United States of America v. Louisville Nashville Railroad Company

Decision Date23 February 1915
Docket NumberNo. 499,499
Citation35 S.Ct. 363,59 L.Ed. 598,236 U.S. 318
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, by James C. McReynolds, Attorney General, Plff. in Err., Appt., v. LOUISVILLE & NASHVILLE RAILROAD COMPANY
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Solicitor General Davis and Mr. Theodor Megaarden for the United states.

Mr. Joseph W. Folk for the Interstate Commerce Commission.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 319-322 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Helm Bruce, Edward S. Jouett, William A. Colston, and Henry L. Stone for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company.

Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

This is an appeal from and writ of error to the district court of the United States for the western district of Kentucky, refusing a writ of mandamus which the United States undertook to obtain under authority of § 20 of the act to regulate commerce [24 Stat. at L. 386, chap. 104], as amended, 34 Stat. at L. 584, 594, 595, chap. 3591, Comp. Stat. 1913, §§ 8563, 8592. In view of the character of an action in mandamus, we are of opinion that the review is by writ of error. Columbian Ins. Co. v. Wheelright, 7 Wheat. 534, 5 L. ed. 516; Kentucky v. Dennison, 24 How. 66, 97, 16 L. ed. 717, 725; High, Extr. Leg. Rem. §§ 6, 557. The appeal is therefore dismissed.

The petition sets forth the authority conferred upon the Commission by § 20 of the act, and also § 12, and embodies a copy of a resolution passed by the Senate of the United States, which is given in the margin.1 It further states that for the purpose of enabling the Commission to perform its duties, it appointed two special agents and duly authorized them to inspect and examine the accounts, records, and memoranda of the defendant railway company; that on February 4, 1914, one of said agents demanded of the vice president of the defendant, the officer in charge and control of the accounts, records, and memoranda of the company, and to and of other officers, access to and opportunity to examine the accounts, records, and memoranda kept by the defendant prior to August 28, 1906 [the Hepburn act took effect August 29, 1906], and that the same was refused by the officers of the company; that on February 4, 1914, a demand was made for an opportunity to examine the accounts, records, and memoranda of the defendant on and subsequent to August 28th, 1906, which was refused; and a writ of mandamus was asked against the company, requiring it to give access to its accounts, records, and memoranda, and its correspondence and copies of correspondence, and indexes thereto, and to afford opportunity to examine the same to the commission and its agents and examiners, and to give such access to and opportunity to examine the said accounts, records, and memoranda made and kept by and for said defendant both before, on, and subsequent to August 28, 1906, including correspondence, copies of correspondence, and indexes thereto, and other indexes to said accounts, records, and memoranda.

To this petition the defendant answered, setting out that it did, prior to the beginning of the suit, give the examiners access to the correspondence other than privileged communications, and that after this suit it did refuse and does now refuse to give to said commission or to said agent access to or opportunity to examine correspondence received by it before, on, or subsequent to August 28, 1906, or copies of correspondence sent out by defendant before, on, or subsequent to that date, or the indexes kept with respect to said outgoing and incoming correspondence by defendant (except correspondence as to passes issued since January 1, 1911), and the defendant set up that its correspondence contains private communications between its various officers and agents regarding various matters which did not in any way pertain to the provisions of the act to regulate commerce, nor to any act of Congress, the provisions of which it is made the duty of the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce, and avers that said correspondence contains communications of a private and confidential nature between the president of the railway company and the heads of the various departments, relative to its internal affairs, to its proposed constructions and extensions in the future, to its policies with competing and rival roads, to its relations with labor organizations represented in its operating department, and to a variety of other subjects of a private and confidential nature, and that do not relate to the provisions of the act to regulate commerce and acts amendatory thereto, or to any other act of Congress as to the enforcement of which any duty has been imposed upon the Interstate Commerce Commission, and that said correspondence also contains confidential, private, and privileged communications between defendant and its attorneys. The answer further sets up that under the provisions of § 20 of the commerce act a uniform system of accounting has been prescribed by the Commission, and that defendant has fully complied with all such requirements, and that the Commission's examiners have full and complete access to the same; that if the act to regulate commerce can be construed as to give the said Commission or its examiners a right of access to, and the right to examine or inspect at will, any or all accounts, records, and memoranda, and all correspondence received, and all copies of correspondence sent out by the defendant or its officials in the manner and as set out and claimed in the petition, then the exercise of such alleged right in this respect will amount to and operate as an unreasonable search and seizure of the private papers of the defendant, in violation of the 4th Amendent to the Constitution of the United States.

The answer further sets out a copy of the Senate resolution, and the order of the Interstate Commerce Commission ordering the investigation and inquiry concerning the matters and things set forth in the resolution, and providing that the proceeding be set for hearing at such times and places, and that such persons be required to appear and testify, or to produce books, documents, and papers, as the Commission may direct, and that a copy be served upon certain railways, including the defendant. The answer also sets up that the subject-matter of the first twelve paragraphs of the Senate resolution was not within the authority of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and avers that as to the subject-matter of the thirteenth paragraph, which relates to free passes, since January 1, 1911, defendant permitted the Commission and its examiners and agents, on their request, to have access to and to examine and inspect all accounts, records, and memoranda, relating to such passes, whether interstate or intrastate, and also all correspondence relating to such passes (although defendant claims that the Commission had no legal right to examine any of said correspondence, nor to examine any intrastate passes, or any accounts, records, and memoranda pertaining thereto).

Motion was made for the writ of mandamus to issue as prayed for in the petition, certain testimony was taken, showing the demand of the agent and the refusal of the company. Upon hearing, the motion was denied.

The testimony shows that the refusal withheld from the inspection of the agents making the demand all accounts, records, and memoranda kept prior to the 28th of August, 1906; all accounts, records, and memoranda subsequent to that date, except such as to which the form had been subsequently prescribed by the Commission; all correspondence and the indexes thereto upon any subject other than the issue of passes subsequent to January 1, 1911, and all certificates of destruction, if any, relating to papers antedating August 28, 1906.

The discussion in this case has taken a wide range, and much has been said of the constitutional rights of the defendant and the authority of the Commission to carry out the purpose of the interstate commerce act, and to make investigations which shall be the basis of the discharge of duties imposed upon it by the law. But, as we view the case, the real questions may be determined by a consideration of certain provisions of the act to regulate commerce. We may at the beginning put aside any question of authority derivable from the resolution passed by the Senate. The resolution was passed by only one branch of the legislative body, and it is not contended by the government or the Commission that any authority is derivable from it.

To authorize the government to demand the writ of mandamus in this case two sections of the interstate commerce act are invoked, 12 and 20. It is enough to say of § 12 that the record discloses that the proceedings and the demands for inspection in this case were not conducted under its authority. See Harriman Case, 211 U. S. 407, 53 L. ed. 253, 29 Sup. Ct. Rep. 115.

Section 12 deals with the production of evidence in certain cases; it does not make provision for inspection by examiners duly authorized by the Commission. That feature of the law was added by the amendment to § 20, of June 29, 1906.

The substantial question in the case is: Was the right of inspection of the accounts, records, and memoranda of the defendant in the manner attempted by the agents who represented the Commission in this respect, authorized by § 20 of the act, as the same is amended by the Hepburn act of June, 1906?

That section as amended provides in part:

'The Commission may, in its discretion, prescribe the forms of any and all accounts, records, and memoranda to be kept by carriers subject to the provisions of this act, including the accounts, records, and memoranda of the movement of traffic as well as the receipts and expenditures of moneys. The Commission shall at all times have access to all accounts, records, and memoranda kept by carriers subject to this act, and it shall be unlawful for such carriers to keep any other accounts, records, or memoranda than those...

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