325 U.S. 410 (1945), 914, Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co.

Docket Nº:No. 914
Citation:325 U.S. 410, 65 S.Ct. 1215, 89 L.Ed. 1700
Party Name:Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co.
Case Date:June 04, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 410

325 U.S. 410 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 1215, 89 L.Ed. 1700

Bowles

v.

Seminole Rock & Sand Co.

No. 914

United States Supreme Court

June 4, 1945

Argued April 26, 27, 1945

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. Under Rule (i) of § 1499.163(a)(2) of Maximum Price Regulation No. 188, issued by the Administrator of the Office of Price Administration under § 2(a) of the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942, a seller's ceiling price for an article which was actually delivered during March, 1942, is the highest price charged for the article so delivered, regardless of when the sale or charge was made. P. 416.

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2. In interpreting an administrative regulation, a court must necessarily look to the administrative construction of the regulation if the meaning of the words used is in doubt. The intention of Congress or the principles of the Constitution in some situations may be relevant in the first instance in choosing between various constructions. But the ultimate criterion is the administrative interpretation, which becomes of controlling weight unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation. Pp. 413-414.

3. This Court does not here determine the constitutionality or statutory validity of the regulation as so construed (matters determinable in the first instance by the Emergency Court of Appeals), nor any question of hardship of enforcement of such ceiling price (the procedure for relief therefrom being prescribed by § 2(c) of the Act and § 1499.161 of the Regulation). P. 418.

145 F.2d 482 reversed.

Certiorari, 324 U.S. 835, to review a judgment affirming the dismissal of a suit by the Price Administrator to enjoin the respondent from violation of the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942 and Regulations issued pursuant thereto.

MURPHY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Our consideration here is directed to the proper interpretation and application of certain provisions of Maximum Price Regulation No. 188,1 issued by the Administrator of the Office of Price Administration under Section 2(a) of the Emergency Price Control Act of 1942.2

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Respondent is a manufacturer of crushed stone, a commodity subject to Maximum Price Regulation No. 188. In October, 1941, respondent contracted to furnish the Seaboard Air Line Railway crushed stone on demand at 60 cents per ton, to be delivered when called for by Seaboard. This stone was actually delivered to Seaboard in March, 1942.

In January, 1942, respondent had contracted to sell crushed stone to V. P. Loftis Co., a government contractor engaged in the construction of a government dam, for $1.50 a ton.3 This stone was to be delivered by respondent by barge when needed at the dam site. A small portion of stone of a different grade than that sold to seaboard was delivered to Loftis Co. during January pursuant to this contract. For some time thereafter, however, Lotfis Co. was unable to pour concrete or to store crushed stone at the dam site. Respondent thus made no further deliveries under this contract until August, 1942, at which time stone of the same grade as received by Seaboard was delivered to Loftis Co. at the $1.50 rate.

Subsequently, and after the effective date of Maximum Price Regulation No. 188, respondent made new contracts to sell crushed stone to Seaboard at 85 cents and $1.00 per ton. Alleging that the highest price at which respondent could lawfully sell crushed stone of the kind sold to Seaboard was 60 cents a ton, since that was asserted to be the highest price charged by respondent during the crucial month of March, 1942, the Administrator of the Office of Price Administration brought this action to enjoin respondent from violating [65 S.Ct. 1217] the Act and Maximum Price Regulation No. 188.4 The District Court dismissed the action

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on the ground that $1.50 a ton was the highest price charged by respondent during March, 1942, and that this ceiling price had not been exceeded. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment. 145 F.2d 482. We granted certiorari because of the importance of the problem in the administration of the emergency price control and stabilization laws. 324 U.S. 835.

In his efforts to combat wartime inflation, the Administrator originally adopted a policy of piecemeal price control, only certain specified articles being subject to price regulation. On April 28, 1942, however, he issued the General Maximum Price Regulation.5 This brought the entire economy of the nation under price control, with certain minor exceptions. The core of the regulation was the requirement that each seller shall charge no more than the prices which he charged during the selected base period of March 1 to 31, 1942. While still applying this general price "freeze" as of March, 1942, numerous specialized regulations relating to particular groups of commodities subsequently have made certain refinements and modifications of the general regulation. Maximum Price Regulation No. 188, covering specified building materials and consumers' goods, is of this number.

The problem in this case is to determine the highest price respondent charged for crushed stone during March, 1942, within the meaning of Maximum Price Regulation No. 188. Since this involves an interpretation of an administrative

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regulation, a court must necessarily look to the administrative construction of the regulation if the meaning of the words used is in doubt. The intention of Congress or the principles of the Constitution in some situations may be relevant in the first instance in choosing between various constructions. But the ultimate criterion is the administrative interpretation, which becomes of controlling weight unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation. The legality of the result reached by this process, of course, is quite a different matter. In this case, the only problem is to discover the meaning of certain portions of Maximum Price Regulation No. 188. Our only tools, therefore, are the plain words of the regulation and any relevant interpretations of the Administrator.

Section 1499.153(a) of Maximum Price Regulation No. 188 provides that

the maximum price for any article which was delivered or offered for delivery in March, 1942, by the manufacturer, shall be the highest price charged by the manufacturer during March, 1942 (as defined in § 1499.163) for the article.

Section 1499.163(a)(2),6 in turn, provides that, for purposes of this regulation, the term:

"Highest price charged during March, 1942" means

(i) The highest price which the seller charged to a purchaser of the same class for delivery of the article or material during March, 1942; or

(ii) If the seller made no such delivery during March, 1942, such seller's highest offering price to a purchaser of the same class for delivery of the article or material during that month; or

(iii) If the seller made no such delivery and had no such offering price to a purchaser of the same class during March, 1942, the highest price charged by the seller during March, 1942, to a purchaser of a different class, adjusted

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to reflect the seller's customary differential...

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