Great Northern Ry Co v. Merchants Elevator Co, No. 202

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRANDEIS
Citation66 L.Ed. 943,42 S.Ct. 477,259 U.S. 285
Docket NumberNo. 202
Decision Date29 May 1922
PartiesGREAT NORTHERN RY. CO. et al. v. MERCHANTS' ELEVATOR CO

259 U.S. 285
42 S.Ct. 477
66 L.Ed. 943
GREAT NORTHERN RY. CO. et al.

v.

MERCHANTS' ELEVATOR CO.

No. 202.
Argued April 18, 1922.
Decided May 29, 1922.

Page 286

Mr. John F. Finerty, of St. Paul, Minn., for petitioners.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 286-288 intentionally omitted]

Page 288

Mr. Harold S. Simpson, of Minneapolis, Minn., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This action was brought by the Merchants' Elevator Company in a state court of Minnesota against the Great Northern Railway Company and the Director General to recover $80 alleged to have been exacted in violation of the carrier's tariff. That sum had been demanded by the carrier, under rule 10 of its tariff, as a reconsignment charge, at the rate of $5 a car, for 16 cars of corn shipped from points in Iowa and Nebraska to Willmar, Minn., and after inspection there rebilled to Anoka, a station beyond. The tariff rate from the points of origin via Willmar to Anoka was the same as to Willmar. Willmar had been named as destination in the original bill of lading, only because it is the place at which grain coming into the state by this route is inspected and graded under the laws of Minnesota and of the United States, and the carrier knew, or should have known, that fact. Immediately after inspection, disposition orders were given, and the original bills of lading were surrendered in exchange for billing to Anoka. Rule 10 read:-

Page 289

'Diversion or reconsignment to points outside switching limits before placement: If a car is diverted, reconsigned or reforwarded on orders placed with the local freight agent or other designated officer after arrival of car at original destination, but before placement for unloading, * * * a charge of $5.00 per car will be made if car is diverted, reconsigned or reforwarded to a point outside of switching limits of original destination.'

The shipper contended that the case was within the exception known as exception (a), as amended by supplement 1, which provided that rules (including rule 10) shall not apply to:

'(a) Grain, seed (field), seed (grass), hay or straw, carloads, held in cars on track for inspection and disposition orders incident thereto at billed destination or at point intermediate thereto.'

Whether the charge was payable depended solely upon a question of construction; that is, whether the body of the rule or the exception to it applied. On this question there was room for reasonable difference of opinion. The carrier, relying partcularly upon Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. American Tie & Timber Co., 234 U. S. 138, 34 Sup. Ct. 885, 58 L. Ed. 1255, and Loomis v. Lehigh Valley R. R. Co., 240 U. S. 43, 36 Sup. Ct. 228, 60 L. Ed. 517, claimed seasonably that until the true construction of the tariff had been determined by the Interstate Commerce Commission, the trial court was without jurisdiction. That court overruled the objection, construed the exception to mean that cars of grain are exempted from rule 10 if held on track at billed destination for inspection and for 'disposition orders' incident to such inspection, held that the disposition order may be an order to make disposition by way of reconsignment to another destination and that forwarding to Anoka was such disposition, and entered judgment for the shipper. That judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the state on the authority of Reliance Elevator Co. v. Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. Co., 139 Minn.

Page 290

69, 165 N. W. 867. The case is here on writ of certiorari. Merritt v. United States, 255 U. S. 567, 41 Sup. Ct. 375, 65 L. Ed. 789. The tariff containing the rule under which the $5 charge was made was the only governing tariff. It had been duly filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission. The validity of the tariff, including the rule and exception, was admitted, and there was no dispute concerning the facts. The question argued before us is not whether the state courts erred in construing or applying the tariff, but whether any court had jurisdiction of the controversy, in view of the fact that the Interstate Commerce Commission had not passed upon the disputed question of construction.

The contention that courts are without jurisdiction of cases involving a disputed question of construction of an interstate tariff, unless there has been a preliminary resort to the Commission for its decision, rests in the main, upon the following argument: The purpose of the Act to Regulate Commerce (Comp. St. § 8563 et seq.) is to secure and preserve uniformity. Hence, the carrier is required to file tariffs establishing uniform rates and charges, and is prohibited from exacting or accepting any payment not set forth in the tariff. Uniformity is impossible, if the several courts, state or federal, are permitted, in case of disputed construction, to determine what the rate or charge is which the tariff prescribes. To insure uniformity the true construction must, in case of dispute, be determined by the Commission.

This argument is unsound. It is true that uniformity is the paramount purpose of the Commerce Act. But it is not true that uniformity formity in construction of a tariff can be attained only through a preliminary resort to the Commission to settle the construction in dispute. Every question of the construction of a tariff is deemed a question of law; and where the question concerns an interstate tariff it is one of federal law. If the parties properly preserve their rights, a construction given by any court, whether it be federal or state, may ultimately be reviewed by this court either on writ of error or on writ of certiorari; and

Page 291

thereby uniformity in construction may be secured. Hence, the attainment of uniformity does not require that in every case where the construction of a tariff is in dispute, there shall be a preliminary resort to the Commission.

Whenever a rate, rule, or practice is attacked as unreasonable or as unjustly discriminatory, there must be preliminary resort to the Commission. Sometimes this is required because the function being exercised is in its nature administrative in contradistinction to judicial. But ordinarily the determining factor is not the character of the function, but the character of the controverted question and the nature of the enquiry necessary for its solution. To determine what rate, rule or practice shall be deemed reasonable for the future is a legislative or administrative function. To determine whether a shipper has in the past been wronged by the exaction of an unreasonable or discriminatory rate is a judicial function. Preliminary resort to the Commission is required alike in the two classes of cases. It is required because the inquiry is essentially one of fact and of discretion in technical matters; and uniformity can be secured only if its determination is left to the Commission. Moreover, that determination is reached ordinarily upon voluminous and conflicting evidence, for the adequate appreciation of which acquaintance with many intricate facts of transportation is indispensable, and such acquaintance is commonly to be found only in a...

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479 practice notes
  • Mondaca-Vega v. Holder, No. 03–71369.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 25, 2013
    ...judicial determination of claims to American citizenship in deportation proceedings.” Id. at 753, 98 S.Ct. 2081;see, e.g., Ng Fung Ho, 259 U.S. at 285, 42 S.Ct. 492. 3. A person “may pursue a citizenship claim in two ways.” Lopez v. Holder, 563 F.3d 107, 110 (9th Cir.2009) (internal quotati......
  • Associated Press v. FCC, No. 22860.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • September 22, 1971
    ...Standard Oil Co. v. United States, 283 U.S. 235, 238-240, 51 S.Ct. 429, 75 L.Ed. 999 (1931); Great N. Ry. Co. v. Merchants' Elevator Co., 259 U.S. 285, 42 S.Ct. 477, 66 L.Ed. 943 (1922); United States v. ICC, 114 U.S.App.D.C. 298, 300-301, 315 F.2d 44, 46-47 (1963). See generally 4 K. Davis......
  • Sw. Org. Project v. U.S. Dep't of Air Force, No. CIV 20-0098 JB/JFR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • March 15, 2021
    ...Bank, 374 U.S. at 353 (citing Far East Conference v. United States, 342 U.S. 570 (1952); Great Northern R. Co. v. Merchants Elevator Co., 259 U.S. 285 (1922)). In turn, as the Air Force continues, the Tenth Circuit enumerates a five-factor standard that courts must consider when evaluating ......
  • United States Public Interest Research Grp. v. Heritage Salmon, Civil No. 00-150-B-C (D. Me. 2/19/2002), Civil No. 00-150-B-C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • February 19, 2002
    ...Miss. Power and Light v. United Gas Pipeline Co., 532 F.2d 412, 419 (5th Cir. 1976) (citing Great N. R.R. Co. v. Merch. Elevator Co., 259 U.S. 285 (1922); Shew v. Southland Co., 370 F.2d 376 (5th Cir. 1966); Strickland Transp. Co. v. United States, 334 F.2d 172 (5th Cir. On a final note, a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
477 cases
  • Mondaca-Vega v. Holder, No. 03–71369.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • April 25, 2013
    ...judicial determination of claims to American citizenship in deportation proceedings.” Id. at 753, 98 S.Ct. 2081;see, e.g., Ng Fung Ho, 259 U.S. at 285, 42 S.Ct. 492. 3. A person “may pursue a citizenship claim in two ways.” Lopez v. Holder, 563 F.3d 107, 110 (9th Cir.2009) (internal quotati......
  • Associated Press v. FCC, No. 22860.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • September 22, 1971
    ...Standard Oil Co. v. United States, 283 U.S. 235, 238-240, 51 S.Ct. 429, 75 L.Ed. 999 (1931); Great N. Ry. Co. v. Merchants' Elevator Co., 259 U.S. 285, 42 S.Ct. 477, 66 L.Ed. 943 (1922); United States v. ICC, 114 U.S.App.D.C. 298, 300-301, 315 F.2d 44, 46-47 (1963). See generally 4 K. Davis......
  • Sw. Org. Project v. U.S. Dep't of Air Force, No. CIV 20-0098 JB/JFR
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • March 15, 2021
    ...Bank, 374 U.S. at 353 (citing Far East Conference v. United States, 342 U.S. 570 (1952); Great Northern R. Co. v. Merchants Elevator Co., 259 U.S. 285 (1922)). In turn, as the Air Force continues, the Tenth Circuit enumerates a five-factor standard that courts must consider when evaluating ......
  • United States Public Interest Research Grp. v. Heritage Salmon, Civil No. 00-150-B-C (D. Me. 2/19/2002), Civil No. 00-150-B-C.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Court (Maine)
    • February 19, 2002
    ...Miss. Power and Light v. United Gas Pipeline Co., 532 F.2d 412, 419 (5th Cir. 1976) (citing Great N. R.R. Co. v. Merch. Elevator Co., 259 U.S. 285 (1922); Shew v. Southland Co., 370 F.2d 376 (5th Cir. 1966); Strickland Transp. Co. v. United States, 334 F.2d 172 (5th Cir. On a final note, a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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