467 U.S. 354 (1984), 82-1643, Interstate Commerce Commission v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

Docket Nº:No. 82-1643
Citation:467 U.S. 354, 104 S.Ct. 2458, 81 L.Ed.2d 282
Party Name:Interstate Commerce Commission v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.
Case Date:June 05, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 354

467 U.S. 354 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 2458, 81 L.Ed.2d 282

Interstate Commerce Commission


American Trucking Associations, Inc.

No. 82-1643

United States Supreme Court

June 5, 1984

Argued January 10, 1984




The Motor Carrier Act of 1980, in 49 U.S.C. § 10706(b)(3), established specific guidelines to which motor carrier rate bureaus must conform if they are to receive antitrust immunity. In 1980, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) issued an interpretative ruling explaining how it planned to implement these guidelines, and proposing a new remedy to enforce rate bureau agreements whereby the ICC would retroactively reject effective tariffs that had been submitted in substantial violation of such agreements. Alarmed by the prospect of overcharge liability that would result from such retroactive rejection of tariffs, respondents, a group of motor carrier rate bureaus, petitioned the Court of Appeals to review the ICC's new remedy. The Court of Appeals held that the ICC lacked the power to reject effective tariffs.

Held: The proposed new remedy lies within the ICC's discretionary authority, and the ICC does not exceed its authority by nullifying effective tariffs submitted in substantial violation of rate bureau agreements. Pp. 359-371.

(a) Title 49 U.S.C. § 10762(e), which authorizes the ICC to reject a motor carrier tariff if it violates the statutory requirements for publishing and filing tariffs or an implementing regulation, does not confer on the ICC the broad power to nullify effective tariffs retroactively. This is indicated by § 10762(e)'s language and the structure of the ICC's remedial authority under the Interstate Commerce Act. Pp. 361-364.

(b) The ICC, however, may elaborate upon its express statutory remedies when necessary to achieve specific statutory goals. In this case, retroactive rejection of rate bureau tariffs is a justifiable adjunct to the ICC's express § 10762(e) rejection authority, and to the extent there is an elaboration of that authority, it is necessary to ensure compliance with rate bureau agreements. The rejection of effective tariffs submitted in substantial violation of such agreements simply extends the ICC's express rejection authority so that it may adequately supervise those agreements to see that they comply with the § 10706(b)(3) guidelines. The legislative history of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 makes it clear that, beyond the bounds of antitrust immunity granted in § 10706, Congress

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wanted the forces of competition to determine motor carrier tariffs, and intended that the ICC play a key role in holding carriers to the § 10706(b)(3) guidelines. And the remedy in question is a means of policing rate bureau agreements sufficiently direct and close to the ICC's statutory mandate to warrant approval of the remedy. Pp. 364-371.

688 F.2d 1337, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 371.

MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents a challenge to an effort by the Interstate Commerce Commission to create a new remedy to enforce motor carrier rate bureau agreements. The remedy at issue is the Commission's authority to reject effective tariffs that have been submitted in substantial violation of rate bureau agreements. As we have recognized in the past, the Interstate Commerce Commission (Commission or ICC) has discretion to fashion remedies in furtherance of its statutory responsibilities. Trans Alaska Pipeline Rate Cases, 436 U.S. 631, 654 (1978). Although rejection of effective tariffs is a form of remedial power not expressly delegated to the Commission, the remedy as proposed by the Commission in this case is closely and directly [104 S.Ct. 2460] related to the Commission's express statutory powers and is designated to achieve objectives

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set for the Commission by Congress. Under these limited circumstances, we hold that the proposed remedy lies with the Commission's discretion.


Motor carrier rate bureaus are groups of motor carriers formed to negotiate collective rates. Since the Reed-Bulwinkle Act of 1948, motor carriers within the jurisdiction of the Commission have enjoyed immunity from the antitrust laws to enter into rate bureaus and to submit collective rates to the Commission. Ch. 491, 62 Stat. 472. To receive this immunity, rate bureaus must apply for Commission approval of bureau agreements, which describe the manner in which a bureau will negotiate collective tariffs. The original Reed-Bulwinkle Act gave the ICC broad discretion to determine which rate bureau agreements were consistent with national transportation policy. 49 U.S.C. § 5 (1976 ed.). Until recently, the Commission was fairly liberal in approving rate bureau agreements, but, in the late 1970's, the Commission began to disapprove an increasing number of agreements on the ground that the agreements were undermining competition among motor carriers. In 1980, apparently disturbed by this abrupt shift in Commission policy, but persuaded that some deregulation of motor carriers was necessary, Congress passed the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 (MCA). Pub.L. 96-296, 94 Stat. 793. The MCA, in 49 U.S.C. § 10706(b)(3), establishes specific guidelines, to which rate bureau agreements must conform if they are to receive antitrust immunity.1 Because the MCA creates a presumption that bureau

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agreements meeting the requirements of § 10706(b)(3) will qualify for antitrust immunity, the Act divests the Commission of much of its discretion to approve and disapprove rate bureau agreements. See H.R.Rep. No. 96-1069, p. 29 (1980).

This case arises out of an ICC interpretative ruling issued in 1980 explaining how the Commission planned to implement the new statutory guidelines for rate bureau immunity. Motor Carrier Rate Bureaus -- Implementation of P.L. 96-296, 364 I.C.C. 464 (1980). For the most part, this interpretative ruling presented the Commission's views on the substance of the new legislation, and established procedures whereby rate bureaus could submit existing agreements to the Commission for approval under the new standards. Before concluding, however, the ruling also addressed a problem the Commission had faced in regulating rate bureau agreements even before Congress, in 1980, amended the Reed-Bulwinkle Act: "the lack of definite remedies for proven rate bureau violations." Id. at 499. The Commission announced its intention to fashion the following new remedy:

In addition to the possible remedy of withdrawal of immunity for serious and continuing violations, we proposed to adopt a standard providing that proof of significant violations of an approved agreement will result in tariff rejection. Allegations of lesser violations would subject the tariff item to suspension or investigation.

Ibid. The Commission subsequently explained how its new remedy would be implemented.2 The Commission intends to use the remedy to discipline motor carriers for substantial bureau agreement violations, such as unauthorized collusion or illegal bureau [104 S.Ct. 2461] pressure on independent carriers. Brief for

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Petitioners 24. Interested parties -- for instance, shippers or other carriers -- may file complaints of such violations with the Commission. Upon receiving such a complaint, the Commission's Office of Consumer Protection will investigate the allegations, and, if a serious violation is discovered, the Office will refer the matter to the Commission for a full hearing. If the hearing confirms that a serious violation has occurred, the Commission has the authority to reject the affected tariffs. The Commission's decision to reject is reviewable in federal court. Motor Carrier Rate Bureaus -- Implementation of PL 96-296, 364 I.C.C. 921, 926 (1981).

Rejection of an effective tariff applies retroactively, and can have serious consequences for affected motor carriers. Rejection renders the tariff void ab initio. Brief for Petitioners 7. As a result, whatever tariff was in effect prior to the adoption of the rejected rate becomes the applicable tariff for the period during which motor carriers charged the rejected tariff. Under 49 U.S.C. § 11705(b)(1), shippers that were charged the rejected tariff can then bring actions to recover the "overcharge," which is the amount by which the rejected tariff exceeded the prior tariff.

Alarmed by the prospect of overcharge liability, respondents, a group of motor carrier rate bureaus, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to review the Commission's new remedy. The Eleventh Circuit accepted respondents' argument that the Commission lacks the power to reject effective tariffs. American Trucking Assn., Inc. v. United States, 688 F.2d 1337 (1982). Because the Fifth Circuit previously had found the Commission to possess authority to reject effective tariffs in a different context, Aberdeen & Rockfish R. Co. v. United States, 682 F.2d 1092 (1982), cert. pending, No. 82-707, we granted certiorari in this case to examine the Commission's powers to reject effective tariffs. 462 U. S 1130 (1983). We now reverse the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit.

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The issue before us is narrow. Most aspects of the Commission's authority to supervise motor carrier rate bureau agreements are not seriously challenged. For example, the Commission undisputedly has the power to terminate a rate bureau agreement if the agreement itself fails to meet MCA guidelines or if bureau...

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