a complex situation. Its purpose is, as we have seen, to give a basis for judgment of the securities offered the purchasing public; assure credit where it is deserved and confidence to investment and trading; prevent deception and save credulity and ignorance from imposition, as far as this can be done by the approved reputation of the seller of the securities and authoritative information.

It may, however, be said that character establishes itself and neither needs nor can be compelled to accept the stamp of government, and it is asserted that the "normal investment business of the country" and its "individual transactions" are not subject to "executive control," the broad contention being made that as such business cannot be prohibited it cannot be regulated. This, indeed, is the basic principle of the opposition to the statute. It is expressed in many ways, and the various provisions of the statute — those that are explicit in direction to the commissioner and those that commit discretion to him — are said to so burden and complicate "normal business as to make it difficult if not impossible to carry it on in a normal way, if at all."

As broadly made, we cannot assent to these propositions. The reason and extent of the law we have indicated and the control to which individual transactions are subjected, and we think both are within the competency of the State. It is to be remembered that the value of securities consists in what they represent, and to determine such value is a complex problem even to the most skillful and informed.

We have very lately decided a case upon the principle of the power of the State to prevent frauds and impositions. Hutchinson Ice Cream Co. v. Iowa, ante, p. 153. The principle applies as well to securities as to material products, the provisions of the law necessarily varying with the objects. As to material products the purpose may be accomplished by a requirement of inherent purity. The intangibility of securities, they being representatives or purporting to be representatives of something else, of property, it may be, in distant states and countries, schemes of plausible pretensions, requires a difference of provision and the integrity of the securities can only be assured by the probity of the dealers in them and the information which may be given of them. This assurance the State has deemed necessary for its welfare to require; and the requirement is not unreasonable or inappropriate. It extends to the general market something of the safeguards that are given to trading upon the exchanges and stock boards of the country, safeguards that experience has adopted as advantageous. Inconvenience may be caused and supervision and surveillance, but this must yield to the public welfare; and against counsel's alarm of consequences, we set the judgment of the State.

We turn back, therefore, to consider the more specific objections to the law. The basis of them is, as we have seen, the power conferred upon the commissioner, which is asserted to be arbitrary. The objection is somewhat difficult to handle. It centers in the provision that requires the commissioner, as a condition of a license, to "be satisfied of the good repute in business of such applicant and named agents," and in the power given him to revoke the license or refuse to renew it upon ascertaining that the licensee "is of bad business repute; has violated any provision of this act or has engaged, or is about to engage, under favor of such license, in illegitimate business or in fraudulent transactions." It is especially objected that as to these requirements no standard is given to guide or determine the decision of the commissioner. Therefore, it is contended that the discretion thus vested in the commissioner leaves "room for the play and action of purely personal and arbitrary power."

We are a little surprised that it should be implied that there is anything recondite in a business reputation or its existence as a fact which should require much investigation. If in special cases there may be controversy, those cases the statute takes care of; an adverse judgment by the commissioner is reviewable by the courts. Section 6373-8. So also as to the other judgments.

Besides it is certainly apparent that if the conditions are within the power of the State to impose, they can only be ascertained by an executive officer. Reputation and character are quite tangible attributes, but there can be no legislative definition of them that can automatically attach to or identify individuals possessing them, and necessarily the aid of some executive agency must be invoked. The contention of appellees would take from government one of its most essential instrumentalities, of which the various national and state commissions are instances. But the contention may be answered by authority. In Gundling v. Chicago, 177 U.S. 183, an ordinance of the City of Chicago was passed on which required a license of dealers in cigarettes and as a condition of the license that the applicant, if a single individual, all of the members of the firm, if a co-partnership, and any person or persons in charge of the business, if a corporation, should be of good character and reputation, and the duty was delegated to the mayor of the city to determine the existence of the conditions. The ordinance was sustained. To this case may be added Red "C" Oil Manufacturing Co. v. North Carolina, 222 U.S. 380, 394, and cases cited; Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio, 236 U.S. 230; Brazee v. Michigan, 241 U.S. 340, 341. See also Reetz v. Michigan, 188 U.S. 505; Lieberman v. Van De Carr, 199 U.S. 552.

The discretion of the commissioner is qualified by his duty, and besides, as we have seen, the statute gives judicial review of his action. Pending such review we must accord to the commissioner a proper sense of duty and the presumption that the functions entrusted to him will be executed in the public interest, not wantonly or arbitrarily to deny a license to or take one away from a reputable dealer (Plymouth Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania, 232 U.S. 531, 545); and, as we have said, in cases where there can be a dispute of fact, the statute provides for judicial review, and we see no legal objection to the designation of a particular court for such review.

We are not disposed to give serious attention to the contention that while the statute in form prohibits sales "it at the same time necessarily prevents purchases, and thereby shields contemplating purchasers from loss of property by the exercise of their own defective judgment," and puts them as well as the sellers under guardianship. If we may suppose that such purchasers would assert a liberty to form a "defective judgment" and resent means of information as a limitation of their freedom, we must wait until they themselves appear to do so. Besides, there are examples in legislation of unsolicited protection, and there is much in the business we are considering which urges to an imitation of the examples. It is not wise to put out of view the tendencies of the business and that it tempts to and facilitates speculative judgments, if the purpose be trading, improvident judgments, if the purpose be investment. Whatever detriment may come from such judgments the law may be powerless to prevent; but against counterfeits of value the law can give protection, and such is the purpose of the statute under review. It must be judged of upon that consideration, not upon the assertion of an absolute liberty of conduct which does not exist.

Discriminations are asserted against the statute which extend, it is contended, to denying appellees the equal protection of the laws. Counsel enumerates them as follows:

"Prominent among such discriminations are between the cases where more or less than fifty per cent. of an issue of bonds is included in the sale to one person; between securities which have and which have not been authorized by the public service commission of this state; between the securities issued by a bank, trust company, a building and loan association organized under the laws of this state and those which are not; between an owner who sells his securities in a single transaction and one who disposes of them in successive transactions; between a bank or trust company who sells at a commission of not more than two per cent. and one which sells at a higher commission; against securities when any part of the proceeds to be derived from the sale are to be applied in payment for patents, services, good will or for property not located in this state; in providing for such delays in the issuance of a license and in the subsequent conduct of business thereunder as to substantially hinder, and in many cases naturally arising, to utterly prevent sales; in discriminating between securities which have and which have not been published in regular market reports; between sales where in a single transaction the sale is for five thousand dollars or more; in discriminations against securities issued by taxing subdivisions of other states; between securities upon which there has and has not been a default as to principal or interest; against securities which have not from time to time for six months been published in the regular market reports or the news columns of a daily newspaper of general circulation in the state; where the securities are or are not of manufacturing or transportation companies in the hands of bona fide purchasers prior to March 1st, 1914, where such companies were, on that date and shall be at the time of the proposed sale, going concerns; between cases where the information contemplated is or is not contained in a standard manual of information approved by the commissioner; where the disposal is or is not made for a commission of less than one per cent. of the par value thereof by a licensee who is a member of a regularly organized and recognized stock exchange and who has an established and lawfully conducted business in this state regularly open for public patronage as such; between cases in which the vendor proposes to sell securities for which he has and those for which he has not paid ninety per cent. of the price at which they are to be sold by him; where the securities are or are not those of a common carrier or of a company organized under the laws of this state and engaged principally in the business of manufacturing, transportation, etc., and the whole or a part of the property upon which such securities are predicated are located within this state."

We cannot give separate attention to the asserted discriminations. It is enough to say that they are within the power of classification which a State has. A State "may direct its law against what it deems the evil as it actually exists without covering the whole field of possible abuses, and it may do so none the less that the forbidden act does not differ in kind from those that are allowed. . . . If a class is deemed to present a conspicuous example of what the legislature seeks to prevent, the Fourteenth Amendment allows it to be dealt with although otherwise and merely logically not distinguishable from others not embraced in the law." Central Lumber Co. v. South Dakota, 226 U.S. 157, 160. The cases were cited from which those propositions were deduced. To the same effect is Armour & Company v. North Dakota, 240 U.S. 510, 517.

The next contention of appellees is that the law under review is a burden on interstate commerce, and therefore contravenes the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States. There is no doubt of the supremacy of the national power over interstate commerce. Its inaction, it is true, may imply prohibition of state legislation but it may imply permission of such legislation. In other words, the burden of the legislation, if it be a burden, may be indirect and valid in the absence of the assertion of the national power. So much is a truism; there can only be controversy about its application. The language of the statute is: "Except as otherwise provided in this act, no dealer shall, within this state, dispose" of certain securities "issued or executed by any private or quasi-public corporation, co-partnership or association (except corporations not for profit) . . . without first being licensed so to do as hereinafter provided."

The provisions of the law, it will be observed, apply to dispositions of securities within the State and while information of those issued in other States and foreign countries is required to be filed (§§ 6373-9), they are only affected by the requirement of a license of one who deals in them within the State. Upon their transportation into the State there is no impediment — no regulation of them or interference with them after they get there. There is the exaction only that he who disposes of them there shall be licensed to do so and this only that they may not appear in false character and impose an appearance of a value which they may not possess — and this certainly is only an indirect burden upon them as objects of interstate commerce, if they may be regarded as such. It is a police regulation strictly, not affecting them until there is an attempt to make disposition of them within the State. To give them more immunity than this is to give them more immunity than more tangible articles are given, they having no exemption from regulations the purpose of which is to prevent fraud or deception. Such regulations affect interstate commerce in them only incidentally. Hatch v. Reardon, 204 U.S. 152; Ware & Leland v. Mobile County, 209 U.S. 405; Engel v. O'Malley, 219 U.S. 128; Brodnax v. Missouri, id. 285; Banker Brothers Co. v. Pennsylvania, 222 U.S. 210; Savage v. Jones, 225 U.S. 501; Standard Stock Food Co. v. Wright, id. 540; Trading Stamp Cases, supra. With these cases International Textbook Co. v. Pigg, 217 U.S. 91; Buck Stove & Range Co. v. Vickers, 226 U.S. 205, and the Lottery Case, 188 U.S. 321, are not in discordance.

We might, indeed, ask, When do the designated securities cease migration in interstate commerce and settle to the jurisdiction of the State? Material things, choses in possession, pass out of interstate commerce when they emerge from the original package. Do choses in action have a longer immunity? It is to be remembered that though they may differ in manner of transfer, they are in the same form in the hands of the purchaser as they are in the hands of the seller, and in the hands of both as they are brought into the State. We ask again, Do they never pass out of interstate commerce? Have they always the freedom of the State? Is there no point of time at which the State can expose the evil that they may mask? Is anything more necessary for the supremacy of the national power than that they be kept free when in actual transportation, subjected to the jurisdiction of the State only when they are attempted to be sold to the individual purchaser? The questions are pertinent, the answer to them one way or the other, of consequence; but we may pass them, for regarding the securities as still in interstate commerce after their transportation to the State is ended and they have reached the hands of dealers in them, their interstate character is only incidentally affected by the statute.

Decree reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.



1. These cases, together with Caldwell et al. v. Sioux Falls Stock Yards Co. et al., post, 559, involving the "Blue Sky Law" of South Dakota, and Merrick et al. v. Halsey & Co. et al., post, 568, involving the "Blue Sky Law" of Michigan, have been styled for convenience "The Blue Sky Cases."


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