He Fought The Law . . . And The Law Won

By: Noel Sweeney

Law is our language of natural justice which we use to speak for the strong and the weak.

Part of its purpose is to protect us from the power of the state and the caprice of the police. The value of law beyond price is that it applies to everyone regardless of position or riches.

Occasionally a case is decided which on its face is straightforward yet within the judgment it shows and shines a philosophical gem. A simple claim for a declaration on registration of bees could raise an issue of constitutional importance. It can at best show the court in action against an anarchic threat of abuse of the law by a beekeeper. No court in a democratic society could afford to ignore such highfalutin words lest they become deeds.


The Florida case of Trescott v. Connor [1975] is just such an example of one in operation. This case proves that the power of bees in trees and hives can symbolise the reason for legal principles in our lives. Stanley Trescott, the plaintiff, claimed his case raised a principle of the Constitution. Obviously such a claim struck a jurisprudential chord with the relevant authorities. As a result three judges, two District Judges and a Circuit Judge, rather than a single judge, sat on the bench to rule on the case.

Trescott was a resident of Florida and a migratory beekeeper. He had maintained multiple beehives for many years in Florida. During the Summer months, he transported them to New York and then brought them back into Florida for the latter part of the year.

The Florida Statutes regulated the bee industry in Florida. Trescott agreed a regulatory bee industry law was needed in Florida and in other states of the United States subject to a quaint proviso: it was just that he did not want them to apply to him.

Initially Trescott contended that Florida’s entire bee industry law was ‘unconstitutional’. However he ‘amended’ his complaint before the court and he focused on the certificate requirements contained in the Florida Statutes. Before he could bring his bees back into Florida, he had to obtain a Certificate. Trescott disputed the validity of that requirement and claimed it was ‘unnecessary, onerous, burdensome and unconstitutional’.

Trescott took legal action and sought a ‘declaration’ that the Statute was ‘unconstitutional’. His application went to the root of the Constitution. Trescott applied for an injunction to prevent the authorities from controlling the bees in Florida.

The issue centered on the interpretation of Chapter 586 of the Florida Statutes:

‘All honey bees . . . and used beekeeping equipment shipped or moved into the state, or shipped or moved within the state, shall be accompanied by a permit issued by the Commissioner. Before any bees . . . or . . . equipment is shipped or moved from any other state into the stage, the owner thereof shall make application on forms provided by the commissioner for a permit. The application shall be accompanied by a certificate of inspection signed by the state entomologist . . . inspection within the period of 30 days immediately preceding the date of shipment or movement into Florida . . . evidence showing such bees to be free from disease.’

Trescott challenged the validity of that ‘30-day requirement’ which he claimed caused him hardship. He contended that such a period and even the extensions granted to him from time to time, did not give him sufficient time to bring his bees back to Florida from New York. As his truck was not big enough to haul all his bees at once he was forced to make several trips.

Doyle Connor was acting as the Commissioner of Florida Department of Agriculture in representing the defendants. He contended that Trescott’s real problem was merely logistics. His problem of transportation was no different from that of any other migratory beekeeper. They did not find the period to be a problem. Connor claimed in his defence that that was the rub and the nub of his grievance which did not withstand scrutiny.

So Connor’s defence was in effect Trescott’s problem, if any, was entirely self-engendered.

The evidence adduced in the trial proved Trescott’s claims were speculative and self-serving. For in the past he had been able to bring his bees back into Florida within the 30-day period or within the extended periods granted by the defendant at Trescott’s request. Similarly other migratory bee-keepers found ‘no insurmountable problem’ in complying with the time. Moreover one migratory bee-keeper testified he had more hives to transport to Florida than Trescott. Nevertheless that bee-keeper found the requirements to be reasonable.

The court went into more detail than it might otherwise have done as Trescott claimed it raised a constitutional issue. Everything depended upon the ‘reasonableness’ of those requirements. If they were unreasonable they could be discriminatory and unfair and thus unconstitutional. However the court held that the 30-day requirement was reasonable as its purpose was to detect the presence of infection of bees before they were brought into Florida.

Trescott also challenged the ‘two-year requirement’ of monitoring the movement of bees within America. He claimed it was unreasonable. The court gave Trescott short shrift and dismissed his claim out of hand as the requirement was ‘a reasonable one’.

The court held that while there may be better ways of regulating the bee industry, as Trescott claimed, that was not a matter of judicial concern. That issue was purely for the Legislature. The court adopted the classic stance that their duty was simply to interpret the existing law. Any change to the law could only be achieved by the introduction of new legislation. That  was contrary to their judicial role and function. In conclusion the court clarified that they were only concerned with the reason for the requirements and how reasonable they were in relation to the community practice of beekeeping.


Bearing in mind the court was dealing with a serious challenge to the law, District Judge Arnow took the opportunity to formulate a point of principle for Trescott and other citizens. The words he chose were aimed and well-timed as they chimed with an arrow-like accuracy. His pronouncement has such a resonance that it should be enshrined outside each hive:

‘In this land of liberty under law in which we have the good fortune to live, any law, because it circumscribes or affects, at least to some degree, freedom of action of individuals, may to that extent be considered or viewed as a hardship and onerous upon individuals subject to it. Yet we would have it no other way because we know that, without our government of ordered liberty under law, we may lose all our precious freedoms. The plaintiff here must recognise and accept, as other migratory beekeepers Florida have recognised and accepted, that fundamental principle.’

Most people would realise when you decide to fight the law there can only be one winner. Trescott had a defined audacity that had led to his initial action. After taking action he decided to serve notice on Connor that he intended to move his bees back into Florida without obtaining the permit required by the Statute unless he was restrained by a court order. Then he went further and added that any action to stop his ‘movement’ would be met with any appropriate means at his disposal. Besides that threat Trescott made yet one more foolish move by stating that the defendants should not ‘discount the use of force’.

Hence that threat of violence by Trescott was bound to be initially met head-on by Connor. Then in turn it had to be grasped by the court. A self-appointed authority declaring what is legally acceptable to him is hardly persuasive and unquestionably had to be quashed. Certainly no common law court would take such a threat lightly: ignoring Trescott’s threat was not an option by Connor; no court would even countenance the germ of such an idea.


Connor was compelled to act and promptly served a cross-complaint seeking an injunction.  Initially, before the trial, a temporary restraining order against Trescott was granted to the Florida authority. During the trial Trescott proved to be outspoken and recalcitrant to the end. He made it clear to the court that unless he was restrained by an Order he would bring his bees back into Florida without complying with the law. That was his declared intention regardless of the court’s ruling that his claim lacked merit.

Given Trescott’s negative approach the court was compelled to meet his brazen-faced boast. So they entered judgement in favour of Connor and dismissed his complaint ‘with prejudice’. That unusual stricture was to restrain Trescott now and in the future. The court kept him under their control and power. Then they added this condition: the court will retain jurisdiction over the defendants’ cross complaint against the plaintiff for the purpose of enforcing the permanent injunction to be entered against him. That meant that the temporary restraining order issued against him was converted and changed into a permanent injunction.

That strict condition changed Trescott’s position qua bee-keeper and citizen. At a single stroke it proved to render him powerless in his fight against the law. 

District Judge Arnow showed Trescott he had to abide by ‘that fundamental principle’ of law. For it echoed the pragmatic wisdom of Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, who censured the Attorney-General, Sam Silkin, when the arrogant politician opposed an injunction by a ‘Freedom Campaigner’ and in doing so openly threatened the English Court of Appeal:

‘Be you never so high, the law is above you. The Attorney General has no prerogative to dispense with or suspend the law of England.’ [1977].

In citing the aphorism of Dr Thomas Fuller from 1733 Lord Denning’s tone served to nail the pale politician to the court floor.

The Florida Court had to meet and treat Trescott’s threat in a similar lesson-learning manner. Given the circumstances the court then shot a metaphorical legal cannonball across his bow: All the costs of the trial were taxed against Trescott.

This case was about much more than a bunch of humble bees and their imprudent owner. This was a case about bees that served to prove that everyone, be you a beekeeper or a bricklayer, a judge or a janitor, a president or a pauper, a saint or a sinner, you are still subject to the noblest idea known to us encased within the common law: the pursuit of justice.

Taken from the book Bees-At-Law, by Noel Sweeney.