Kansas City, Missouri v. Federal Pacific Electric Co., 17117

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Citation310 F.2d 271
Docket Number17118.,No. 17117,17117
PartiesKANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, a Municipal Corporation, Appellant, v. FEDERAL PACIFIC ELECTRIC COMPANY, Appellee. KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, a Municipal Corporation, Appellant, v. GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, Appellee.
Decision Date30 November 1962

Keith Wilson, Jr., City Counselor, Kansas City, Mo., and William F. Mauer, Asst. City Counselor, Kansas City, Mo., for appellant.

Dick H. Woods, Kansas City, Mo., Joseph J. Kelly, Jr., Howard F. Sachs and Alvin D. Shapiro, Kansas City, Mo., on brief, amici curiae, Kansas City Power & Light Co. et al.

Charles B. Blackmar, Kansas City, Mo., for appellee General Electric Co.

James C. Wilson, Kansas City, Mo., for appellee Federal Pacific Electric Co.

Ralph M. Jones, John J. Kitchin, Donald H. Loudon, Kansas City, Mo., and Sheridan Morgan, Kansas City, Mo., and Jacob Imberman, New York City, on brief for appellees General Electric Co. and Federal Pacific Electric Co.

John A. Woodbridge, St. Louis, Mo., Richmond C. Coburn, Thomas L. Croft, Alan C. Kohn, Peter W. Herzog, Jr., Ben Ely, Jr., of Coburn, Croft & Cook, St. Louis, Mo., on brief for Union Electric Co., amicus curiae.

Before JOHNSEN, Chief Judge, and MATTHES and RIDGE, Circuit Judges.

Certiorari Denied November 19, 1962. See 83 S.Ct. 256.

MATTHES, Circuit Judge.

On February 1, 1962, the City of Kansas City, Missouri, filed two suits in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri seeking to recover treble damages under § 4 of the Clayton Act for alleged violations of § 1 of the Sherman Act.1 The amended complaint in each case was predicated upon an actionable combination and conspiracy, alleged to have been in existence since as early as 1948, and which resulted in damage to plaintiff only in 1954 when defendants allegedly overcharged plaintiff for certain electrical equipment. It was specifically alleged that defendants, through affirmative conduct, had fraudulently concealed the existence of the conspiracies from plaintiff and that plaintiff did not learn of the illegal combinations until after the United States had commenced criminal and civil proceedings against defendants in 1960.2 Defendants do not challenge the sufficiency of the fraudulent concealment allegation.

The district court sustained defendants' motions to dismiss the complaints or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the ground that the complaints as amended showed on their face that the claims, if any, upon which plaintiff's causes of action purported to be based, accrued more than four years prior to the date of the filing of the complaints, and more than four years prior to the date that any tolling provision contained in the Clayton Act became operative. These actions are before the court on appeal from the district court's judgments dismissing both cases.3 The important and broad issue to be resolved is whether plaintiff's actions are barred by the provisions of § 4B of the Clayton Act (15 U.S.C.A. § 15b),4 which reads as follows:

"Any action to enforce any cause of action under sections 15 or 15a of this title shall be forever barred unless commenced within four years after the cause of action accrued. No cause of action barred under existing law on the effective date of this section and sections 15a and 16 of this title shall be revived by said sections."

Resolution of this question, as all parties agree, calls for an interpretation of the foregoing statute.5

We are mindful of the fundamental principle that a court should not engage in interpreting or construing a statute that is clear and unambiguous on its face. Only those statutes which are ambiguous or of doubtful meaning are subject to the process of statutory interpretation. Packard Motor Car Co. v. National Labor Relations Board (1947), 330 U.S. 485, 492, 67 S.Ct. 789, 91 L.Ed. 1040, and Sutherland, Statutory Construction, Vol. 2, § 4502 (3d Ed. 1943). Here the controversy centers upon the meaning of the phrase "within four years after the cause of action accrued." More precisely, did Congress intend that the federal doctrine of fraudulent concealment should be read into § 4B so that the limitation period of four years would be suspended and tolled until the injured party, by the exercise of reasonable diligence, discovers that his rights have been invaded?

Before delving further into this question, however, and as explanatory matter, we observe that during the period between 1914, when the Clayton Act became the law, and 1955 when § 4B was enacted, state statutes of limitation were resorted to in actions brought under the Clayton Act.6 The disparity in the state statutes (varying between one and twenty years) promoted "forum-shopping" and finally resulted in an awareness of the need for a federal limitation period that would provide uniformity throughout the United States. Congress provided the remedy by enacting § 4B on July 7, 1955, effective on January 7, 1956. But a final solution was not easily attainable. As we shall note, infra, district courts are not in accord as to construction and application of § 4B. It also appears that subsequent to the time the Government proceedings were instituted against certain manufacturers of electrical equipment, and apparently as a result of those proceedings, 1700 or more civil actions, including the instant cases, have been instituted and are pending against such manufacturers in the district courts throughout the country, and we are informed that the outcome of those cases is in part dependent upon the judicial interpretation of § 4B. The Second Circuit considered the effect of the doctrine of fraudulent concealment upon a state statute of limitations applicable to a private antitrust suit under the Clayton Act in Moviecolor Limited v. Eastman Kodak Company, supra, 288 F. 2d 80. However, the precise question before us, to our knowledge, has not as yet received judicial interpretation by a court of appeals.

Because of the importance of the question, we permitted Kansas City Power & Light Company, Missouri Public Service Company, St. Joseph Light & Power Company, Kansas Power & Light Company, Kansas Gas & Electric Company, Western Light & Telephone Company, Inc., The Empire District Electric Company, and Central Kansas Power Company to file a brief as amici curiae; and Union Electric Company to file a brief as amicus curiae.7

It is neither necessary nor expedient to enumerate and give consideration to the numerous canons of construction to be applied in interpreting or construing a statute. The legislative will is the all-important or controlling factor, and has been said to be the vital part, the heart, soul, and essence of the law. 50 Am.Jur., Statutes, § 223, p. 200. See also United States v. Congress of Industrial Organization (1948), 335 U.S. 106, 112, 113, 68 S.Ct. 1349, 92 L.Ed. 1849; United States v. Cooper Corporation (1941), 312 U.S. 600, 605, 606, 61 S.Ct. 742, 85 L.Ed. 1071.

In searching for the will and intent, it is to be assumed that Congress was aware of established rules of law applicable to the subject matter of the statute and thus, upon enactment, the statute is to be read in conjunction with the entire existing body of law. 50 Am. Jur., Statutes, § 339, pp. 331, 332; Exploration Company v. United States (1918), 247 U.S. 435, 449, 38 S.Ct. 571, 62 L.Ed. 1200; United States v. McElveen (E.D.La.1959), 177 F.Supp. 355, 358, 359. In our view, this rule is of particular significance here because, as noted, infra, the fraudulent concealment doctrine, firmly established in Bailey v. Glover, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 342, 22 L.Ed. 636, and adhered to in subsequent cases, was actually the subject of discussion by members of the Congress before § 4B was enacted in its present form.

The landmark case on fraudulent concealment is Bailey v. Glover, supra, 88 U.S. (21 Wall.) 342, 22 L.Ed. 636, where the Supreme Court was required to determine whether the limitation statute of the Bankruptcy Act of 1867, providing that suit be brought within two years "from the time the cause of action accrued," had been tolled by the concealment of the fraudulent conduct which was the basis of the cause of action. A unanimous court made these pertinent pronouncements:

"We also think that in suits in equity the decided weight of authority is in favor of the proposition that where the party injured by the fraud remains in ignorance of it without any fault or want of diligence or care on his part, the bar of the statute does not begin to run until the fraud is discovered, though there be no special circumstances or efforts on the part of the party committing the fraud to conceal it from the knowledge of the other party." 88 U.S. at p. 348.
* * * * * *
"But we are of opinion, as already stated, that the weight of judicial authority, both in this country and in England, is in favor of the application of the rule to suits at law as well as in equity. And we are also of opinion that this is founded in a sound and philosophical view of the principles of the statutes of limitation. They were enacted to prevent frauds; to prevent parties from asserting rights after the lapse of time had destroyed or impaired the evidence which would show that such rights never existed, or had been satisfied, transferred, or extinguished, if they ever did exist. To hold that by concealing a fraud, or by committing a fraud in a manner that it concealed itself until such time as the party committing the fraud could plead the statute of limitations to protect it, is to make the law which was designed to prevent fraud the means by which it is made successful and secure. And we see no reason why this principle should not be as applicable to suits tried on the common-law side of the court\'s calendar as to those on the equity side." 88 U.S. at p. 349.
* * * * * *
"* * * we hold that when there has been
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