215 U.S. 501 (1910), 351, Macon Grocery Company v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company

Docket Nº:No. 351
Citation:215 U.S. 501, 30 S.Ct. 184, 54 L.Ed. 300
Party Name:Macon Grocery Company v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company
Case Date:January 17, 1910
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 501

215 U.S. 501 (1910)

30 S.Ct. 184, 54 L.Ed. 300

Macon Grocery Company


Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company

No. 351

United States Supreme Court

January 17, 1910

Argued October 20, 21, 1909




A suit brought by shippers to enjoin a railroad company from putting a tariff schedule into effect on the ground that it violates rights secured by the Act to Regulate Commerce is a case arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the jurisdiction of the circuit court over the person of the defendant must be determined accordingly.

Under the jurisdictional Act of March 3, 1875, c. 137, 18 Stat. 470, as amended by the Act of March 3, 1887, c. 373, 24 Stat. 552, corrected by the Act of August 13, 1888, c. 866, 25 Stat. 433, the circuit court in the district of which the defendant is not an inhabitant has not jurisdiction of a case arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, even though diverse citizenship exist, the plaintiff resides in the district, and the cause be one alone cognizable in a federal court.

Where pleas to the jurisdiction which should have been sustained on one ground were overruled but subsequently the circuit court of appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss without prejudice for want of jurisdiction on a different ground, this Court may reach the result which should have been originally arrived at by affirming the decree of the circuit court of appeals without expressing any opinion as to the merits of the reasoning on which it was based.

166 F. 206 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the jurisdiction of the circuit court, are stated in the opinion.

Page 502

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This litigation was commenced on the equity side of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Georgia, by the filing on July 25, 1908, of a bill on behalf of the present appellants, all citizens of the State of Georgia, who are wholesale dealers in groceries and food products and like commodities. The defendants named in the bill are the appellees in this Court, railroad corporations of states other than Georgia, viz., the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company, the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway Company, the Southern Railway Company, and the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway Company.

Briefly stated, the object of the bill was to restrain the putting into effect, by the interstate carriers just named, of proposed advances in rates on fresh meats, grain products, hay, and packinghouse products within the territory of what is known as the Southeastern Freight Association. That territory, roughly described, embraces the States of South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, points in Tennessee, and that portion of Alabama east of a line drawn from Chattanooga through Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery to Pensacola. It was averred that freight tariffs embodying the proposed advances in rates had been filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission, that notice had been given that such tariffs would become effective on August 1, 1908, and that practically every interested line of railroad within the territory in question had joined in such tariffs as participating carriers. The advance in rates was averred to be an "arbitrary and unlawful exaction," and to be the direct outcome of understandings and agreements in suppression of competition and in unlawful combination in restraint of interstate trade, arrived at and made effective through the agency of the Southeastern Freight Association and other affiliated associations, and that the acts of such combinations in

Page 503

making the advance of rates complained of was the result of a conspiracy unlawful as well at common [30 S.Ct. 185] law as under the statutes of the United States. Averring that to permit the going into effect of the proposed unjust and unreasonable rates would entail irreparable loss and injury to complainants and others similarly situated, would operate to the prejudice of the public interest, and would bring about a multiplicity of suits for reparation, the bill prayed the allowance of an injunction pendente lite, restraining the putting into effect of the proposed advances, and that, upon a final hearing, a decree might be awarded perpetually enjoining such advances.

Specially appearing for the purpose, the various defendants respectively filed a plea to the jurisdiction, each defendant asserting in substance an exemption from being sued in a district of which it was not an inhabitant. Demurrers to the pleas to the jurisdiction were sustained. Thereupon, without waiving the benefit of the pleas, defendants jointly demurred to the bill upon numerous grounds. Without specifically passing on the demurrer, the court heard the application for an injunction upon affidavits and documents submitted on behalf of the complainants, and on August 1, 1908, announced its opinion sustaining the contention of the complainants and directing the injunction prayed to issue upon the condition that complainants should, within ten days, present their complaint to the Interstate Commerce Commission for investigation and determination of the reasonableness of the rates involved. 163 F. 738. Two days afterwards, an order was entered in which, among other statements, it was recited

that the complainants, together with other persons in the cities of Atlanta, Columbus, Rome, and Athens, Georgia, have this day filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission their complaint, praying the Commission to investigate and determine the reasonableness of the rates involved, also to declare what are just and reasonable maximum rates

Page 504

The order decreed that the defendants to the action and each of them

be and they are hereby jointly and severally enjoined from enforcing collection of the advance in rates made effective August first, 1908, from Ohio and Mississippi River crossings, Nashville, Tennessee, and points with relation thereto, to all points within the State of Georgia, on classes B, C, D, and F, fresh meats, C, L, grain products, hay, and packinghouse products, this injunction to continue and remain in force pending an investigation and determination of the reasonableness of the rates involved by the Interstate Commerce Commission or until further order of the court.

Thereupon an appeal was taken to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. It was there held that the case presented "for necessary consideration the proper construction of the Act to Regulate Commerce," and that the jurisdiction of the court did not rest solely upon diversity of citizenship of the parties. The court, being of opinion

that the sound construction of the different provisions of the Act to Regulate Commerce, as amended and now in force, necessarily forbids the exercise of the jurisdiction...

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