310 U.S. 534 (1940), 713, United States v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 713
Citation:310 U.S. 534, 60 S.Ct. 1059, 84 L.Ed. 1345
Party Name:United States v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.
Case Date:May 27, 1940
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 534

310 U.S. 534 (1940)

60 S.Ct. 1059, 84 L.Ed. 1345

United States

v.

American Trucking Associations, Inc.

No. 713

United States Supreme Court

May 27, 1940

Argued April 26, 1940

[60 S.Ct. 1061] APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

1. The power of the Interstate Commerce Commission under the Motor Carrier Act, 1935, § 204(a), to establish reasonable requirements with respect to the qualifications and maximum hours of service of employees of motor carriers is confined to those employees whose duties affect safety of operation. Pp. 546, 553.

2. When acceptance of the literal meaning of words in a statute leads to results which are absurd or futile or plainly at variance with the policy of the legislation, the legislative purpose will be followed. P. 543.

3. Even though, superficially, the meaning of statutory words appears plain, aids to their interpretation may be resorted to in pursuit of the purpose. P. 543.

4. To accept literally the word "employee" in § 204(a) of the Motor Carrier Act would place upon the Interstate Commerce Commission the function of regulating the qualifications of large numbers of employees whose duties do not affect safety of operation, contrary to the settled practice of Congress, evinced in other Acts, with respect to regulation of hours and qualifications of transportation employees, and contrary to the policy of most of the States, as shown by Acts in force when the federal Act was passed. P. 544.

5. Indication of any intention of Congress, by § 204(a), to grant the Interstate Commerce Commission other than the customary power to secure safety is absent from the legislative history of the Motor Carrier Act. P. 546.

6. The construction of § 204(a) by the Interstate Commerce Commission and by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor as relating solely to safety of operation is of great weight. P. 549.

31 F.Supp. 35, reversed.

APPEAL from a decree of the District Court of three judges commanding the Interstate Commerce Commission to set aside an order by which it declined, for want of jurisdiction,

Page 535

to determine qualifications and maximum hours of service for all employees of contract and motor carriers subject to the Motor Carrier Act, and commanding it to take jurisdiction and proceed with such determination. The suit was brought against the United States and the Commission, under § 205(h) of the Act, by the above-named Trucking Associations and five common carriers by motor. The Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor intervened on the side of the defense.

Page 538

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This appeal requires determination of the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission under the Motor Carrier Act, 1935, to establish reasonable requirements with respect to the qualifications and maximum hours of service of employees of motor carriers, other than employees whose duties affect safety of operation.

After detailed consideration, the Motor Carrier Act, 1935, was passed.1 It followed generally the suggestion of form made by the Federal Coordinator of Transportation.2 The difficulty and wide scope of the problems raised by the growth of the motor carrier industry were obvious. Congress sought to set out its purpose and the range of its action in a declaration of policy which covered the preservation and fostering of motor transportation in the public interest, tariffs, the coordination of motor carriage with other forms of transportation and cooperation with the several states in their efforts to systematize the industry.3

While efficient and economical movement in interstate commerce is obviously a major objective of the Act,4 there are numerous provisions which make it clear that Congress intended to exercise its powers in the non-transportation

Page 539

phases of motor carrier activity.5 Safety of operation was constantly before the committees and Congress in their study of the situation.6

The pertinent portions of the section of the Act immediately under discussion read as follows:

SEC. 204(a). It shall be the duty of the Commission --

(1) To regulate common carriers by motor vehicle as provided in this part, and to that end the Commission may establish reasonable requirements with respect to continuous and adequate service, transportation of baggage and express, uniform systems of accounts, records, and reports, preservation of records, qualifications and maximum hours of service of employees, and safety of operation and equipment.

(2) To regulate contract carriers by motor vehicle as provided in this part, and to that end the Commission may establish reasonable requirements with respect to uniform systems of accounts, records, and reports, preservation of records, qualifications and maximum hours of service of employees, and safety of operation and equipment.

(3) To establish for private carriers of property by motor vehicle, if need therefor is found, reasonable requirements to promote safety of operation, and to that end prescribe qualifications and maximum hours of service of employees, and standards of equipment . . .

Shortly after the approval of the Act, the Commission, on its own motion, undertook to and did fix maximum hours

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of service for "employees whose functions in the operation of motor vehicles make such regulations desirable because of safety considerations."7 A few months after this determination, the Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted.8 Section 7 of this act limits the workweek at the normal rate of pay of all employees subject to its terms, and § 18 makes the maximum hours of the Fair Labor Standards Act subject to further reduction by applicable federal or state law or municipal ordinances. There were certain employees excepted, however, from these regulations by § 13(b). It reads as follows:

SEC. 13(b). The provisions of section 7 shall not apply with respect to (1) any employee with respect to whom the Interstate Commerce Commission has power to establish qualifications and maximum hours of service pursuant to the provisions of section 204 of the Motor Carrier Act, 1935; . . .

This exemption brought sharply into focus the coverage of employees by Motor Carrier Act, 204(a). Clerical, storage and other non-transportation workers are, under this or the Fair Labor Standards Act, dependent upon the sweep of the word employee in this act. The Commission again examined the question of its jurisdiction, and, in Ex parte No. MC-28,9 again reached the conclusion that its power under

section 204(a)(1) and (2) is limited to prescribing qualifications and maximum hours of service for those employees . . . whose activities affect the safety of operation.

It added:

The provisions of section 202 evince a clear intent of Congress to limit our jurisdiction to regulating the motor carrier industry as a part of the transportation system of the nation. To extend that regulation to features which are not characteristic

Page 541

of transportation or inherent in that industry strikes us as an enlargement of our jurisdiction unwarranted by any express or implied provision in the act, which vests in us all the powers we have.10

The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor arrived at the same result in an interpretation.11

Shortly thereafter, appellees, an association of truckmen and various common carriers by motor, filed a petition with the Commission in the present case seeking an exercise of the Commission's jurisdiction under § 204(a) to fix reasonable requirements

with respect to qualifications and maximum hours of service of all employees of common and contract carriers except employees whose duties are related to safety of operations; (3) to disregard its report and order in Ex parte MC-28.12 The Commission reaffirmed its position, and denied the petition. The appellees petitioned a three-judge district court to [60 S.Ct. 1063] compel the Commission to take jurisdiction and consider the establishment of qualifications and hours of service of all employees of common and contract carriers by motor vehicle.13 The Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division was permitted to intervene.14 The district court reversed the Commission, set aside its order, and directed it to take jurisdiction of the appellees' petition. 31 F.Supp. 35. A direct appeal to this Court was granted.15

In the broad domain of social legislation, few problems are enmeshed with the difficulties that surround a determination

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of what qualifications an employee shall have and how long his hours of work may be. Upon the proper adjustment of these factors within an industry and in relation to competitive activities may well depend the economic success of the enterprises affected, as well as the employment and efficiency of the workers. The Motor Carrier Act lays little emphasis upon the clause we are called upon now to construe, "qualifications and maximum hours of service of employees." None of the words are defined by the section, 203, devoted to the explanation of the meaning of the words used in the Act. They are a part of an elaborate enactment drawn and passed in an attempt to adjust a new and growing transportation service to the needs of the public. To find their content, they must be viewed in their setting.

In the interpretation of statutes, the function of the courts is easily stated. It is to construe the language so as to give effect to the intent of Congress.16 There is no invariable rule for the discovery of that intention. To take a few words from their context, and, with them thus isolated, to attempt to determine their meaning certainly would not contribute greatly to the discovery of the purpose of the draftsmen of a statute, particularly in

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a law drawn to meet many needs of a major occupation.17

...

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