Interstate Commerce Commission v. Atlantic Coast Line Co

Decision Date22 March 1966
Docket NumberNo. 14,14
Citation86 S.Ct. 1000,16 L.Ed.2d 109,383 U.S. 576
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Robert W. Ginnane, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

J. Edgar McDonald, New York City, for respondents.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is before the Court for a determination of when and in what proceedings a common carrier by rail may challenge an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission awarding reparations to a shipper claiming injury because of the carrier's violation of the Act.

A shipper, Thomson Phosphate Company, filed a complaint with the Commission alleging that certain rates charged by respondent railroads were unjust and unreasonable and seeking reimbursement of those transportation charges to the extent they were unlawful. Interstate Commerce Act §§ 8 and 9, 24 Stat. 382, as amended, 49 U.S.C. §§ 8 and 9 (1964 ed.) The Commission sustained the complaint and issued a report finding that the assailed rates were unjust and unreasonable and that the shipper was entitled to reparations. Thomson Phosphate Co. v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co., 303 I.C.C. 25 (Div. 2, 1958). When respondents refused to certify the shipper's statements showing the shipments made during the period involved, the Commission reopened the proceeding for a determination of the amount of reparations due. After such additional proceedings, the Commission found Thomson was entitled to reparations of $8,889.76 with interest, and an order was entered authorizing and directing respondents to pay such sum by a specified date, later amended to August 28, 1961. 311 I.C.C. 315. Respondents refused to comply with the order and brought suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida under § 17(9) of the Interstate Commerce Act, 24 Stat. 385, as amended, 49 U.S.C. § 17(9), and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1336 and 1398 (1964 ed.) to enjoin, set aside, and annul the orders of the Commission. Respondents claimed, inter alia, that the Commission erred in finding the rates unreasonable and in not finding Thomson's claims barred by the Act's limitation provision, Interstate Commerce Act § 16(3), 24 Stat. 384, as amended, 49 U.S.C. § 16(3) (1964 ed.) Thomson, which was not a party to the carriers' action, filed in the Southern District of New York a suit against respondents and other railroads to enforce the Commission's reparation award pursuant to § 16(2) of the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 16(2) (1964 ed.). By stipulation, the New York case has been held in abeyance pending the outcome of the Florida case, which is presently before this Court.

The Commission moved to dismiss the carriers' injunction action, contending that reparation orders are not reviewable in such a suit and that the carriers were required to await the shipper's enforcement action to attack the Commission's order. The Florida District Court denied the motion to dismiss and, on the merits, held that Thomson's claims were barred by limitations. 213 F.Supp. 199. The sole issue raised on appeal was whether the District Court had jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals affirmed, sustaining the jurisdiction of the Florida District Court. 334 F.2d 46. We granted certiorari because of the importance of this question in the administration of the Act. 379 U.S. 957, 85 S.Ct. 658, 13 L.Ed.2d 553. We reverse and hold that when the Commission issues a reparation order, not accompanied by a cease-and-desist order, a carrier may obtain review of the Commission's order only in the court where the shipper commences its enforcement action—or where the shipper seeks review of the Commission's order, see Consolo v. Federal Maritime Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 86 S.Ct. 1018.


The Interstate Commerce Act contains detailed provisions governing the presentation and adjudication of claims for reparations. Section 8 is the basic provision creating liability and declares that any common carrier by rail which violates the Act 'shall be liable to the person or persons injured thereby for the full amount of damages sustained in consequence of any such violation * * *.' By § 9, the complainant is given the alternatives of seeking such damages by complaint to the Commission, under the procedures established by § 13(1), or of bringing suit in a federal disctrict court. But the primary jurisdiction doctrine requires initial submission to the Commission of questions that raise 'issues of transportation policy which ought to be considered by the Commission in the interests of a uniform and expert administration of the regulatory scheme laid down by (the) Act.' United States v. Western Pac. R. Co., 352 U.S. 59, 65, 77 S.Ct. 161, 166, 1 L.Ed.2d 126; Texas & Pac. R. Co. v. American Tie & Timber Co., 234 U.S. 138, 34 S.Ct. 885, 58 L.Ed. 1255. Accordingly, a shipper who commences his § 9 reparation proceeding in the District Court will nevertheless be required to repair to the Commission for decision of issues, like the reasonableness of rates, which call the primary jurisdiction doctrine into play. When that occurs, the court ordering the reference of such issues to the Commission has exclusive jurisdiction of any civil action to enforce, enjoin, set aside, or annul a Commission order arising out of the referral, 28 U.S.C. § 1336(b) (1964 ed.), such action to be brought within 90 days of the entry of the Commission's final order, 28 U.S.C. § 1336(c) (1964 ed.).

Our concern here, however, is with the alternative procedure provided in § 9, which involves an initial complaint before the Commission and culminates in the § 16(2) suit to enforce the Commission's reparation award. Section 16(1) provides that if the Commission determines the complainant is entitled to reparations it 'shall make an order directing the carrier to pay to the complainant the sum to which he is entitled on or before a day named.' If the carrier fails to comply with the order by the designated time, the shipper then has the right under § 16(2) to file suit in either federal or state court to enforce the Commission's reparation award. Moreover, Congress has provided that in such a suit the shipper is to have certain procedural advantages designed to discourage 'harassing resistance by a carrier to (the) reparation order.' St. Louis & S.F.R. Co. v. Spiller, 275 U.S. 156, 159, 48 S.Ct. 96, 97, 72 L.Ed. 214; see also Meeker & Co. v. Lehigh Valley R. Co., 236 U.S. 412, 433, 35 S.Ct. 328, 336, 59 L.Ed. 644; Baldwin v. Scott County Milling Co., 307 U.S. 478, 59 S.Ct. 943, 83 L.Ed. 1409. The shipper has a broad choice of venue. If the suit is brought in a federal court, see Lewis-Simas-Jones Co. v. Southern Pac. Co., 283 U.S. 654, 661, 51 S.Ct. 592, 595, 75 L.Ed. 1333, the shipper is free from liability for costs, except as they accrue on its appeal, and it may introduce at trial the findings and order of the Commission, which 'shall be prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated. * * *' In addition, the shipper is to be allowed a reasonable attorney's fee if it prevails, an advantage also accorded under § 8 to shippers who elect to proceed in court in the first instance.1

The Interstate Commerce Act likewise contains general provision for judicial review of Commission orders. Section 17(9) provides that after an application for rehearing, reargument, or reconsideration has been denied or otherwise disposed of, a suit may be brought to enforce, enjoin, suspend, or set aside the Commission decision, order or requirement.2

Jurisdiction of both § 16(2) and § 17(9) suits is vested in the federal district courts by 28 U.S.C. § 1336(a) (1964 ed.). Venue is determined by 28 U.S.C. § 1398(a) (1964 ed.), which, '(e)xcept as otherwise provided by law,' limits suits to the judicial district where the party bringing the action has his residence or principal office. But because of the quoted exception, this venue restriction does not apply to suits commenced pursuant to § 16(2), as that section contains its own venue provision.

Procedures for review of Commission orders 'other than for the payment of money,' see 28 U.S.C. § 2321 (1964 ed.), are governed by 28 U.S.C. §§ 2321—2325 (1964 ed.). Such actions must be brought by or against the United States, § 2322; the Commission and parties in interest appearing before the Commission may intervene as of right, § 2323; and no interlocutory or permanent injunction restraining enforcement of a Commission order may be granted unless the application is heard and determined by a three-judge district court, § 2325, 3 with direct review here, 28 U.S.C. § 1253 (1964 ed.). In United States v. Interstate Commerce Comm., 337 U.S. 426, 69 S.Ct. 1410, 93 L.Ed. 1451, however, this Court held that Commission orders which determine in a reparation proceeding that assailed rates are unlawful but do not direct the carrier to cease and desist charging such rates, becuase the rates have been discontinued, 'are not of sufficient public importance to justify the accelerated judicial review procedure,' 337 U.S., at 442, 69 S.Ct., at 1419. Thus, though the procedures set out in 28 U.S.C. §§ 2321—2325 (1964 ed.) otherwise govern § 17(9) proceedings to review such orders, § 2325 is not applicable and the matter may be adjudicated by a single judge. Because § 16(2) actions seek enforcement of an order 'for the payment of money,' the above-described procedures do not apply. Section 16(2) directs that actions thereunder 'shall proceed in all respects like other civil suits for damages,' with the exception of the special procedural advantages accorded the shipper to which we have previously referred.


From the foregoing summary it will be observed that § 16(2) actions for enforcement of Commission reparation awards and § 17(9) actions to set aside Commission orders are quite distinct proceedings, with different venue restrictions and different procedures. Moreover, Congress conferred certain procedural...

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