Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co, No. 283

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFRANKFURTER
Citation312 U.S. 496,61 S.Ct. 643,85 L.Ed. 971
Decision Date03 March 1941
Docket NumberNo. 283
PartiesRAILROAD COMMISSION OF TEXAS et al. v. PULLMAN CO. et al

312 U.S. 496
61 S.Ct. 643
85 L.Ed. 971
RAILROAD COMMISSION OF TEXAS et al.

v.

PULLMAN CO. et al.

No. 283.
Argued Feb. 4, 1941.
Decided March 3, 1941.

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

Page 497

Mr. Cecil A. Morgan, of Fort Worth, Tex., for appellants, Cunningham et al.

Mr. Cecil C. Rotsch, of Fort Worth, Tex., for appellants, Railroad Commission of Texas et al.

Mr. Ireland Graves, of Austin, Tex., for appellees.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

In those sections of Texas where the local passenger traffic is slight, trains carry but one sleeping car. These trains, unlike trains having two or more sleepers, are without a Pullman conductor; the sleeper is in charge of a porter who is subject to the train conductor's control. As is well known, porters on Pullmans are colored and conductors are white. Addressing itself to this situation, the Texas Railroad Commission after due hearing ordered that 'no sleeping car shall be operated on any line of railroad in the State of Texas * * * unless such

Page 498

cars are continuously in the charge of an employee * * * having the rank and position of Pullman conductor'. Thereupon, the Pullman Company and the railroads affected brought this action in a federal district court to enjoin the Commission's order. Pullman porters were permitted to intervene as complainants, and Pullman conductors entered the litigation in support of the order. Three judges having been convened, Judicial Code, § 266, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 380, 28 U.S.C.A. § 380, the court enjoined enforcement of the order. From this decree, the case came here directly. Judicial Code, § 238, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 345, 28 U.S.C.A. § 345.

The Pullman Company and the reilroads assailed the order as unauthorized by Texas law as well as violative of the Equal Protection, the Due Process and the Commerce Clauses of the Constitution. The intervening porters adopted these objections but mainly objected to the order as a discrimination against Negroes in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The complaint of the Pullman porters undoubtedly tendered a substantial constitutional issue. It is more than substantial. It touches a sensitive area of social policy upon which the federal courts ought not to enter unless no alternative to its adjudication is open. Such constitutional adjudication plainly can be avoided if a definitive ruling on the state issue would terminate the controversy. It is therefore our duty to turn to a consideration of questions under Texas law.

The Commission found justification for its order in a Texas statute which we quote in the margin.1 It is com-

Page 499

mon ground that if the order is within the Commission's authority its subject matter must be included in the Commission's power to prevent 'unjust discrimination * * * and to prevent any and all other abuses' in the conduct of railroads. Whether arrangements pertaining to the staffs of Pullman cars are covered by the Texas concept of 'discrimination' is far from clear. What practices of the railroads may be deemed to be 'abuses' subject to the Commission's correction is equally doubtful. Reading the Texas statutes and the Texas decisions as outsiders without special competence in Texas law, we would have little confidence in our independent judgment regarding the application of that law to the present situation. The lower court did deny that the Texas statutes sustained the Commission's assertion of power. And this represents the view of an able and experienced circuit judge of the circuit which includes Texas and of two capable district judges trained in Texas law. Had we or they no choice in the matter but to decide what is the law of the state, we should hesitate long before rejecting their forecast of Texas law. But no matter how seasoned the judgment of the district court may be, it cannot escape being a forecast rather than a determination. The last word on the meaning of Article 6445 of the

Page 500

Texas Civil Statutes, and therefore the last word on the statutory authority of the Railroad Commission in this case,...

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2843 practice notes
  • DONOHOE C. CO., INC. v. Maryland-National CP & P. Com'n, Civ. No. Y-74-1210.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • July 29, 1975
    ...simplified.3 The abstention question which remains is but a variation on the classic theme of Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 Abstention of the Pullman variety becomes a consideration in cases where state action is challenged in federal dist......
  • Hodgson v. Hamilton Municipal Court, No. 7954.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • July 31, 1972
    ...basis for abstention in this case. The so-called "judge-made doctrine of abstention," first enunciated in Railroad Comm'n v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), justifies avoidance of decision by the federal courts only in narrowly limited special circumstances. Se......
  • HOUSING AUTHORITY OF CITY OF NEWARK v. Henry, Civ. No. 226-71.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • November 18, 1971
    ...deference to a state forum. See Reetz v. Bozanich, 397 U.S. 82, 90 S.Ct. 788, 25 L.Ed.2d 68 (1970); Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941). Of particular relevance is the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Askew v. Hargrave, 401 U.S. 476 478......
  • American Booksellers Ass'n, Inc. v. Schiff, Civ. 85-0966 BB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • November 3, 1986
    ...matter pending construction of the statute by the New Mexico state courts, implicitly relying on Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), rev'g, 33 F.Supp. 675 (W.D.Tex. 1940).5 649 F. Supp. 1014 II. The Statutes Before considering the issues......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2841 cases
  • DONOHOE C. CO., INC. v. Maryland-National CP & P. Com'n, Civ. No. Y-74-1210.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • July 29, 1975
    ...simplified.3 The abstention question which remains is but a variation on the classic theme of Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 Abstention of the Pullman variety becomes a consideration in cases where state action is challenged in federal dist......
  • Hodgson v. Hamilton Municipal Court, No. 7954.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
    • July 31, 1972
    ...basis for abstention in this case. The so-called "judge-made doctrine of abstention," first enunciated in Railroad Comm'n v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), justifies avoidance of decision by the federal courts only in narrowly limited special circumstances. Se......
  • HOUSING AUTHORITY OF CITY OF NEWARK v. Henry, Civ. No. 226-71.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • November 18, 1971
    ...deference to a state forum. See Reetz v. Bozanich, 397 U.S. 82, 90 S.Ct. 788, 25 L.Ed.2d 68 (1970); Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941). Of particular relevance is the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Askew v. Hargrave, 401 U.S. 476 478......
  • American Booksellers Ass'n, Inc. v. Schiff, Civ. 85-0966 BB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • November 3, 1986
    ...matter pending construction of the statute by the New Mexico state courts, implicitly relying on Railroad Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), rev'g, 33 F.Supp. 675 (W.D.Tex. 1940).5 649 F. Supp. 1014 II. The Statutes Before considering the issues......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • FEDERAL COURTS AND TAKINGS LITIGATION.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 2, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...Cnty. Transp. Comm'n, 826 Fed Appx. 669, 670 (9th Cir. 2020) (declining to decide "the precise scope of [Railroad Commission v.] Pullma?i [312 U.S. 496 (1941)] in the posl-Knick world"); Thinh 'Iran v. Dept. of Plan., Civ. No. 19-00654, 2020 WL 3146584, slip op. at *1, *7 (D. Haw. June 12, ......

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