United States v. Grimaud

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United States v. Grimaud
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 28, 1910
(Affirmed March 14, 1910
by an equally divided court)
Reargued March 3, 1911
Decided May 3, 1911
Full case name United States v. Pierre Grimaud and J. P. Carajous (No. 241) and United States v. Antonio Inda (No. 242)
Citations 220 U.S. 506 (more)
Argument Oral argument
Reargument Reargument
Congress may delegate power to an agency to adopt regulations that are subject to criminal penalties.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Lamar

United States v. Grimaud is a 1911 case in which a shepherd named Pierre Grimaud's small case of trespassing became an issue that needed to be resolved by the Supreme Court. Not wanting to face the accusation, Grimaud appealed to the higher courts that the United States government did not have the right to delegate their power to the forest rangers in the way that they did. That in order for him to be caught trespassing on national property, it had to be by a national official, not a local park ranger. He would eventually lose his case, but not before taking it all the way to America’s highest governing body.

Back story[edit]

For years, shepherds in California had witnessed the establishment of forest reserves over a span of roughly ten years. In this time, the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 was established after wealthy capitalists from the northeast failed to monopolize the ranching industry. As a result, it left shepherds with less and less land to let their sheep graze, and this did not sit well with many of them.

Six years later, Congress enacted the Organic Act of 1897. This law “granted management authority to the United States Department of the Interior, then the nation’s sole custodian of the public domain. As part of this process, rangers were hired, and regulations were set for the use of these reserves’ various resources. When in 1905 the United States Forest Service was established as part of the United States Department of Agriculture, and the nation’s forests transferred to its care, the number of rangers increased again, the permitting process intensified, and the related rules and fees were published widely.[1]” The new rules angered the shepherds, farmers, ranchers, miners, etc. especially those who were around when the land wasn’t protected by the government. It got to a point where these members of society began to directly defy the authority of these agencies. Miners sneaked onto reserves to pan for gold, loggers secretly harvested timber, and ranchers sneaked various livestock into and out of these protected lands. The case of the United States versus Pierre Grimaud begins in what is now Oakhurst, California. Pierre was one of these agitated workers; he just wasn’t lucky enough to break the law undetected.

In the early 20th-century, Pierre Grimaud – a farmer and shepherd – who, with his partner PJ Carajous, attempted to sneak his flock of sheep into the Sierra Forest Reserve. On his endeavor to find a good spot for his sheep to graze, he was stopped by a forest ranger who asked to see Grimaud’s permit. Once it was revealed that Grimaud did not have a permit, and was essentially trespassing, the forest ranger arrested him and took him to court.

The trial(s)[edit]

Pierre Grimaud’s case was determined to be more complex than a simple case of trespassing. Grimaud and his lawyer rejected the charge that Grimaud’s behavior constituted a public offense against the United States because when Congress voted in support of the relevant forest legislation and accompanying ordinances, it was acting unconstitutionally; these “rules and regulations,” they declared, were “an attempt by Congress to delegate its legislative power to an administrative officer.[2]” If, as they alleged, such delegation was unconstitutional, then Grimaud could not have committed a crime because there was no crime to commit.” Since Grimaud made this a case involving constitutional law, it was eventually moved up to the Supreme Court where Grimaud was ruled guilty as tried. Grimaud’s claim was an obvious con, and the Court knew it, but constitutional law is difficult to navigate. Finally, after four years the Supreme Court (specifically Justice Joseph Rucker Lamar) unanimously agreed that Grimaud “did knowingly, willfully, and unlawfully pasture and graze, and cause and procure to be pastured and grazed, certain sheep (the exact number being to the grand jurors unknown) upon certain land within the limits of and a part of said Sierra Forest Reserve, without having theretofore or at any time secured or obtained a permit or any permission for said pasturing or grazing of said sheep or any part of them, as required by the said rules and regulations of the Secretary of Agriculture[3]…” Grimaud’s lawyers rejected these accusations, saying that when Congress initially voted to support the relevant forest legislation, it wasn’t within their constitutional rights. The Supreme Court was supposedly delegating the power that they have over government property to an unqualified “administrative officer,” the park ranger. If this were proven to be true, then Grimaud could not have committed a crime because there was no crime to commit. Initially, jurors didn’t buy this defense, and decided that Pierre was guilty. The defense then appealed, or demurred their case, which means that the case gets turned over to the district court. After more than a year of on again off again arguments, the District Court finally ruled in favor of Grimaud, overturning the lesser court in the process. From here, the case was appealed to The Supreme Court, where the ruling was once again overturned and the final ruling said that the Forestry Act was indeed constitutional and that Pierre Grimaud had broken the law. The reason Pierre could even suggest that his being tried was unconstitutional in the first place was the final ruling in the Field v. Clark case. This case established that “congress cannot delegate legislative power.[4]” However, according to the Supreme Court, “the authority to make administrative rules is not a delegation of legislative power, and such rules do not become legislation because violations thereof are punished as public offenses.[5]

Historical Significance[edit]

“The immediate public reaction to Grimaud adopted the same view of the case.[6]” The public, in general, agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision. While some of the shepherds may have hoped for more freedom to graze, their hopes weren’t very high so news of Grimaud’s loss in court wasn’t that unexpected. The day after the Court’s decision, James Wilson said that as a result of Grimaud’s case, the controversy “regarding the right to use grazing lands within the various national forests without permit from the department of agriculture will be brought to an end.[7]” This prediction was exactly correct. In 1911, the Department of Agriculture informed Congress that “the uncertainty and unrest caused by the widespread impression that the [grazing] regulations were not enforceable ceased immediately.” Prior to United States v. Grimaud, shepherds and farmers in California had no real reason to fear the rangers patrolling the national forest. However, after the ruling that the rangers’ power was constitutional, the shepherds and farmers respected their authority. While the case of Grimaud v. United States was only explicitly mentioned in Light v. United States (another case of trespassing forest grounds protected by the US government), it more clearly defined what Congress could do: “it could delegate power to an agency to adopt regulations subject to criminal penalties, provided that Congress itself legislated the penalties. Moreover, because criminal sanctions are the most severe type of sanction for violating an agency regulation, there was little doubt after Grimaud that Congress could provide other types of sanctions for violating agency regulations as well. Grimaud established that Congress can delegate authority to agencies to promulgate regulations that have a variety of legal consequences – as long as Congress itself spells out by statute what those consequences are.[8]” Before the dispute between Pierre Grimaud and the United States government, there was a gray area surrounding this aspect of the central government’s power. United States v. Grimaud permanently and clearly defined the extent of their power.


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