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SEABOARD AIR LINE R. CO. v. U S , 254 U.S. 57 (1920)

U.S. Supreme Court

SEABOARD AIR LINE R. CO. v. U S , 254 U.S. 57 (1920)

254 U.S. 57

SEABOARD AIR LINE RY. CO. et al.
v.
UNITED STATES et al.
No. 27.

Argued Oct. 8 and 11, 1920.
Decided Nov. 8, 1920.

[254 U.S. 57, 58]   Messrs. Claudian B. Northrop, of Chevy Chase, Md., and Frank W. Gwathmey and R. Walton Moore, both of Washington, D. C., for appellants.

Mr. Blackburn Esterline, of Washington, D. C., for the United States.

Mr. Charles W. Needham, of Washington, D. C., for Interst. Com. Com'n.

[254 U.S. 57, 59]  

Mr. Justice DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case a petition was filed in the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Virginia to enjoin an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission concerning the absorption of switching charges on the lines of the Seaboard Air Line Railway Company, the Seaboard Air Line Railway, Southern Railway Company, and Atlantic Coast Line Railway Company, within the switching limits of these roads as established at Richmond, Va.

The Commission's order was made upon a petition of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, averring that the practice of the railroads was discriminatory and unlawful, and violative of section 2 of the Act to Regulate Commerce. From the facts found by the Commission it appears that the appellant railroad companies bring freight from the South to Richmond, Va., where the same is delivered to industries in the switching limits of that city. If the freight is received at a point served by any two or more of the carriers, the switching charge is absorbed if the freight be delivered on the line of either; but if the delivery is to an industry served only by a noncompetitive carrier the switching charge is not absorbed. The Commission illustrated the point by an example:

The order complained of directed the three carriers to cease and desist, on or before August 1, 1917, and thereafter to abstain, from absorbing switching charges on certain interstate carload freight at Richmond, Va., while refusing to absorb such charges on like carload shipments for a like and contemporaneous service under substantially similar circumstances and conditions; such practices having been found in a supplemental report to be unjustly discriminatory and unlawful within section 2 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, and--

The District Court denied the application for an injunction, and ordered that the petition be dismissed. 249 Fed. 368.

The contention of the appellants is that the carriage is not a like and contemporaneous service in the transportation of a like kind of traffic under substantially similar circumstances and conditions.

Section 2 of the Act to Regulate Commerce provides:

Upon this controversy the Commission in its report said:

We are of opinion that the Commission was correct in regarding the service in question as a like and contemporary service rendered under substantially similar circumstances and conditions, and amply sustained as matter of law in Wight v. United States, 167 U.S. 512 , 17 Sup. Ct. 822, and Interstate Commerce Commission v. Alabama Midland Railway Co., 168 U.S. 144 , 18 Sup. Ct. 45. The principle established in these cases is that the statute aims to establish equality of rights among shippers for carriage under substantially similar circumstances and conditions, and that the exigencies of competition do not justify discrimination against shippers for substantially like services.

Moreover, the determination of questions of fact is by law imposed upon the Commission, a body created by statute for the consideration of this and like matters. The findings of fact by the Commission upon such questions can be disturbed by judicial decree only in cases where their action is arbitrary or transcends the legitimate bounds of their authority. I. C. C. v. L. & N. R. R. Co., 227 U.S. 88 , 33 Sup. Ct. 185; Precooling Case, 232 U.S. 199 , 34 Sup. Ct. 291; Los Angeles Switching Case, 234 U.S. 294, 311 , 312 S., 34 Sup. Ct. 814, and cases cited; Penn. R. R. Co. v. United States, 236 U.S. 351, 361 , 35 S. Sup. Ct. 370.

The Commission did not hold that switching charges must be always the same, but did hold that they must be alike where the service was rendered under substantially similar circumstances and conditions. The Commission's report says:

The practice condemned by the Commission, as its report and order show, was that of absorbing switching charges only when the line-haul carrier competes with the switching line, and refusing to absorb such charges when the switching line does not compete with the line-haul carrier; this, the Commission held was discrimination within the meaning of section 2 of the Act to Regulate Commerce. We find no occasion to disturb this ruling as arbitrary in character or beyond the authority of the Commission.

We find no merit in the contention that the order of the Commission was too vague and uncertain to be enforced.

Affirmed.

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