325 U.S. 761 (1945), 56, Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona

Docket Nº:No. 56
Citation:325 U.S. 761, 65 S.Ct. 1515, 89 L.Ed. 1915
Party Name:Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona
Case Date:June 18, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 761

325 U.S. 761 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 1515, 89 L.Ed. 1915

Southern Pacific Co.

v.

Arizona

No. 56

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1945

Argued March 26, 27, 1945

[65 S.Ct. 1517] APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF ARIZONA

Syllabus

1. State power to regulate the length of railroad trains is not curtailed or superseded by § 1 of the Interstate Commerce Act (paragraphs 117) of itself, and in the absence of administrative implementation by the Interstate Commerce Commission; nor by provisions of the Safety Appliance Act for brakes on trains; nor by the provision of § 25 of Part I of the Interstate Commerce Act permitting the Commission to order the installation of train stop and control devices. Pp. 765-766.

In enacting legislation within its constitutional authority over interstate commerce, Congress will not be deemed to have intended to strike down a state statute designed to protect the health and safety of the public unless its purpose to do so is clearly manifested, or unless the state law, in terms or in its practical administration,

Page 762

conflicts with the Act of Congress or plainly and palpably infringes its policy. P. 766.

2. The Arizona Train Limit Law (Arizona Code Ann., 1939, § 69-119), making it unlawful to operate within the State a passenger train of more than fourteen cars or a freight train of more than seventy cars, held, as applied to interstate trains, invalid as contravening the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution. Pp. 763, 781.

3. The commerce clause, even without the aid of Congressional legislation, protects against state legislation which is inimical to the national commerce, and in such cases, where Congress has not acted, this Court, and not the state legislature, is the final arbiter of the competing demands of state and national interests. P. 769.

4. Although this Court, upon review of a decision of a state court, may determine for itself the facts upon which an asserted federal right depends, the crucial findings of the state court here are not challenged in material particulars, are supported by evidence, and supply an adequate basis for decision of the constitutional issue presented. P. 771.

5. The state regulation here involved, admittedly obstructive to interstate train operation, and having a seriously adverse effect on transportation efficiency and economy, passes beyond what is plainly essential for safety, since it does not appear that it will lessen, rather than increase, the danger of accident. Examination of all relevant factors makes it plain that the state interest here asserted is outweighed by the interest of the nation in an adequate, economical and efficient railway transportation service. P. 781.

6. The relative weights of the state and national interests involved are not such as to make inapplicable the rule, generally observed, that the free flow of interstate commerce and its freedom from local restraints in matters requiring uniformity of regulation are interests safeguarded by the commerce clause from state interference. Pp. 770, 781.

7. The "full train crew" cases and South Carolina Highway Dept. v. Barnwell Bros., 303 U.S. 177, distinguished. P. 782.

61 Ariz. 66, 145 P.2d 530, reversed.

APPEAL from a judgment upholding the constitutionality of the Arizona Train Limit Law.

Page 763

STONE, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Arizona Train Limit Law of May 16, 1912, Arizona Code Ann., 1039, § 69-119, makes it unlawful for any person or corporation to operate within the state a railroad train of more than fourteen passenger or seventy freight cars, and authorizes the state to recover a money penalty for each violation of the Act. The questions for decision are whether Congress has, by legislative enactment, restricted the power of the states to regulate the length of interstate trains as a safety measure and, if not, whether the statute contravenes the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution.

In 1940, the State of Arizona brought suit in the Arizona Superior Court against appellant, the Southern Pacific Company, to recover the statutory penalties for operating within the state two interstate trains, one a passenger train of more than fourteen cars and one a freight train of more than seventy cars. Appellant answered, admitting the train operations but defended on the ground that the statute offends against the commerce clause and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and conflicts with federal legislation. After an extended trial

Page 764

without a jury, the court made detailed findings of fact, on the basis of which it gave judgment for the railroad company. The Supreme Court of Arizona reversed, and directed judgment for the state. 61 Ariz. 66, 145 P.2d 530. The case comes here on appeal under § 237(a) of the Judicial Code, appellant raising by its assignments of error the questions presented here for decision.

The Supreme Court left undisturbed the findings of the trial court, and made no new findings. It held that the power of the state to regulate the length of interstate trains had not been restricted by Congressional action. It sustained the Act as a safety measure to reduce the number of accidents attributed to the operation of trains of more than the statutory maximum length, enacted by the state legislature in the exercise of its "police power." This power the court held extended to the regulation of the operations of interstate commerce in the interests of local health, safety and wellbeing. It thought that a state statute, enacted in the exercise of the police power and bearing some reasonable relation to the health, safety and wellbeing of the people of the state, of which the state legislature is the judge, was not to be judicially overturned notwithstanding its admittedly adverse effect on the operation of interstate trains.

Purporting to act under § 1, paragraphs 117 of the Interstate Commerce Act, 24 Stat. 379, as amended (49 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.), the Interstate Commerce Commission, as of September 15, 1942, promulgated as an emergency measure [65 S.Ct. 1518] Service Order No. 85, 7 Fed.Reg. 7258, suspending the operation of state train limit laws for the duration of the war, and denied an application to set aside the order. In the Matter of Service Order No. 8, 256 I.C.C. 523. Paragraph 15 of § 1 of the Interstate Commerce Act empowers the Commission, when it is "of opinion that shortage of equipment, congestion of traffic, or other emergency requiring immediate action exists in any

Page 765

section of the country," to make or suspend rules and practices "with respect to car service," which includes by paragraph 10 of § 1 "the use, control, supply, movement, distribution, exchange, interchange, and return" of locomotives and cars, and the "supply of trains." Paragraph 16 of § 1 provides that, when a carrier is unable properly to transport the traffic offered, the Commission may make reasonable directions "with respect to the handling, routing, and movement of the traffic of such carrier and its distribution over other lines of roads." The authority of the Commission to make Order No. 85 is currently under attack in Johnston v. United States, Civil Action No. 1408, pending in the Western District of Oklahoma.

The Commission's order was not in effect in 1940, when the present suit was brought for violations of the state law in that year, and the Commission's order is inapplicable to the train operations here charged as violations. Hence, the question here is not of the effect of the Commission's order, which we assume for purposes of decision to be valid, but whether the grant of power to the Commission operated to supersede the state act before the Commission's order. We are of opinion that, in the absence of administrative implementation by the Commission, § 1 does not, of itself, curtail state power to regulate train lengths. The provisions under which the Commission purported to act, phrased in broad and general language, do not, in terms, deal with that subject. We do not gain either from their words or from the legislative history any hint that Congress, in enacting them, intended, apart from Commission action, to supersede state laws regulating train lengths. We can hardly suppose that Congress, merely by conferring authority on the Commission to regulate car service in an "emergency," intended to restrict the exercise, otherwise lawful, of state power to regulate train lengths before the Commission finds an "emergency" to exist.

Page 766

Congress, in enacting legislation within its constitutional authority over interstate commerce, will not be deemed to have intended to strike down a state statute designed to protect the health and safety of the public unless its purpose to do so is clearly manifested, Reid v. Colorado, 187 U.S. 137, 148; Missouri Pacific R. Co. v. Larabee Mills, 211 U.S. 61, 621, et seq.; Missouri, K. & T. R. Co. v. Harris, 234 U.S. 412, 418-419; Welch Co. v. New Hampshire, 306 U.S. 79, 85; Allen-Bradley Local v. Board, 315 U.S. 740, 749, or unless the state law, in terms or in its practical administration, conflicts with the Act of Congress or plainly and palpably infringes its policy. Sinnot v. Davenport, 22 How. 227, 243; Missouri, K. & T. R. Co. v. Haber, 169 U.S. 613, 623; Savage v. Jones, 225 U.S. 501, 533; Carey v. South Dakota, 250 U.S. 118, 122; Atchison, T. & S.F. R. Co. v. Railroad Comm'n, 283 U.S. 380, 391; Townsend v. Yeomans, 301 U.S. 441, 454.

The contention, faintly urged, that the provisions of the Safety Appliance Act, 45 U.S.C. § § 1 and 9, providing for brakes on trains, and of § 25 of Part I of the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 26(b), permitting the Commission to order the installation of...

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