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The decision in Re Louisville & Nashville, Interstate Commerce
Commission, Washington, June 15, 1887, in the matter of the petitions of The Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company and others.
OPINION OF THE COMMISSION. COOLEY, Chairman.
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company was one of the first to apply for relief under the fourth section of the Act to regulate commerce, which, after declaring the general rule that more shall not be charged or received in the aggregate by a common carrier subject to the law, for the transportation of passengers or of the like kind of property, under substantially similar circumstances and conditions for a shorter than for a longer distance over the same line in the same direction, the shorter being included in the longer, proceeds then to authorize exceptions, and confers upon the Commission certain powers in respect thereto.
From the first there have been two opinions regarding the proper construction of this provision for exceptions; one view being that no exception can be lawful unless made with the sanction of the Commission; and the other, apparently better supported on the words of the statute, that an order of relief is not required when the circumstances and conditions are substantially dissimilar, since the carrier, in acting upon them, would commit no breach of law, though it would be responsible in
case it were found that the circumstances and conditions were misconceived or misjudged. Under this last view the order for relief would be needful only when the case was not one of plainly dissimilar circumstances and conditions, but in which, nevertheless, there might be reasons and equities that would sanction such greater charge.
The Commission is informed that the interstate roads north of the Potomac and the Ohio and east of the Missouri, with substantial unanimity, have conformed to the requirements of the fourth section by putting in force tariffs re-arranged accordingly. Some friction was manifested for a time, arising largely from the discontinuance of special rates, favors, and privileges, and from the adoption of new classifications ; but where the fourth section has been thus made operative very few instances have come to our attention of injury thereby occasioned.
The roads which anticipated especial injury to commerce from the strict enforcement of the law were principally those situated in the Southern States and the transcontinental lines. After a little time some of the north and south roads in the territory first mentioned found themselves excluded to a certain extent from business which they had previously handled, but these instances were not numerous, so far as the Commission is at present advised.
In the cases where loss of revenue to the roads and injury to the business of the country was most seriously anticipated, the railroad companies, although some of them took the ground that the statute contemplated they would determine for themselves the exceptional cases in which they might make a lower charge for a longer haul, nevertheless were unwilling to incur the peril of so arranging their tariffs that they would in any instance conflict with the general rule which the act prescribed, apparently deeming it more prudent to suffer temporary loss of traffic until the act could receive authoritative construction than to subject themselves to heavy penalties in case it should finally be held that the general rule must be applied in every case until the authority of the Commission for making exceptions had been given. The
Louisville and Nashville Company was one of those which took this position, and upon its application a temporary order of relief was made. Following the making of that and of other like orders, the Commission proceeded to take a great amount of testimony bearing upon the question whether the several carriers relieved were warranted in making rates on their lines which were not in conformity to the statutory rule, and in doing so it invited light from all sources, and was glad to have the assistance, not only of the railroad companies, but of competing steamboat owners, of boards of trade, and of citizens generally, whatever might be their line of business. The fullest opportunity has been afforded to any citizen of the United States who desired to be heard upon the matter, to present facts personally or by affidavit, and arguments viva voce, in writing, or in print. The invitation has been quite largely accepted; the subject has been laid fully before us, and we have endeavored to give to it the consideration its importance demands.
In making the orders of temporary relief no opinion was expressed upon the question whether they were necessary for the protection of the carriers in case the circumstances and conditions were found to be in fact dissimilar. The railroad companies did not raise that question, but, as has been said, elected as a matter of prudence to apply for the preliminary order. No objection could well be taken to this course provided it should prove to be practicable for the Commission to take up and in a reasonable time dispose of the several applications made to it; but it was almost immediately perceived that the number was to be so great that this would be quite out of the question. Each order for relief would necessarily be preceded by investigation into the facts, on evidence which in most cases would be best obtained along the line of the road itself. A single case might therefore require for its proper determination the taking of evidence all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and this not merely the evidence of witnesses for the petitioning carrier, but of such other parties as might conceive that their interests or the interests of the public would be subserved either by granting the relief applied for or by denying it.
If the Commission were to give to the petitions the time needed for their proper determination, it would be compelled to forego the performance of judicial and other functions which by the statute were apparently assumed to be of high importance, and even then its authority to grant relief would be performed under such circumstances of embarrassment and delay that it must in large measure fail to accomplish the beneficial purposes which we must
suppose the statute had in view. Assuming—as we must when the law provides for it—that it is important to the public interest that a privilege to charge more for the shorter haul than for the longer over the same line in the same direction, should be admitted in some cases, as had been the custom, the interruption of the privilege when the case was proper for it would presumptively cause mischief, and should not, therefore, be compulsory while the slow processes of an investigation were going on, especially as the particular investigation might itself be compelled to await the determination of many others. Moreover, an adjudication upon a petition for relief would in many cases be far from concluding the labors of the Commission in respect to the equities involved, for questions of rates assume new forms, and may require to be met differently from day to day; and in those sections of the country in which the reasons or supposed reasons for exceptional rates are most prevalent, the Commission would, in effect, be required to act as rate makers for all the roads and compelled to adjust the tariffs so as to meet the exigencies of business while at the same time endeavoring to protect relative rights and equities of rival carriers and rival localities. This in any considerable State would be an enormous task. In a country so large as ours, and with so vast a mileage of roads, it would be superhuman. A construction of the statute which should require its performance would render the due administration of the law altogether impracticable, and that fact tends strongly to show that such a construction could not have been intended.
We have listened, with an earnest desire to reach a just conclusion, to all the arguments presented on the construction of the statute, by those appearing either to advocate or to oppose the
applications, and after mature consideration we are satisfied that the statute does not require that the Commission shall prescribe in every instance the exceptional case and grant its order for relief before the carrier is at liberty in its tariffs to depart from the general rule. The terms of the statute clearly lead to the opposite conclusion. It declares :
“ It shall be unlawful for any common carrier subject to the provisions of this act to charge or receive any greater compensation in the aggregate for the transportation of passengers or of the like kind of property under substantially similar circumstances and conditions for a shorter than for a longer distance over the same line in the same direction, the shorter being included in the longer distance.”
Here we have clearly stated what is unlawful and forbidden ; and for doing the unlawful and forbidden act penalties are then provided. But that which the act does not declare unlawful must remain lawful if it was so before, and that which it fails to forbid the carrier is left at liberty to do without permission of any one. The charging or receiving the greater compensation for the shorter than for the longer haul is seen to be forbidden only when both are under substantially similar circumstances and conditions; and therefore if in any case the carrier, without first obtaining an order of relief, shall depart from the general rule, its doing so will not alone convict it of illegality, since if the circumstances and conditions of the two hauls are dissimilar the statute is not violated. Should an interested party dispute that the action of the carrier was warranted, an issue would be presented for adjudication, and the risks of that adjudication the carrier would necessarily assume. The later clause in the same section, which empowers the Commission to make orders for relief in its discretion, does not in doing so restrict it to a finding of circumstances and conditions strictly dissimilar, but seems intended to give a discretionary authority for cases that could not well be indicated in advance by general designation, while the cases which upon their facts should be acted upon as clearly exceptional would be left for adjudication when the action of the carrier was challenged. The statute becomes on this construction practical, and this section may be enforced without serious embarrassinent.