Texas Pacific Railway Company v. Abilene Cotton Oil Company

Decision Date25 February 1907
Docket NumberNo. 78,78
Citation204 U.S. 426,27 S.Ct. 350,9 Ann. Cas. 1075,51 L.Ed. 553
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. David D. Duncan, John F. Dillon, Winslow S. Pierce, and Thomas J. Freeman for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 427-428 intentionally omitted] Mr. Hannis Taylor for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 4279 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice White delivered the opinion of the court:

The oil company, the defendant in error, sued to recover $1,951.83. It was alleged that, on shipments of car loads of cotton seed, made in September and October, 1901, over the line of the defendant's road from various points in Louisiana east of Alexandria, in that state, to Abilene, Texas, the carrier had exacted, over the protest of the oil company, on the delivery of the cotton seed, the payment of an unjust and unreasonable rate, which exceeded, in the aggregate, by the sum sued for, a just and reasonable charge. There were, moreover, averments that the rate exacted was discriminatory, constituted an undue preference, and amounted to charging more for a shorter than for a longer haul. Besides a general traverse, the railway company defended on the ground that the shipments were interstate, and were, therefore, covered by the act of Congress to regulate commerce. It was averred that, as the rate complained of was the one fixed in the rate sheets which the company had established, filed, published, and posted, as required by that act, the state court was without jurisdiction to entertain the cause, and, even if such court had jurisdiction, it could not, without disregarding the act to regulate commerce, grant relief upon the basis that the established rate was unreasonable, when it had not been found to be so by the Interstate Commerce Commission.

The trial court made findings of fact. Those relating to the subject of the establishing, filing, and publishing by the railway company of rate sheets containing the rate which was complained of were as follows:

'7th. That the Western Classification Committee, agent and representative of numerous railways and of defendant, filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission what is known as the Western Classification, giving classifications of different articles or items of merchandise, and in same cotton seed is classed as 'A;' that this was the joint act of a number of roads, and the defendant adopted said joint classification; that on May 30, 1901, the Southwestern Freight Committee, agent of a number of roads and agent of defendant, filed with the said Commission a supplement for numerous roads in connection with defendant, whereby the rate on cotton seed from all points in Louisiana east of Alexandria was fixed at 67 cents per 100 pounds to all points in Texas from all points in Louisiana east of Alexandria and west of Alexandria.

'8th. That said classification and said rate schedule was adopted by defendant and was filed by said S. W. Freight Committee with said Interstate Commerce Commission in behalf of defendant.

'9th. That copies of said schedule and said tariffs and classifications were kept in the office of said defendant at said points of shipment and at said Abilene, that is, in the freight office and depots, for the inspection of the public, as admitted by plaintiff, which admission is found in the statement of facts.

'10th. That, other than said schedule and classification, nothing has been filed with the Interstate Commerce Com- mission by or in behalf of defendant in the way of classifications, schedules, or rates on cotton seed from points on its road in Louisiana to points on its road in Texas.'

From the facts found the court stated the following as its conclusions:

'1st. The facts so found show that this was an interstate shipment.

'2d. The facts so found show that the defendant complied with the interstate commerce law, and said rates and classifications were thereby properly established and in force, except that the rate charged on cotton seed in car load lots was unreasonable and excessive.

'3d. I find that the rate charged by the defendant was that established under the interstate commerce law.'

As nothing in these conclusions relates to the averments of discrimination, undue preference, or a greater charge for a shorter than for a longer haul, those subjects, it may be assumed, were considered to have been eliminated in the course of the trial.

There was judgment for the railway company. When the controversy came to be disposed of by the court of civil appeals, to which the cause was taken, that court deemed there was only one question presented for decision; that is, whether, consistently with the act to regulate commerce, there was power in the court to grant relief upon the finding that the rate charged for an interstate shipment was unreasonable, although such rate was the one fixed by the duly published and filed rate sheet, and when the rate had not been found to be unreasonable by the Interstate Commerce Commission. In opening its opinion the court said (85 S. W. 1052):

'Adopting the construction of the pleadings evidently given them in the briefs, and treating it as presented, the case, briefly stated, is an action by appellant for damages for a violation of an alleged commonlaw right, in that appellee demanded and coercively collected from appellant freight charges in excess of a reasonable compensation, for the trans- portation of a number of car loads of cotton seed from the town of Cottonport and other designated towns in the state of Louisiana to the city of Abilene in the state of Texas.'

After referring to the findings as to the unreasonableness of the charge exacted, and after pointing out that the railway company had not, by a cross assignment, challenged the correctness of the findings of the trial court as to the unreasonableness of the rate, it was said:

'So that we are relieved from a consideration of the difficulties discussed in some of the cases in ascertaining the fact, and therefore now have squarely before us the questions whether, in a state court, a shipper in cases of interstate carriage can, by the principles of the common law, be accorded relief from unjust and unreasonable freight rates exacted from him, or shall relief in such cases be denied merely because such unreasonable rate has been filed and promulgated by the carrier under the interstate commerce act?'

Proceeding in an elaborate opinion to dispose of the question thus stated to be the only one for consideration, the conclusion was reached that jurisdiction to grant relief existed, and that to do so was not repugnant to the act to regulate commerce. Applying these conclusions to the findings of fact, the relief prayed was allowed. The court said:

'We therefore adopt the trial court's findings of fact, and, applying thereto the principles of law we have deduced, reverse the judgment, and here render judgment in appellant's favor for the said sum of $1,951.83, excessive freights charged, together with interest. . . .'

The assigned errors are addressed exclusively to the operation of the act to regulate commerce upon the jurisdiction of the court below to entertain the controversy, and its power in any event to afford relief to the oil company, based upon the alleged unreasonableness of the rate under the circumstances disclosed. Before we take up the consideration of that subject, however, two questions must be disposed of: First, it is insisted that this court is without jurisdiction, because no Federal question is presented. We think it suffices to say that it obviously results from the statements previously made that a question of that character was presented by the pleadings, was passed upon by the trial court, was expressly and necessarily decided by the court below, and is also essentially involved in the cause as it is before us. Second, it is urged that the effect of the act to regulate commerce upon the right of the oil company to recover need not be passed upon, since, even if error on that subject was committed below, a review of the decision in that regard is unnecessary, because, if the correct legal inference be drawn from the facts found by the trial court, which were adopted by the appellate court, it will result that the railway company had not established a legal schedule of rates in compliance with the act to regulate commerce, and therefore the jurisdiction of the court and its right to afford relief was not at all affected by the provisions of the act. We do not presently stop to consider whether the consequences as to jurisdiction and right to recover which are asserted would result if the premise was well founded, because we think the premise is either shown by the findings to be unfounded or it is not open for contention on the record. The premise rests upon two propositions of fact: a. That the findings of the trial court show that the rate sheet filed was joint and therefore did not necessarily relate to a shipment entirely over the road of the railway company. This contention, we think, is shown by the findings to be without merit, since those findings clearly point out that the rate sheet was filed by an agent of the defendant railroad, was by it adopted, and constituted the only rate sheet embracing the traffic in question. b. Although it is conceded that the evidence showed that the schedule of rates was established and filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission, and was kept at the stations of the railway company for public inspection, and that the oil company had knowledge of the fact, it is insisted that the facts found do not justify the conclusion that there was a compliance with the requirements of the act to regulate com- merce as to the posting of the established schedule. We think this contention is not open on this record. As we have seen, the trial court expressly concluded that the railway...

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