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decided: March 1, 1926.



Taft, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, Stone.

Author: Taft

[ 270 U.S. Page 90]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TAFT delivered the opinion of the Court.

This was a bill of complaint filed by the State of Washington in the Superior Court of Thurston County of that State against the defendant, the Oregon-Washington Railway & Navigation Company, an interstate common carrier in the States of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The bill averred that there existed in the areas of the States of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Nevada, an injurious insect popularly called the alfalfa weevil, and scientifically known as the Phytonomus posticus, which fed upon the leaves and foliage of the alfalfa plant, to the great damage of the crop; that the insect multiplied rapidly and was propagated by means of eggs deposited by the female insect upon the leaves and stalks of the plant; that when the hay was cured, the eggs clung to and remained dormant upon the hay and even in the meal made from it; that the eggs and live weevils were likely to be carried to points where hay was transported, infecting the growing crop there; that when the hay was carried in common box cars the eggs and live weevils were likely to be shaken out and distributed along the route and communicated to the agricultural lands adjacent to the route; that a proper inspection to ascertain the presence of the eggs or weevils would require the tearing open of every bale of hay and sack of meal, involving a prohibitive cost of inspection, and that the only practical method of preventing the spread into uninfested districts was to prohibit the transportation of hay or meal from the district in which the weevil existed; that the pest is new to, and not generally distributed within, the State of Washington; that there is no known method of ridding an infested district of the pest; that subsequent to June 8, 1921, and

[ 270 U.S. Page 91]

     prior to September 17, 1921, information was received by the Washington Director of Agriculture that there was a probability of the introduction of the weevil into the State across its boundaries; that he thereupon investigated thoroughly the insect and the areas where such pests existed and ascertained it to be in the whole of the State of Utah, all portions of the State of Idaho lying south of Idaho County, the counties of Uinta and Lincoln in the State of Wyoming, the county of Delta in the State of Colorado, the counties of Malheur and Baker in the State of Oregon, and the county of Washoe in the State of Nevada; that he, with the approval of the Governor of the State, thereupon, on or about September 17, 1921, made and promulgated a quarantine regulation and order under the terms of which he declared a quarantine against all of the above described areas and forbade the importation into Washington of alfalfa hay and alfalfa meal, except in sealed containers, and fixed the boundaries of the quarantine. The bill further averred that the defendant, knowing of the proclamation, and in violation thereof, had caused to be shipped into Washington, in common box cars, and not in sealed containers, approximately 100 cars of alfalfa hay, consigned from various points in the State of Idaho lying south of Idaho County and through the State of Oregon and into the State of Washington, in direct violation of the quarantine order; and that, unless enjoined, the defendant would continue to make these shipments from such quarantined area in the State of Idaho into and through the State of Washington; that large quantities of alfalfa were grown in the eastern and central portions of Washington and adjacent to the railroad lines of the defendant and other railroads over which such shipments of alfalfa hay were shipped, and were likely to be shipped in the future unless an injunction was granted, to the great and irreparable damage of the citizens of Washington growing alfalfa therein. A temporary

[ 270 U.S. Page 92]

     injunction was issued, and then a demurrer was filed by the defendants. The demurrer was overruled. An answer was filed and in each of the pleadings was set out the claim by the defendant that the action and proclamation of the Director of Agriculture and the Governor, and chapter 105 of the Laws of Washington of 1921, under which they acted, were in contravention of the interstate commerce clause of the Federal Constitution, and in conflict with an act of Congress.

At the hearing there was evidence on behalf of the State that the Oregon-Washington and Northern Pacific Railroads ran through the parts of the State where the alfalfa was raised; that the weevil had first appeared in Utah in 1904 in Salt Lake City, and that it had spread about 10 miles a year; that it came from Russia and Southern Europe; that it would be impossible to adopt any method of inspection of alfalfa hay to keep out the weevil not prohibitory in cost; that in Europe the weevil is not a serious pest, because its natural enemies exist there and they keep it down; that the United States Government had attempted to introduce parasites, but that it takes a long time to secure a natural check from such a method; that methods by using poison sprays, by burning and in other ways had been used to attack the pest, but that no one method has been entirely successful; that there is no practical way of eliminating the beetles completely if the field once becomes infected, and the continuance of the pest will be indefinite; that the great danger of spreading the infection is through the transfer of hay from one section to another. In behalf of the defendant it was testified that the prevalent opinion in regard to the spread of the alfalfa weevil and the damage it was doing was vastly exaggerated; that the spread of the weevil from hay shipped in the cars, through the State of Washington, was decidedly improbable. The Superior Court made the temporary injunction permanent and the

[ 270 U.S. Page 93]

     Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the decree. This is a writ of error under section 237 of the Judicial Code to that decree.

By chapter 105 of the Washington Session Laws of 1921, p. 308, the Director is given the power and duty, with the approval of the Governor, to establish and maintain quarantine needed to keep out of the State contagion or infestation by disease of trees and plants and injurious insects or other pests, to institute an inspection to prevent any infected articles from coming in except upon a certificate of investigation by such Director, or in his name by an inspector. Upon information received by the Director, of the existence of any infectious plant disease, insect or weed pest, new to or not generally distributed within the State, dangerous to the plant industry of the State, he is required to proceed to investigate the same, and then enforce necessary quarantine. There is a provision for punishment by a fine of not less than $100, or more than $1,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment, for violation of the Act.

In the absence of any action taken by Congress on the subject matter, it is well settled that a State in the exercise of its police power may establish quarantines against human beings or animals or plants, the coming in of which may expose the inhabitants or the stock or the trees, plants or growing crops to disease, injury or destruction thereby, and this in spite of the fact that such quarantines necessarily affect interstate commerce.

Chief Justice Marshall, in Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, speaking of inspection laws, says at p. 203:

"They form a portion of that immense mass of legislation, which embraces everything within the territory of a state, not surrendered to the general government: all which can be most advantageously exercised by the states themselves. Inspection laws, quarantine laws, health laws of every description, as well as laws for regulating the internal

[ 270 U.S. Page 94]

     commerce of a state, and those which respect turnpike roads, ferries, etc., are ...

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