Regulation of Businesses, Corporations, Professions, and Trades


States may impose significant regulations on busi-nesses without violating due process. “The Constitution does not guarantee the unrestricted privilege to engage in a business or to conduct it as one pleases. Certain kinds of business may be prohibited; and the right to conduct a business, or to pursue a calling, may be conditioned. . . . Statutes prescribing the terms upon which those conducting certain businesses may contract, or imposing terms if they do enter into agreements, are within the State’s competency.”221 Still, the fact that the state reserves the power to amend or repeal corporate charters does not support the taking of corporate property without due process of law, as termination of the corporate structure merely results in turning over corporate property to the stockholders after liquidation.222

Foreign (out-of-state) corporations also enjoy protection under the Due Process Clauses, but this does not grant them an unconditional right to enter another state or to continue to do business in it. Language in some early cases suggested that states had plenary power to exclude or to expel a foreign corporation.223 This power is clearly limited by the modern doctrine of the “negative” commerce clause, which constrains states’ authority to discriminate against foreign corporations in favor of local commerce. Still, it has always been acknowledged that states may subject corporate entry or continued operation to reasonable, non-discriminatory conditions. Thus, for instance, a state law that requires the filing of articles with a local official as a prerequisite to the validity of conveyances of local realty to such corporations does not violate due process.224 In addition, statutes that require a foreign insurance company to maintain reserves computed by a specific percentage of premiums (including membership fees) received in all states,225 or to consent to direct actions filed against it by persons injured in the host state, are valid.226

Laws Prohibiting Trusts, Restraint of Trade or Fraud.

Even during the period when the Court was invalidating statutes under liberty of contract principles, it recognized the right of states to prohibit combinations in restraint of trade.227 Thus, states could prohibit agreements to pool and fix prices, divide net earnings, and prevent competition in the purchase and sale of grain.228 Further, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment does not preclude a state from adopting a policy prohibiting competing corporations from combinations, even when such combinations were induced by good intentions and from which benefit and no injury have resulted.229 The Court also upheld a variety of statutes prohibiting activities taken by individual businesses intended to harm competitors230 or restrain the trade of others.231

Laws and ordinances tending to prevent frauds by requiring honest weights and measures in the sale of articles of general consumption have long been considered lawful exertions of the police power.232 Thus, a prohibition on the issuance or sale by other than an authorized weigher of any weight certificate for grain weighed at any warehouse or elevator where state weighers are stationed is not unconstitutional.233 Similarly, the power of a state to prescribe standard containers to protect buyers from deception as well as to facilitate trading and to preserve the condition of the merchandise is not open to question.234

A variety of other business regulations that tend to prevent fraud have withstood constitutional scrutiny. Thus, a state may require that the nature of a product be fairly set forth, despite the right of a manufacturer to maintain secrecy as to his compounds.235 Or, a statute providing that the purchaser of harvesting or threshing machinery for his own use shall have a reasonable time after delivery for inspecting and testing it, and may rescind the contract if the machinery does not prove reasonably adequate, does not violate the Due Process Clause.236 Further, in the exercise of its power to prevent fraud and imposition, a state may regulate trading in securities within its borders, require a license of those engaging in such dealing, make issuance of a license dependent on the good repute of the applicants, and permit, subject to judicial review of his findings, revocation of the license.237

The power to regulate also includes the power to forbid certain business practices. Thus, a state may forbid the giving of options to sell or buy any grain or other commodity at a future time.238 It may also forbid sales on margin for future delivery,239 and may prohibit the keeping of places where stocks, grain, and the like, are sold but not paid for at the time, unless a record of the same be made and a stamp tax paid.240 A prohibitive license fee upon the use of trading stamps is not unconstitutional,241 nor is imposing criminal penalties for any deductions by purchasers from the actual weight of grain, hay, seed, or coal purchased, even when such deduction is made under a claim of custom or under a rule of a board of trade.242

Banking, Wage Assignments, and Garnishment.

Regula-tion of banks and banking has always been considered well within the police power of states, and the Fourteenth Amendment did not eliminate this regulatory authority.243 A variety of regulations have been upheld over the years. For example, state banks are not deprived of property without due process by a statute subjecting them to assessments for a depositors’ guaranty fund.244 Also, a law requiring savings banks to turn over deposits inactive for thirty years to the state (when the depositor cannot be found), with provision for payment to the depositor or his heirs on establishment of the right, does not effect an invalid taking of the property of said banks; nor does a statute requiring banks to turn over to the protective custody of the state deposits that, depending on the nature of the deposit, have been inactive ten or twenty-five years.245

A state is acting clearly within its police power in fixing maximum rates of interest on money loaned within its border, and such regulation is within legislative discretion if not unreasonable or arbitrary.246 Equally valid is a requirement that assignments of future wages as security for debts of less than $200, to be valid, must be accepted in writing by the employer, consented to by the assignors, and filed in public office. Such a requirement deprives neither the borrower nor the lender of his property without due process of law.



Those engaged in the insurance business 248 as well as the business itself have been peculiarly subject to supervision and control.249 Even during the Lochner era the Court recognized that government may fix insurance rates and regulate the compensation of insurance agents,250 and over the years the Court has upheld a wide variety of regulation. For instance, a state may impose a fine on “any person ‘who shall act in any manner in the negotiation or transaction of unlawful insurance . . . with a foreign insurance company not admitted to do business [within said State].’ ”251 Or, a state may forbid life insurance companies and their agents to engage in the undertaking business and undertakers to serve as life insurance agents.252 Further, foreign casualty and surety insurers were not deprived of due process by a Virginia law that prohibited the making of contracts of casualty or surety insurance except through registered agents, that required that such contracts applicable to persons or property in the state be countersigned by a registered local agent, and that prohibited such agents from sharing more than 50% of a commission with a nonresident broker.253 And just as all banks may be required to contribute to a depositors’ guaranty fund, so may automobile liability insurers be required to submit to the equitable apportionment among them of applicants who are in good faith entitled to, but are financially unable to, procure such insurance through ordinary methods.254

However, the Court has discerned some limitations to such regulations. A statute that prohibited the insured from contracting directly with a marine insurance company outside the state for coverage of property within the state was held invalid as a deprivation of liberty without due process of law.255 For the same reason, the Court held, a state may not prevent a citizen from concluding a policy loan agreement with a foreign life insurance company at its home office whereby the policy on his life is pledged as collateral security for a cash loan to become due upon default in payment of premiums, in which case the entire policy reserve might be applied to discharge the indebtedness. Authority to subject such an agreement to the conflicting provisions of domestic law is not deducible from the power of a state to license a foreign insurance company as a condition of its doing business therein.256

A stipulation that policies of hail insurance shall take effect and become binding twenty-four hours after the hour in which an application is taken and further requiring notice by telegram of rejection of an application was upheld.257 No unconstitutional restraint was imposed upon the liberty of contract of surety companies by a statute providing that, after enactment, any bond executed for the faithful performance of a building contract shall inure to the benefit of material men and laborers, notwithstanding any provision of the bond to the contrary.258 Likewise constitutional was a law requiring that a motor vehicle liability policy shall provide that bankruptcy of the insured does not release the insurer from liability to an injured person.259 There also is no denial of due process for a state to require that casualty companies, in case of total loss, pay the total amount for which the property was insured, less depreciation between the time of issuing the policy and the time of the loss, rather than the actual cash value of the property at the time of loss.260

Moreover, even though it had its attorney-in-fact located in Illinois, signed all its contracts there, and forwarded from there all checks in payment of losses, a reciprocal insurance association covering real property located in New York could be compelled to comply with New York regulations that required maintenance of an office in that state and the countersigning of policies by an agent resident therein.261 Also, to discourage monopolies and to encourage rate competition, a state constitutionally may impose on all fire insurance companies connected with a tariff association fixing rates a liability or penalty to be collected by the insured of 25% in excess of actual loss or damage, stipulations in the insurance contract to the contrary notwithstanding.262

A state statute by which a life insurance company, if it fails to pay upon demand the amount due under a policy after death of the insured, is made liable in addition for fixed damages, reasonable in amount, and for a reasonable attorney’s fee is not unconstitutional even though payment is resisted in good faith and upon reasonable grounds.263 It is also proper by law to cut off a defense by a life insurance company based on false and fraudulent statements in the application, unless the matter misrepresented actually contributed to the death of the insured.264 A provision that suicide, unless contemplated when the application for a policy was made, shall be no defense is equally valid.265 When a cooperative life insurance association is reorganized so as to permit it to do a life insurance business of every kind, policyholders are not deprived of their property without due process of law.266 Similarly, when the method of liquidation provided by a plan of rehabilitation of a mutual life insurance company is as favorable to dissenting policyholders as would have been the sale of assets and pro rata distribution to all creditors, the dissenters are unable to show any taking without due process. Dissenting policyholders have no constitutional right to a particular form of remedy.267

Miscellaneous Businesses and Professions.

The practice of medicine, using this word in its most general sense, has long been the subject of regulation.268 A state may exclude osteopathic physicians from hospitals maintained by it or its municipalities269 and may regulate the practice of dentistry by prescribing qualifications that are reasonably necessary, requiring licenses, establishing a supervisory administrative board, or prohibiting certain advertising regardless of its truthfulness.270 The Court has sustained a law establishing as a qualification for obtaining or retaining a pharmacy operating permit that one either be a registered pharmacist in good standing or that the corporation or association have a majority of its stock owned by registered pharmacists in good standing who were actively and regularly employed in and responsible for the management, supervision, and operation of such pharmacy.271

Although statutes requiring pilots to be licensed272 and setting reasonable competency standards (e.g., that railroad engineers pass color blindness tests) have been sustained,273 an act making it a misdemeanor for a person to act as a railway passenger conductor without having had two years’ experience as a freight conductor or brakeman was invalidated as not rationally distinguishing between those competent and those not competent to serve as conductor.274 An act imposing license fees for operating employment agencies and prohibiting them from sending applicants to an employer who has not applied for labor does not deny due process of law.275 Also, a state law prohibiting operation of a “debt pooling” or a “debt adjustment” business except as an incident to the legitimate practice of law is a valid exercise of legislative discretion.276

The Court has also upheld a variety of other licensing or regulatory legislation applicable to places of amusement,277 grain elevators,278 detective agencies,279 the sale of cigarettes280 or cosmetics,281 and the resale of theater tickets.282 Restrictions on advertising have also been upheld, including absolute bans on the advertising of cigarettes283 or the use of a representation of the United States flag on an advertising medium.284 Similarly constitutional were prohibitions on the solicitation by a layman of the business of collecting and adjusting claims,285 the keeping of private markets within six squares of a public market,286 the keeping of billiard halls except in hotels,287 or the purchase by junk dealers of wire, copper, and other items, without ascertaining the seller’s right to sell.288


Nebbia v. New York, 291 U.S. 502, 527–28 (1934). See also New Motor Vehicle Bd. v. Orrin W. Fox Co., 439 U.S. 96, 106–08 (1978) (upholding regulation of franchise relationship). back
New Orleans Debenture Redemption Co. v. Louisiana, 180 U.S. 320 (1901). back
National Council U.A.M. v. State Council, 203 U.S. 151, 162–63 (1906). back
Munday v. Wisconsin Trust Co., 252 U.S. 499 (1920). back
State Farm Ins. Co. v. Duel, 324 U.S. 154 (1945). back
Watson v. Employers Liability Assurance Corp., 348 U.S. 66 (1954). Similarly a statute requiring a foreign hospital corporation to dispose of farm land not necessary to the conduct of their business was invalid even though the hospital, because of changed economic conditions, was unable to recoup its original investment from the sale. New Orleans Debenture Redemption Co. v. Louisiana, 180 U.S. 320 (1901). back
See, e.g., Grenada Lumber Co. v. Mississippi, 217 U.S. 433 (1910) (statute prohibiting retail lumber dealers from agreeing not to purchase materials from wholesalers selling directly to consumers in the retailers’ localities upheld); Aikens v. Wisconsin, 195 U.S. 194 (1904) (law punishing combinations for “maliciously” injuring a rival in the same business, profession, or trade upheld). back
Smiley v. Kansas, 196 U.S. 447 (1905). See Waters Pierce Oil Co. v. Texas, 212 U.S. 86 (1909); National Cotton Oil Co. v. Texas, 197 U.S. 115 (1905), also upholding antitrust laws. back
International Harvester Co. v. Missouri, 234 U.S. 199 (1914). See also American Machine Co. v. Kentucky, 236 U.S. 660 (1915). back
Central Lumber Co. v. South Dakota, 226 U.S. 157 (1912) (prohibition on intentionally destroying competition of a rival business by making sales at a lower rate, after considering distance, in one section of the State than in another upheld). But cf. Fairmont Co. v. Minnesota, 274 U.S. 1 (1927) (invalidating on liberty of contract grounds similar statute punishing dealers in cream who pay higher prices in one locality than in another, the Court finding no reasonable relation between the statute’s sanctions and the anticipated evil). back
Old Dearborn Co. v. Seagram Corp., 299 U.S. 183 (1936) (prohibition of contracts requiring that commodities identified by trademark will not be sold by the vendee or subsequent vendees except at prices stipulated by the original vendor upheld); Pep Boys v. Pyroil, 299 U.S. 198 (1936) (same); Safeway Stores v. Oklahoma Grocers, 360 U.S. 334 (1959) (application of an unfair sales act to enjoin a retail grocery company from selling below statutory cost upheld, even though competitors were selling at unlawful prices, as there is no constitutional right to employ retaliation against action outlawed by a state and appellant could enjoin illegal activity of its competitors). back
Schmidinger v. City of Chicago, 226 U.S. 578, 588 (1913) (citing McLean v. Arkansas, 211 U.S. 539, 550 (1909)). See Hauge v. City of Chicago, 299 U.S. 387 (1937) (municipal ordinance requiring that commodities sold by weight be weighed by a public weighmaster within the city valid even as applied to one delivering coal from state-tested scales at a mine outside the city); Lemieux v. Young, 211 U.S. 489 (1909) (statute requiring merchants to record sales in bulk not made sin the regular course of business valid); Kidd, Dater Co. v. Musselman Grocer Co., 217 U.S. 461 (1910) (same). back
Merchants Exchange v. Missouri, 248 U.S. 365 (1919). back
Pacific States Co. v. White, 296 U.S. 176 (1935) (administrative order prescribing the dimensions, form, and capacity of containers for strawberries and raspberries is not arbitrary as the form and dimensions bore a reasonable relation to the protection of the buyers and the preservation in transit of the fruit); Schmidinger v. City of Chicago, 226 U.S. 578 (1913) (ordinance fixing standard sizes is not unconstitutional); Armour & Co. v. North Dakota, 240 U.S. 510 (1916) (law that lard not sold in bulk should be put up in containers holding one, three, or five pounds weight, or some whole multiple of these numbers valid); Petersen Baking Co. v. Bryan, 290 U.S. 570 (1934) (regulations that imposed a rate of tolerance for the minimum weight for a loaf of bread upheld); But cf. Burns Baking Co. v. Bryan, 264 U.S. 504 (1924) (tolerance of only two ounces in excess of the minimum weight per loaf is unreasonable, given finding that it was impossible to manufacture good bread without frequently exceeding the prescribed tolerance). back
Heath & Milligan Co. v. Worst, 207 U.S. 338 (1907); Corn Products Ref. Co. v. Eddy, 249 U.S. 427 (1919); National Fertilizer Ass’n v. Bradley, 301 U.S. 178 (1937). back
Advance-Rumely Co. v. Jackson, 287 U.S. 283 (1932). back
Hall v. Geiger-Jones Co., 242 U.S. 539 (1917); Caldwell v. Sioux Falls Stock Yards Co., 242 U.S. 559 (1917); Merrick v. Halsey & Co., 242 U.S. 568 (1917). back
Booth v. Illinois, 184 U.S. 425 (1902). back
Otis v. Parker, 187 U.S. 606 (1903). back
Brodnax v. Missouri, 219 U.S. 285 (1911). back
Rast v. Van Deman & Lewis, 240 U.S. 342 (1916); Tanner v. Little, 240 U.S. 369 (1916); Pitney v. Washington, 240 U.S. 387 (1916). back
House v. Mayes, 219 U.S. 270 (1911). back
Doty v. Love, 295 U.S. 64 (1935) (rights of creditors in an insolvent bank not violated by a later statute permitting re-opening under a reorganization plan approved by the court, the liquidating officer, and by three-fourths of the creditors); Farmers & Merchants Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank, 262 U.S. 649 (1923) (Federal Reserve bank not unlawfully deprived of business rights of liberty of contract by a law which allows state banks to pay checks in exchange when presented by or through a Federal Reserve bank, post office, or express company and when not made payable otherwise by a maker). back
Noble State Bank v. Haskell, 219 U.S. 104 (1911); Shallenberger v. First State Bank, 219 U.S. 114 (1911); Assaria State Bank v. Dolley, 219 U.S. 121 (1911); Abie State Bank v. Bryan, 282 U.S. 765 (1931). back
Provident Savings Inst. v. Malone, 221 U.S. 660 (1911); Anderson Nat’l Bank v. Luckett, 321 U.S. 233 (1944). When a bank conservator appointed pursuant to a new statute has all the functions of a receiver under the old law, one of which is the enforcement on behalf of depositors of stockholders’ liability, which liability the conservator can enforce as cheaply as could a receiver appointed under the pre-existing statute, it cannot be said that the new statute, in suspending the right of a depositor to have a receiver appointed, arbitrarily deprives a depositor of his remedy or destroys his property without the due process of law. The depositor has no property right in any particular form of remedy. Gibbes v. Zimmerman, 290 U.S. 326 (1933). back
Griffith v. Connecticut, 218 U.S. 563 (1910). back
Mutual Loan Co. v. Martell, 222 U.S. 225 (1911). back
La Tourette v. McMaster, 248 U.S. 465 (1919); Stipich v. Insurance Co., 277 U.S. 311, 320 (1928). back
German Alliance Ins. Co. v. Kansas, 233 U.S. 389 (1914). back
O’Gorman & Young v. Hartford Ins. Co., 282 U.S. 251 (1931). back
Nutting v. Massachusetts, 183 U.S. 553, 556 (1902) (distinguishing Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578 (1897)). See also Hoper v. California, 155 U.S. 648 (1895). back
Daniel v. Family Ins. Co., 336 U.S. 220 (1949). back
Osborn v. Ozlin, 310 U.S. 53, 68–69 (1940). Dissenting from the conclusion, Justice Roberts declared that the plain effect of the Virginia law is to compel a non-resident to pay a Virginia resident for services that the latter does not in fact render. back
California Auto. Ass’n v. Maloney, 341 U.S. 105 (1951). back
Allgeyer v. Louisiana, 165 U.S. 578 (1897). back
New York Life Ins. Co. v. Dodge, 246 U.S. 357 (1918). back
National Ins. Co. v. Wanberg, 260 U.S. 71 (1922). back
Hartford Accident Co. v. Nelson Co., 291 U.S. 352 (1934). back
Merchants Liability Co. v. Smart, 267 U.S. 126 (1925). back
Orient Ins. Co. v. Daggs, 172 U.S. 577 (1899) (the statute was in effect when the contract at issue was signed). back
Hoopeston Canning Co. v. Cullen, 318 U.S. 313 (1943). back
German Alliance Ins. Co. v. Hale, 219 U.S. 307 (1911). See also Carroll v. Greenwich Ins. Co., 199 U.S. 401 (1905). back
Life & Casualty Co. v. McCray, 291 U.S. 566 (1934). back
Northwestern Life Ins. Co. v. Riggs, 203 U.S. 243 (1906). back
Whitfield v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 205 U.S. 489 (1907). back
Polk v. Mutual Reserve Fund, 207 U.S. 310 (1907). back
Neblett v. Carpenter, 305 U.S. 297 (1938). back
McNaughton v. Johnson, 242 U.S. 344, 349 (1917). See Dent v. West Virginia, 129 U.S. 114 (1889); Hawker v. New York, 170 U.S. 189 (1898); Reetz v. Michigan, 188 U.S. 505 (1903); Watson v. Maryland, 218 U.S. 173 (1910); See also Barsky v. Board of Regents, 347 U.S. 442 (1954), sustaining a New York law authorizing suspension for six months of the license of a physician who had been convicted of crime in any jurisdiction, in this instance, contempt of Congress under 2 U.S.C. § 192. Justices Black, Douglas, and Frankfurter dissented. back
Collins v. Texas, 223 U.S. 288 (1912); Hayman v. Galveston, 273 U.S. 414 (1927). back
Semler v. Dental Examiners, 294 U.S. 608, 611 (1935). See also Douglas v. Noble, 261 U.S. 165 (1923); Graves v. Minnesota, 272 U.S. 425, 427 (1926). back
North Dakota State Bd. of Pharmacy v. Snyder’s Drug Stores, 414 U.S. 156 (1973). In the course of the decision, the Court overruled Liggett Co. v. Baldridge, 278 U.S. 105 (1928), in which it had voided a law forbidding a corporation to own any drug store, unless all its stockholders were licensed pharmacists, as applied to a foreign corporation, all of whose stockholders were not pharmacists, which sought to extend its business in the state by acquiring and operating therein two additional stores. back
Olsen v. Smith, 195 U.S. 332 (1904). back
Nashville, C. & St. L. R.R. v. Alabama, 128 U.S. 96 (1888). back
Smith v. Texas, 233 U.S. 630 (1914). See DeVeau v. Braisted, 363 U.S. 144, 157–60 (1960), sustaining a New York law barring from office in a longshoremen’s union persons convicted of a felony and not thereafter pardoned or granted a good conduct certificate from a parole board. back
Brazee v. Michigan, 241 U.S. 340 (1916). With four Justices dissenting, the Court in Adams v. Tanner, 244 U.S. 590 (1917), struck down a state law absolutely prohibiting maintenance of private employment agencies. Commenting on the “constitutional philosophy” thereof in Lincoln Federal Labor Union v. Northwestern Iron & Metal Co., 335 U.S. 525, 535 (1949), Justice Black stated that Olsen v. Nebraska ex rel. Western Reference and Bond Ass’n, 313 U.S. 236 (1941), “clearly undermined Adams v. Tanner.” back
Ferguson v. Skrupa, 372 U.S. 726 (1963). back
Western Turf Ass’n v. Greenberg, 204 U.S. 359 (1907). back
W.W. Cargill Co. v. Minnesota, 180 U.S. 452 (1901). back
Lehon v. Atlanta, 242 U.S. 53 (1916). back
Gundling v. Chicago, 177 U.S. 183, 185 (1900). back
Bourjois, Inc. v. Chapman, 301 U.S. 183 (1937). back
Weller v. New York, 268 U.S. 319 (1925). back
Packer Corp. v. Utah, 285 U.S. 105 (1932). back
Halter v. Nebraska, 205 U.S. 34 (1907). back
McCloskey v. Tobin, 252 U.S. 107 (1920). back
Natal v. Louisiana, 139 U.S. 621 (1891). back
Murphy v. California, 225 U.S. 623 (1912). back
Rosenthal v. New York, 226 U.S. 260 (1912). The Court also upheld a state law forbidding (1) solicitation of the sale of frames, mountings, or other optical appliances, (2) solicitation of the sale of eyeglasses, lenses, or prisms by use of advertising media, (3) retailers from leasing, or otherwise permitting anyone purporting to do eye examinations or visual care to occupy space in a retail store, and (4) anyone, such as an optician, to fit lenses, or replace lenses or other optical appliances, except upon written prescription of an optometrist or ophthalmologist licensed in the state is not invalid. A state may treat all who deal with the human eye as members of a profession that should refrain from merchandising methods to obtain customers, and that should choose locations that reduce the temptations of commercialism; a state may also conclude that eye examinations are so critical that every change in frame and duplication of a lens should be accompanied by a prescription. Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483 (1955). back