312 U.S. 496 (1941), 283, Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Company

Docket NºNo. 283
Citation312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971
Party NameRailroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Company
Case DateMarch 03, 1941
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 496

312 U.S. 496 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971

Railroad Commission of Texas

v.

Pullman Company

No. 283

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1941

Argued February 4, 1941

[61 S.Ct. 643] APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS

Syllabus

A railroad company, some of whose trains in Texas had each but one Pullman sleeping car and that in charge of a colored porter subject to the control of the train conductor, assailed in the federal court, as unauthorized by Texas statutes and as violative of the Federal Constitution, a regulation by a state commission which would require that such cars be continuously in charge of an employee "having the rank and position of a Pullman conductor." Pullman porters, intervening, also attacked the order, adopting the railroad's objections but urging mainly that it discriminated against Negroes in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, Pullman porters being Negroes and the conductors white.

Held:

Page 497

1. Decision of the issue of unconstitutional discrimination should be withheld pending proceedings to be taken in the state courts to secure a definitive construction of the state statute. P. 498.

2. The federal courts, when asked for the extraordinary remedy of injunction, will exercise a sound discretion in the public interest to avoid needless friction with state policies that may result from tentative constructions of state statutes and premature adjudication on their constitutionality. P. 500.

33 F.Supp. 675, reversed.

APPEAL from a decree of the District Court of three judges which enjoined the enforcement of an order of the above-named Railroad Commission.

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

[61 S.Ct. 644] In those sections of Texas where the local passenger traffic is slight, trains carry but one sleeping car. These trains, unlike trains having two or more sleepers, are without a Pullman conductor; the sleeper is in charge of a porter, who is subject to the train conductor's control. As is well known, porters on Pullmans are colored, and conductors are white. Addressing itself to this situation, the Texas Railroad Commission, after due hearing, ordered that

no sleeping car shall be operated on any line of railroad in the State of Texas . . . unless such

Page 498

cars are continuously in the charge of an employee . . . having the rank and position of Pullman conductor.

Thereupon, the Pullman Company and the railroads affected brought this action in a federal district court to enjoin the Commission's order. Pullman porters were permitted to intervene as complainants, and Pullman conductors entered the litigation in support of the order. Three judges having been convened, Judicial Code, § 266, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 380, the court enjoined enforcement of the order. From this decree, the case came here directly. Judicial Code, § 238, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 345.

The Pullman Company and the railroads assailed the order as unauthorized by Texas law, as well as violative of the Equal Protection, the Due Process, and the Commerce Clauses of the Constitution. The intervening porters adopted these objections, but mainly objected to the order as a discrimination against Negroes in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The complaint of the Pullman porters undoubtedly tendered a substantial constitutional issue. It is more than substantial. It touches a sensitive area of social policy upon which the federal courts ought not to enter unless no alternative to its adjudication is open. Such constitutional adjudication plainly can be avoided if a definitive ruling on the state issue would terminate the controversy. It is therefore our duty to turn to a consideration of questions under Texas law.

The Commission found justification for its order in a Texas statute which we quote in the margin. * It is common

Page 499

ground that, if the order is within the Commission's authority, its subject matter must be included in the Commission's power to prevent "unjust discrimination . . . and to prevent any and all other abuses" in the conduct of railroads. Whether arrangements pertaining to the staffs of Pullman cars are covered by the Texas concept of "discrimination" is far from clear. What practices of the railroads may be deemed to be "abuses" subject to the Commission's correction is equally doubtful. Reading the Texas statutes and the Texas decisions as outsiders...

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2856 practice notes
  • 10 B.R. 1002 (Bkrtcy.D.Colo. 1981), 80 M 2525, In re Mozer
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Tenth Circuit
    • May 20, 1981
    ...of unnecessary friction in Federal-State relationships. Goldman, supra, at p. 900, citing Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman, 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 Likewise, argumentatively assuming I have authority to certify this question, certification to the Supreme Court of the......
  • 154 B.R. 936 (Bkrtcy.W.D.Tex. 1993), 92-5189, In re Branded Products, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Fifth Circuit
    • April 9, 1993
    ...is better resolved in state court. The doctrine was born a 1941 Supreme Court decision, Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), and extended two years later in Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943). A ......
  • 181 F.Supp.2d 914 (N.D.Ill. 2002), 01C5130, CIGNA HealthCare of St. Louis, Inc. v. Kaiser
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Northern District of Illinois
    • January 16, 2002
    ...from exercising jurisdiction due to concerns over proper adjudication of constitutional questions, R.R. Comm'n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), federal-state relations, Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943), Younger......
  • 218 B.R. 607 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ala. 1998), 91-72472-TBB-13, In re Plowman
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Eleventh Circuit
    • March 10, 1998
    ...669 (1971). [8] Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943). [9] Railroad Comm'n. of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 [10] Colo. River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976).......
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2799 cases
  • 10 B.R. 1002 (Bkrtcy.D.Colo. 1981), 80 M 2525, In re Mozer
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Tenth Circuit
    • May 20, 1981
    ...of unnecessary friction in Federal-State relationships. Goldman, supra, at p. 900, citing Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman, 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 Likewise, argumentatively assuming I have authority to certify this question, certification to the Supreme Court of the......
  • 154 B.R. 936 (Bkrtcy.W.D.Tex. 1993), 92-5189, In re Branded Products, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Fifth Circuit
    • April 9, 1993
    ...is better resolved in state court. The doctrine was born a 1941 Supreme Court decision, Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), and extended two years later in Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943). A ......
  • 181 F.Supp.2d 914 (N.D.Ill. 2002), 01C5130, CIGNA HealthCare of St. Louis, Inc. v. Kaiser
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit Northern District of Illinois
    • January 16, 2002
    ...from exercising jurisdiction due to concerns over proper adjudication of constitutional questions, R.R. Comm'n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), federal-state relations, Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943), Younger......
  • 218 B.R. 607 (Bkrtcy.N.D.Ala. 1998), 91-72472-TBB-13, In re Plowman
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Eleventh Circuit
    • March 10, 1998
    ...669 (1971). [8] Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943). [9] Railroad Comm'n. of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 [10] Colo. River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976).......
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2 firm's commentaries
  • State and Local Tax Insights -- Summer 2012
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • July 17, 2012
    ...court by any person, whether or not such person is the person against whom such tax was assessed”). 15 R.R. Comm’n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 501 (1941) (holding that federal courts should “exercise [their] wise discretion by staying their hands” if a state law is ambiguous and h......
  • U.S. District Court Finds Delaware Unclaimed Property Audit Procedures Unconstitutional
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • August 25, 2016
    ...the statute to be unambiguous and denied the request, which was based on the decision in Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941). 11 United States Constitution, Amendment XIV, § 1. 12 Ecotone Farm LLC v. Ward, 2016 WL 335837 (3d. Cir., Jan. 28, 2016), quoting United......
64 books & journal articles
  • Case summaries.
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Vol. 33 Nbr. 3, June 2003
    • June 22, 2003
    ...assures the protection of public health and environment by overseeing the cleanup of hazardous waste). (657) Id. [section] 25356(d). (658) 312 U.S. 496 (1941) (2000). (659) Cedar Shake & Shingle Bureau v. City of Los Angeles, 997 F.2d 620, 622 (9th Cir. 1993) (quoting Kollsman v. City o......
  • Racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 33 Nbr. 3, March 1996
    • March 22, 1996
    ...of which may render unnecessary a decision on the "merits"of the federal dispute. Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941). (260.) The "Burford abstention" counsels a federal court to refrain from deciding a case if the subject matter of the dispu......
  • Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 36 Nbr. 3, June 1999
    • June 22, 1999
    ...the decision of which may render unnecessary a decision on the "merits" of the federal dispute. Railroad Comm'n v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 501 (1941). (242.) The "Burford abstention" doctrine counsels a federal court to refrain from deciding a case if the subject matt......
  • Racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations.
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Vol. 34 Nbr. 2, January 1997
    • January 1, 1997
    ...of which may render unnecessary a decision on the "merits" of the federal dispute. Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941). (247.) The "Burford abstention" counsels a federal court to refrain from deciding a case if the subject matter of the dispute ......
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