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State v. Hobson

Supreme Court of Delaware

October 18, 1951

STATE
v.
HOBSON.

Page 847

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 848

The Attorney-General of the State of Delaware filed an information against Charles H. Hobson alleging that defendant had violated the statute regulating retail sales of motor fuels by establishing uniform regulations with respect to the size and location of signs stating the selling prices of such fuels, and the Superior Court of New Castle County certified questions of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, Southerland, C.J., held, inter alia, that the statute is unconstitutional as depriving retailer of property without due process of law insofar as it limits maximum size of price sign which retailer may display on dispensing device from which motor fuel is sold, to four by six inches.

Certified questions answered in accordance with opinion.

The statute regulating retail sales of motor fuel by establishing uniform regulations with respect to size and location of signs stating selling prices of such fuels is unconstitutional as depriving retailer of property without due process of law, insofar as it limits maximum size of price signs which retailer may display on dispensing device from which fuel is sold, to four by six inches. 48 Del.Laws, c. ______, § 1 et seq.; Const. art. 1, § 7; U.S.C.A.Const. Amend. 14.[46 Del. 385]

Page 849

 H. Albert Young, Atty. Gen., Stephen E. Hamilton, Jr., and Louis J. Finger, Deputy Attys. Gen., for the State.

William S. Potter and James L. Latchum, of Berl, Potter & Anderson, of Wilmington, for amici curiae .

George T. Coulson, of Morris, Steel, Nichols & Arsht, and Albert J. Stiftel, all of Wilmington, for defendant.

Before SOUTHERLAND, C. J., and WOLCOTT and TUNNELL, JJ.

SOUTHERLAND, Chief Justice.

In the above cause now pending in the Superior Court of New Castle County that court has before it the question of the constitutionality of the Act of Assembly approved June 5, 1951, Vol. 48, Laws of Delaware, C. --, regulating retail sales of motor fuels by establishing uniform regulations with respect to the size and location of signs stating the selling prices of such fuels. Pursuant to Article IV, Section 11, Paragraph (9), of the Constitution of Delaware, the Superior Court has certified to us [46 Del. 386] for hearing and determination the following questions of law:[1]

‘ Does the second paragraph of Section I of The Statute [the Act of June 5, 1951] violate either:

‘ A. Section 5 of Article I of the Constitution of the State of Delaware; or

‘ B. Section 7 of Article I of the Constitution of the State of Delaware; or

‘ C. Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution of the United States; or

‘ D. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; or

‘ E. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.’

By subsequent stipulation of the parties, approved by this Court, the following additional questions are deemed to have been certified to us:

Does the second paragraph of Section I of the Act violate either (1) the supremacy clause of Article VI of the Constitution of the United States, or (2) Article II, Section 16, of the Constitution of the State of Delaware?

The first two paragraphs of Section 1 of the act in question (hereinafter called ‘ the Act of June 5’ ) are as follows:

‘ Section 1. Every retail dealer in motor fuel shall publicly display and maintain on each pump or other dispensing device, from which motor fuel is sold by him, at least one sign and not more than two signs stating the price per gallon of the motor fuel sold by him from such pump or device, which price shall [46 Del. 387] be the total price for such motor fuel, including all State and Federal taxes. Said sign or signs shall be of a size not larger than four inches by six inches and shall contain no information other than the said price per gallon, except that said sign or signs may state that the

Page 850

said price per gallon includes all taxes or may state the amount of such taxes which are included in the price. The statement of the total price per gallon, as shown by the figures used in any price computing mechanism constituting a part of any such pump or dispensing device, shall be considered as a sign within the meaning of this Section and no other or additional signs stating the price per gallon shall be required.

‘ No signs stating or relating to the prices of motor fuel, and no signs designed or calculated to cause the public to believe that they state or relate to the price of motor fuel, other than the signs referred to in the preceding paragraph, shall be posted or displayed on or about the premises where motor fuel is sold at retail.’

The ultimate facts certified by the court below, supplemented by an approved stipulation of counsel, are these:

Charles H. Hobson, the defendant, is the owner and operator of a service station at Hockessin, Delaware, at which motor fuel is sold to the public at retail. Esso Standard Oil Company leases to Hobson the dispensing equipment and furnishes his entire supply of gasoline. That company has no facilities in Delaware for the production and refining of gasoline and transports gasoline for use or sale in Delaware from places in other States of the United States.

For a period of at least six months prior to the enactment of the Act of June 5, there existed in Delaware ‘ a price war’ in the retail motor fuel industry.

On July 11, 1951, the defendant was arrested and charged with a violation of the provisions of the Act of June 5, and subsequently the Attorney General filed an information alleging [46 Del. 388] that the defendant had violated the Act by displaying at his service station signs of dimensions and specifications contrary to law, ‘ in that [he] did display signs measuring approximately 2 1/2 x 3 ft.’ It appears, inferentially, that the signs stated the price at which motor fuel was offered for sale to the public. Thereafter the defendant filed a motion to quash the information on the ground that the Act of June 5 is unconstitutional. The motion raised the questions originally certified by the Superior Court. Later (after certification to this Court) the motion was amended to raise the two additional questions above set out.

In the course of the proceedings below counsel for Gasoline Retailers of Delaware were given leave to file a brief as amici curiae, and have filed a brief in this Court.

In his treatment of the questions certified to us defendant assigns five distinct grounds upon which he assails the constitutionality of the Act of June 5. Defendant says:

I. That the Act conflicts with the ceiling price regulations of the Office of Price Stabilization, effective March 26, 1951, adopted pursuant to the Defense Production Act of 1950, and hence is invalid under the supremacy clause of Article VI of the Constitution of the United States.

II. That the Act abridges the right of defendant to freedom of speech guaranteed him by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States and by Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution of the State of Delaware.

III. That the Act unduly burdens interstate commerce and is therefore repugnant to Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States.

IV. That the title of the Act fails to comply with the provisions of Article II, Section 16, of the Constitution of the State of Delaware, providing that no bill shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title.

[46 Del. 389] V. That the Act deprives defendant of his property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution of the State of Delaware.

We take up these contentions in order.

I. The ceiling price regulation .

Ceiling Price Regulation 13, effective March 26, 1951, governs, among other things, all sales of motor fuel at service stations and other retail establishments, and prohibits such sales at prices ...


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