215 U.S. 452 (1910), 233, Interstate Commerce Commission v. Illinois Central Railroad Company

Docket Nº:No. 233
Citation:215 U.S. 452, 30 S.Ct. 155, 54 L.Ed. 280
Party Name:Interstate Commerce Commission v. Illinois Central Railroad Company
Case Date:October 15, 1909
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 452

215 U.S. 452 (1910)

30 S.Ct. 155, 54 L.Ed. 280

Interstate Commerce Commission


Illinois Central Railroad Company

No. 233

United States Supreme Court

October 15, 1909

Argued October 15, 1909




In determining whether an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission shall be suspended or set aside, power to make -- and not the wisdom of -- the order is the test, and this Court must consider all relevant questions of constitutional power or right, all pertinent questions as to whether the administrative order is within the scope of the delegated authority under which it purports to be made, and also whether, even if in form it is within such delegated authority, it is not so in substance because so arbitrary and unreasonable as to render it invalid.

In determining whether the action of the court below was or was not correct, this Court does so irrespective of the reasoning by which such action was induced.

The equipment of an interstate railroad, including cars for transportation of its own fuel, are instruments of interstate commerce, and subject to control of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The Act to Regulate Commerce has delegated to the Interstate Commerce Commission authority to consider, where complaint is made on that subject, the question of distribution of coal cars, including the carrier's own fuel cars, in times of car shortage, as a means of prohibiting unjust preference or undue discrimination.

Under § 15 of the Act to Regulate Commerce as amended June 29, 1906, c. 3591, 34 Stat. 585, the Interstate Commerce Commission has power

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to deal with preferential and discriminatory regulations of carriers as well as with rates.

It is not beyond the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission to require a railroad in distributing its coal cars to take into account its own fuel cars in order not to create a preference of the mine to which such cars are assigned over other mines.

Where an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission is sustained by the court below in part and only the Commission appeals, the conclusions of the court below as to those portions of the order sustained are not open to inquiry in this Court.

Even if commerce in regard to the purchase of coal at a mine on a railroad line by the railroad company which supplies its own cars may end there, the power to use the equipment of the railroad to move the coal is subject to the control of the Interstate Commerce Commission in order to prevent discrimination against, or undue preference of, other miners and shippers of coal.

The facts, which involve the question of whether a duty rested upon the railroad company to obey an order made by the Interstate Commerce Commission in regard to the distribution of coal cars, are stated in the opinion.

Page 459

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Whether a duty rested upon the Illinois Central Railroad Company to obey an order made by the Interstate Commerce Commission is the question here to be decided.

On the ground that preferences were created and discriminations engendered by regulations established by the railroad company concerning the daily distribution of coal cars to mines along its line in periods when the supply of such cars was inadequate to meet the demand upon it for the movement of coal, the order in question commanded the railroad company to desist [30 S.Ct. 156] from enforcing the regulations found to be preferential, and for a future period of two years to

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deliver cars to mines along its line in conformity with the rule announced by the Commission.

A clearer perception of the question to be considered will be afforded by giving a brief statement of the cause of car shortage referred to, accompanied with a mere outline of the steps generally taken by carriers to deal with the subject, and the particular method applied by the Illinois Central Railroad Company prior to the date when the complaint was made against it, concerning which the order previously referred to was entered.

It is conceded in argument that bituminous coal mines, which are the character of mines here involved, must dispose of their product as soon as the coal is delivered at the surface, as it is not practicable for an operator to store such coal, and the amount that a mine will produce is therefore directly dependent upon the quantity that can be taken away day by day. As a result of this situation, it is also conceded that railroads upon whose lines coal mines are situated pursue a system by which daily deliveries of cars, based upon requisitions of the respective mines, are made to such mines to permit of the removal of their available output for that day.

Notwithstanding full performance by railway carriers of the duty to have a legally sufficient supply of coal cars, it is conceded that unforeseen periods arise when a shortage of such cars to meet the demand for the transportation of coal takes place, because, among other things, (a) of the wide fluctuation between the demands for the transportation of bituminous coal at different and uncertain periods; (b) the large number of loaded coal cars delivered by a carrier beyond its own line for transportation over other roads, consequent upon the fact that the coal produced at a particular point is normally distributed for consumption over an extensive area, and (c) because the cars thus parted with are subject to longer detentions than usually obtain in the case of shipments of other articles, owing to the fact that bituminous coal is often shipped by mining operators to distant points, to be sold after

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arrival, and is hence held at the terminal points awaiting sale, or because, owing to the cost of handling coal and the difficulty of storing such coal, the car in which it is shipped is often used by the shipper or purchaser at the terminal points as a convenient means of storage or as an instrument for delivery, without the expense of breaking bulk, to other and distant points.

It is disclosed that the railroads of the United States generally at various times, put in force regulations for the distribution of coal cars. Generally speaking, these regulations provide for fixing the capacity of coal mines in order to determine the number of cars to which each might normally be entitled to daily move its output of coal. And these regulations also provide for a method of determining the pro rata share of the cars daily allotted for distribution in times of car shortage. Neither the method by which capacity was to be ascertained nor the regulation for daily distribution upon the basis of such capacity in case of shortage were identical among the various railroad systems of the United States. The divergence, and even conflict, between those systems, is illustrated by the cases of Logan Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 154 F. 497; United States ex Rel. Pitcairn Coal Co. v. B. & O. R. Co., 165 F. 113; cases cited at 503 and 504 of the report of the Logan Coal Co. case, and the case of Majestic Coal & Coke Co. v. Illinois Central R. Co., 162 F. 810.

In a general sense, however, all the regulations of the various railroads, either for ascertaining the capacity of coal mines or in order to determine the pro rata share for daily distribution of cars to the respective mines in case of shortage, dealt with four classes of cars: 1, system cars, that is, cars owned by the carrier and in use for the transportation of coal; 2, company fuel cars, that is, cars belonging to the company, and used by it when necessary for the movement of coal from the mines on its own line, and which coal had been bought by the carrier, and was used solely for its own fuel purposes; 3, private cars, that is, cars either owned by coal mining companies or shippers or

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consumers, and used for the benefit of their owners in conveying coal from the mines to designated points of delivery; 4, foreign railway fuel cars, that is, cars owned by other railroad companies, and which were by them delivered to the carriers on whose lines mines were situated, for the purpose of enabling the cars to be loaded with coal and returned to the company by whom the cars had been furnished, the coal being intended for use as fuel by such foreign railroad companies.

The various regulations, irrespective of minor differences between them, fell upon one or the other side of this broad line of division. One system took into account class 2, the fuel cars of the carrier, class 3, the private cars, and class 4, the cars of foreign railroads, and deducted from the rated capacity of the mine the sum of coal delivered by that mine in such cars, and upon the basis thus resulting apportioned [30 S.Ct. 157] ratably, in case of shortage, the system cars -- that is, those embraced in class 1. On the other hand, the other class of regulation not only took no account of the cars in classes 2, 3, and 4, as a means of rating the capacity of the mine, but moreover did not charge against any mine, for the purpose of ascertaining the daily pro rata of the cars to which such mine was entitled, any car whatever furnished such mine on such day embraced within classes 2, 3, and 4, that is, any company fuel car, foreign railway fuel car, or private car. By this system, therefore, where a mine was entitled daily to a given pro rata of the cars subject to general distribution, it received its full share of such cars, and in addition on that day also received such of the company fuel cars, foreign railway fuel cars, and private cars as might have been sent to it for loading on that day. This absolute disregard in the allotment of the company...

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