253 U.S. 117 (1920), Spiller v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company

Citation:253 U.S. 117, 40 S.Ct. 466, 64 L.Ed. 810
Party Name:Spiller v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company
Case Date:May 17, 1920
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 117

253 U.S. 117 (1920)

40 S.Ct. 466, 64 L.Ed. 810



Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company

United States Supreme Court

May 17, 1920




In cases of a class which may ultimately reach this Court by writ of error under Jud.Code, §§ 128 and 241, this Court has jurisdiction to review by certiorari judgments of the circuit court of appeals

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which are not final in the sense of concluding the litigation, such jurisdiction arising under § 262 when the jurisdictional amount prescribed by § 241 is in controversy and under § 240 when it is not. P. 120.

This jurisdiction will be exercised in proper cases to avoid protraction of the litigation. P. 121.

The courts cannot refuse to enforce a reparation order upon the ground that the evidence before the Interstate Commerce Commission was insufficient to sustain it when substantial documentary evidence that was before the Commission is not produced at the trial. P. 125.

The Act to Regulate Commerce allows the Commission wide latitude in the investigation of claims for reparation, and its finding and order may not be rejected as evidence because of errors in its procedure not amounting to a denial of a fair hearing, so long as the essential facts found are based on substantial evidence. P. 126.

In a proceeding in which the Commission awarded reparation for excessive freight charges on many shipments of cattle consigned to Commission companies by many shippers over many railroads, a witness who had gathered the details of the shipments in some cases from shippers, but mainly from the Commission companies, presented them at the hearings and further testified that the shippers rarely kept books, relying on the Commission companies to do so, and that the practice of the latter was to pay the freight, sell the cattle, and remit the proceeds to their owners minus the freight paid and other charges; the evidence was received without objection and summaries showing the details of the shipments, rate paid, overcharge claimed, etc., were submitted to the carriers and "O.K.'d" after comparison with their books. Held that this evidence, including the admissions that might be implied from the carriers' approval of the summaries, was sufficient to justify the Commission in finding that the shipments were made as claimed and the overcharges paid ultimately by the shippers. P. 127.

A decision by the Commission that a witness before it is qualified as an expert must be accepted by the courts unless clearly unfounded. P. 130.

An order of the Commission is not to be rejected because based in part on hearsay evidence, if the evidence was received without objection and was substantially corroborated by other evidence original and admissible against the parties affected. Id.

In view of the character of its functions and the fact that its reparation orders are, at most, prima facie evidence, the Commission should not

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be narrowly constrained as to the evidence it may receive in the conduct of reparation hearings. P. 131.

If only part of the claims for which reparation was awarded were sustained by evidence, objection should be directed to the others, and not to the order as a whole. Id.

In a hearing for reparation, payment of a published rate afterwards decided to have been excessive is evidence that the party who paid the freight sustained damage to the extent of the excess. P. 132. Southern Pacific Co. v. Darnell-Taenzer Lumber Co., 245 U.S. 531.

In a reparation hearing, assignments of claims to the secretary of a cattle raisers' association were offered and their filing waived, and there was evidence that they had been made for nominal considerations because the association was prosecuting the claims for their owners. Held that formal proof of the handwriting of the assignors was unnecessary. P. 133.

An assignment of the legal title only will confer on the assignee the right to claim an award of reparation and enable him to sue upon it in his own name, but for the benefit of the equitable owner. P. 134.

A claim for damages sustained through the exaction of unreasonable freight charges is assignable at law, if no statute prevents, and there is nothing in the letter or spirit of the Commerce Act inconsistent with such assignability. P. 135.

The ruling of the Commission declaring that an assignment to a stranger to the transportation records will not be recognized is erroneous as a construction of the act, and, treated as an administrative regulation, did not limit the Commission's jurisdiction to recognize such assignments. P. 136.

246 F. 1; 249 id. 677, reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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PITNEY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Plaintiff in error commenced an action against defendants in error jointly in the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Missouri under § 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, as amended (Act of Feb. 4, 1887, c. 104, 24 Stat. 379, 384; June 29, 1906, c. 3591, § 5, 34 Stat. 584, 590; June 18, 1910, c. 309, § 13, 36 Stat. 539, 554), to recover certain amounts awarded to him against them respectively in a reparation order made by the Interstate Commerce Commission January 12, 1914. His petition contained also a count setting up a conspiracy between defendants for the restraint of interstate commerce, and claiming treble damages under § 7 of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of July 2, 1890, c. 647, 26 Stat. 209, 210, but this was abandoned at the trial. Defendants having filed separate answers, a jury was waived by stipulation, and a test case tried before the court -- all defendants participating -- with the result that a decision was rendered in favor of plaintiff pursuant to which a combined judgment was entered amounting in effect to as many judgments as there were defendants, each for the amount of the Commission's award against the particular defendant with interest and attorneys' fees. Defendants sued out separate writs of error from the circuit court of appeals, where, by stipulation, the cases were heard together upon a single record. That court reversed the judgments, ordered the cause remanded to the district court with directions to grant a new trial (246 F. 1) and refused an application for a rehearing (249 F. 677). Writs of error were prayed for and allowed for the review of the judgments of reversal in this Court, and afterwards, but in due season, a petition for the allowance of a writ of certiorari was filed, the consideration of which was postponed to the hearing under the writs of error.

The jurisdiction of the district court having been invoked

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not because of diversity of citizenship but because the suit was one arising under laws of the United States other than those particularly mentioned in § 128, Judicial Code, as amended (Act Jan. 28, 1915, c. 22, § 2, 38 Stat. 803), it follows that the judgments were not made "final" by the section referred to, and, if final in the sense of concluding the litigation, would be reviewable in this Court by writ of error pursuant to § 241, Judicial Code, in each case where the matter in controversy exceeds $1,000, besides costs. In the cases of the Chicago & Alton and the, Missouri Pacific Companies, the respective judgments, with interest up to the issuance of the writs of error from this Court, were materially less than $1,000; in each of the other cases, substantially in excess of that amount, the aggregate of the judgments being more than $150,000. For want of a sufficient amount in controversy, the two smaller judgments would not be reviewable here by writ of error even were they final in effect; but all the writs of error must be dismissed because the judgments call for further proceedings in the trial court; it being elementary that this writ will lie to review final judgments only. McLish v. Roff, 141 U.S. 661, 665; Luxton v. North River Bridge Co., 147 U.S. 337, 341; Heike v. United States, 217 U.S. 423, 429.

However, upon consideration of the particular circumstances of the case, we have concluded that a writ of certiorari ought to be allowed, without further protracting the litigation to the extent that would be necessary in order to reach final judgments, the transcript of the record and proceedings returned in obedience to the writs of error to stand as the return to the writ of certiorari. This writ is allowable by virtue of § 240, Judicial Code (derived from § 6 of the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, 26 Stat. 826, 828), in the case of the two smaller judgments, because the decision of the circuit court of appeals is made final by the combined effect of §§ 128 and 241, and in the case of

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the larger judgments it is allowable under § 262 of the Code (§ 716, Rev.Stats.), in aid of the ultimate jurisdiction of this Court to review those cases by writs of error. Lau Ow Bew v. United States, 144 U.S. 47, 58; In re Chetwood, 165 U.S. 443, 462; Whitney v. Dick, 202 U.S. 132, 135; McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 277 et seq.; United States v. Beatty, 232 U.S. 463, 467; Meeker v. Lehigh Valley R. Co., 234 U.S. 749, 236 U.S. 412, 417.

Coming to the merits: the ground upon which the circuit court of appeals reversed the judgments and the ground principally relied upon to sustain its decision was [40 S.Ct. 469] the refusal by the trial court of a motion made by defendants to hold (a) that, upon all the evidence, plaintiff was not entitled to recover against any or all of the defendants, and (b) that there was not sufficient evidence before the Commission to sustain its order of reparation. The latter is the substantial question actually presented.

The course of proceedings at the trial, as appears from the bill of exceptions, was as follows: plaintiff introduced the report of the Interstate Commerce Commission (unreported opinion No....

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