Morgan v. United States

Decision Date25 April 1938
Docket NumberNo. 581,581
Citation82 L.Ed. 1129,58 S.Ct. 773,304 U.S. 1
PartiesMORGAN et al. v. UNITED STATES et al. *
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Missouri.

[Syllabus from pages 1-3 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Frederick H. Wood, of New York City, and John B. Gage, of Kansas City, Mo., for appellants.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 3-10 intentionally omitted] Mr. Robert H. Jackson, Sol. Gen., and Mr. Wendell Berge, of Washington, D.C., for appellees.

[Argument of Counsel from Pages 10-12 intentionally omitted] Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question of the validity of an order of the Secretary of Agriculture fixing maximum rates to be charged by market agencies at the Kansas City Stockyards. Packers and Stockyards Act 1921, 42 Stat. 159; 7 U.S.C. §§ 181—229, 7 U.S.C.A. § 181 et seq. The District Court of three judges dismissed the bills of complaint in fifty suits (consolidated for hearing) challenging the validity of the rates, and the plaintiffs brings this direct appeal. 7 U.S.C. § 217, 7 U.S.C.A. § 217; 28 U.S.C. § 47, 28 U.S.C.A. § 47.

The case comes here for the second time. On the former appeal we met, at the threshold of the controversy, the contention that the plaintiffs had not been accorded the hearing which the statute made a prerequisite to a valid order. The District Court had struck from plaintiffs' bills the allegations that the Secretary had made the order without having heard or read the evidence and without having heard or considered the arguments submitted, and that his sole information with respect to the proceeding was derived from consultation with employees in the Department of Agriculture. We held that it was error to strike these allegations, that the defendant should be required to answer them, and that the question whether plaintiffs had a proper hearing should be determined. 298 U.S. 468, 56 S.Ct. 906, 80 L.Ed. 1288.

After the remand, the bills were amended and interrogatories were directed to the Secretary which he answered. The court received the evidence which had been introduced at its previous hearing, together with additional testimony bearing upon the nature of the hearing accorded by the Secretary. This evidence embraced the testimony of the Secretary and of several of his assistants. The District Court rendered an opinion, with findings of fact and conclusions of law, holding that the hearing before the Secretary was adequate and, on the merits, that his order was lawful. On this appeal, plaintiffs again contend (1) that the Secretary's order was made without the hearing required by the statute; and (2) that the order was arbitrary and unsupported by substantial evidence.

The first question goes to the very foundation of the action of administrative agencies intrusted by the Congress with broad control over activities which in their detail cannot be dealt with directly by the Legislature. The vest expansion of this field of administrative regulation in response to the pressure of social needs is made possible under our system by adherence to the basic principles that the Legislature shall appropriately determine the standards of administrative action and that in administrative proceedings of a quasi-judicial character the liberty and property of the citizen shall be protected by the rudimentary requirements of fair play. These demand 'a fair and open hearing,' essential alike to the legal validity of the administrative regulation and to the maintenance of public confidence in the value and soundness of this important governmental process. Such a hearing has been described as an 'inexorable safeguard.' St. Joseph Stock Yards Co. v. United States, 298 U.S. 38, 73, 56 S.Ct. 720, 735, 80 L.Ed. 1033; Ohio Bell Telephone Co. v. Public Utilities Commission, 301 U.S. 292, 304, 305, 57 S.Ct. 724, 730, 81 L.Ed. 1093; Railroad Commission of California v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co., 302 U.S. 388, 393, 58 S.Ct. 334, 338, 82 L.Ed. 319; Morgan v. United States, supra. And in equipping the Secretary of Agriculture with extraordinary powers under the Packers and Stockyards Act, the Congress explicitly recognized and emphasized this requirement by making his action depend upon a 'full hearing.' Section 310.1

In the record now before us the controlling facts stand out clearly. The original administrative proceeding was begun on April 7, 1930, when the Secretary of Agriculture issued an order of inquiry and notice of hearing with re- spect to the reasonableness of the charges of appellants for stockyards services at Kansas City. The taking of evidence before an examiner of the Department was begun on December 3, 1930, and continued until February 10, 1931. The Government and appellants were represented by counsel, and voluminous testimony and exhibits were introduced. In March, 1931, oral argument was had before the Acting Secretary of Agriculture and appellants submitted a brief. On May 18, 1932, the Secretary issued his findings and an order prescribing maximum rates. In view of changed economic conditions, the Secretary vacated that order and granted a rehearing. That was begun on October 6, 1932, and the taking of evidence was concluded on November 16, 1932. The evidence received at the first hearing was resubmitted, and this was supplemented by additional testimony and exhibits. On March 24, 1933, oral argument was had before Rexford G. Tugwell as Acting Secretary.

It appears that there were about 10,000 pages of transcript of oral evidence and over 1,000 pages of statistical exhibits. The oral argument was general and sketchy. Appellants submitted the brief which they had presented after the first administrative hearing and a supplemental brief dealing with the evidence introduced upon the rehearing. No brief was at any time supplied by the Government. Apart from what was said on its behalf in the oral argument, the Government formulated no issues and furnished appellants no statement or summary of its contentions and no proposed findings. Appellants' request that the examiner prepare a tentative report, to be submitted as a basis for exceptions and argument, was refused.

Findings were prepared in the Bureau of Animal Industry, Department of Agriculture, whose representatives had conducted the proceedings for the Government, and were submitted to the Secretary who signed them, with a few changes in the rates, when his order was made on June 14, 1933. These findings, 180 in number, were elaborate. They dealt with the practices and facilities at the Kansas City livestock market, the character of appellants' business and services, their rates and the volume of their transactions, their gross revenues, their methods in getting and maintaining business, their joint activities, the economic changes since the year 1929, the principles which governed the determination of reasonable commission rates, the classification of cost items, the reasonable unit costs plus a reasonable amount of profits to be covered into reasonable commission rates, the reasonable amounts to be included for salesmanship, yarding salaries and expenses, office salaries and expenses, business getting and maintaining expenses, administrative and general expenses, insurance, interest on capital, and profits, together with summary and the establishment of the rate structure. Upon the basis of the reasonable costs as thus determined, the Secretary found that appellants' schedules of rates were unreasonable and unjustly discriminatory, and fixed the maximum schedules of the just and reasonable rates thereafter to be charged.

No opportunity was afforded to appellants for the examination of the findings thus prepared in the Bureau of Animal Industry until they were served with the order. Appellants sought a rehearing by the Secretary, but their application was denied on July 6, 1933, and these suits followed.

The part taken by the Secretary himself in the departmental proceedings is shown by his full and candid testimony. The evidence had been received before he took office. He did not hear the oral argument. The bulky record was placed upon his desk and he dipped into it from time to time to get its drift. He decided that probably the essence of the evidence was contained in appellants' briefs. These, together with the transcript of the oral argument, he took home with him and read. He had several conferences with the Solicitor of the Department and with the officials in the Bureau of Animal Industry, and discussed the proposed findings. He testified that he considered the evidence before signing the order. The substance of his action is stated in his answer to the question whether the order represented his independent conclusion, as follows: 'My answer to the question would be that that very definitely was my independent conclusion as based on the findings of the men in the Bureau of Animal Industry. I would say, I will try to put it as accurately as possible, that it represented my own independent reactions to the findings of the men in the Bureau of Animal Industry.'

Save for certain rate alterations, he 'accepted the findings.'

In the light of this testimony there is no occasion to discuss the extent to which the Secretary examined the evidence, and we agree with the Government's contention that it was not the function of the court to probe the mental processes of the Secretary in reaching his conclusions if he gave the hearing which the law required. The Secretary read the summary presented by appellants' briefs and he conferred with his subordinates who had sifted and analyzed the evidence. We assume that the Secretary sufficiently understood its purport. But a 'full hearing'—a fair and open hearing—requires more than that. The right to a hearing embraces not only the right to present evidence, but also a reasonable opportunity to know the claims of the opposing party and...

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