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UNITED STATES v. WIESENFELD WAREHOUSE CO.

decided: February 17, 1964.

UNITED STATES
v.
WIESENFELD WAREHOUSE CO.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA.

Author: Stewart

[ 376 U.S. Page 87]

 MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 301 (k) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits the "alteration, mutilation, destruction, obliteration, or removal of the whole or any part of the labeling of, or the doing of any other act with respect to, a food, drug, device, or cosmetic, if such act is done while such article is held for sale . . . after shipment in interstate commerce and results in such article being adulterated or misbranded."*fn1 Section 402 of the Act provides, among other things, that "[a] food shall be deemed to be adulterated -- (a) . . . (3) if it consists in whole or in part of any filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance, or if it is otherwise unfit for food; or (4) if it has been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health . . . ."*fn2 The question presented by this appeal is whether a criminal information which alleges the holding of food by a public storage warehouseman (after interstate shipment and before ultimate sale) under insanitary conditions in a building accessible to rodents, birds and insects, where it may have become contaminated with filth, charges an offense under § 301 (k).

The Government filed a criminal information containing allegations to this effect*fn3 in the District Court for

[ 376 U.S. Page 88]

     the Middle District of Florida, charging the appellee, a public storage warehouseman, with violations of § 301 (k). The court construed § 301 (k) as not applying to the mere act of "holding" goods, and dismissed the information for failure to allege an offense under the statute. 217 F.Supp. 638, 639. The order of dismissal was appealed by the Government under the Criminal Appeals Act, which gives this Court jurisdiction to review on direct appeal a judgment dismissing an information on the basis of a "construction of the statute upon which the . . . information is founded."*fn4 We noted probable jurisdiction. 373 U.S. 921. For the reasons which follow, we reverse the judgment of the District Court.

In arriving at its construction of the statute, the District Court reasoned that § 301 (k) "as it is presently written, is too vague and indefinite to apply to the mere act of 'holding' goods." 217 F.Supp., at 639. Accordingly, "in an effort to uphold the statute as constitutional," the court applied the rule of ejusdem generis to limit the words "the doing of any other act" in § 301 (k) to acts of "the same general nature" as those specifically enumerated in the subsection, i. e., acts relating to the alteration, mutilation, destruction, obliteration, or removal of the labeling of articles. Ibid. We find such reliance on the rule of ejusdem generis misplaced; its application to § 301 (k) is contrary to both the text and legislative history

[ 376 U.S. Page 89]

     of the subsection, and unnecessary to a constitutionally permissible construction of the statute.

The language of § 301 (k) unambiguously defines two distinct offenses with respect to food held for sale after interstate shipment. As originally enacted in 1938, the subsection prohibited "the alteration, mutilation, destruction, obliteration, or removal" of the label, or "the doing of any other act" with respect to the product which "results in such article being misbranded."*fn5 The section was amended in 1948 to prohibit additionally "the doing of any other act" with respect to the product which "results in such article being adulterated."*fn6 The acts specifically enumerated in the original enactment relate to the offense of misbranding through labeling or the lack thereof. The separate offense of adulteration, on the other hand, is concerned solely with deterioration or contamination of the commodity itself. For the most part, acts resulting in misbranding and acts resulting in adulteration are wholly distinct. Consequently, since the enumerated label-defacing offenses bear no textual or logical relation to the scope of the general language condemning acts of product adulteration,*fn7 application of the rule of ejusdem generis to limit the words "the doing of

[ 376 U.S. Page 90]

     any other act" resulting in product adulteration in § 301 (k) to acts of the same general character as those specifically enumerated with respect to misbranding is wholly inappropriate.

Moreover, the legislative history makes plain that no such application of the rule was intended. As the House Committee Report on the proposed ...


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