ATLANTIC COAST LINE v. WHARTON

No. 36.

207 U.S. 328 (1907)

ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY v. WHARTON et al., RAILROAD COMMISSIONERS OF THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA.

Supreme Court of United States.

Decided December 9, 1907.


Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. P.A. Willcox and Mr. Frederic D. McKenney, with whom Mr. Alexander Hamilton, Mr. George B. Elliott, Mr. F.L. Willcox and Mr. Henry E. Davis were on the brief, for plaintiff in error.

Mr. M.C. Woods, with whom Mr. J. Fraser Lyon, Attorney General of the State of South Carolina, was on the brief, for defendants in error.


MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The questions of the validity of state statutes and orders of state railroad commissions, directing the stoppage of through interstate trains, have frequently, within late years, been before this court. The last case is that of Mississippi Railroad Commission v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, 203 U.S. 335, where the prior cases are referred to. See also Atlantic Coast &c. v. North Carolina Commission, 206 U.S. 1.

That any exercise of state authority, in whatever form manifested, which directly regulates interstate commerce, is repugnant to the commerce clause of the Constitution is obvious. It hence arises that any command of a State, whether made directly or through the instrumentality of a railroad commission which orders, or the necessary effect of which is to order, the stopping of an interstate train at a named station or stations, if it directly regulates interstate commerce, is void.

It has been decided, however, that some orders which may cause the stoppage of interstate trains made by state authority may be valid if they do not directly regulate such commerce. Lake Shore & M.S.R. Co. v. Ohio, 173 U.S. 285. When, therefore, an order made under state authority to stop an interstate train is assailed because of its repugnancy to the interstate commerce clause, the question whether such order is void as a direct regulation of such commerce may be tested by considering the nature of the order, the character of the interstate commerce train to which it applies, and its necessary and direct effect upon the operation of such train. But the effect of the order as a direct regulation of interstate commerce may also be tested by considering the adequacy of the local facilities existing at the station or stations at which the interstate commerce train has been commanded to stop. True, inherently considered, whether there be adequate local facilities is not a Federal question, but in so far as the existence of such adequate local facilities is involved in the determination of the Federal question of whether the order concerning an interstate train does or does not directly regulate interstate commerce, that question for such purpose is open and may be considered by us. 203 U.S., supra.

Without stopping to consider whether, in view of the character of the trains to which the order before us related, it would not result that the order complained of was a direct regulation of interstate commerce, and testing the subject by the local facilities at the station at which the trains were ordered to stop, we think the railroad company in this case has furnished such reasonable accommodations to the people at Latta as it can be fairly and properly called upon to give, and the order to stop these trains is, therefore, not a valid one.

The term "adequate or reasonable facilities" is not in its nature capable of exact definition. It is a relative expression, and has to be considered as calling for such facilities as might be fairly demanded, regard being had, among other things, to the size of the place, the extent of the demand for transportation, the cost of furnishing the additional accommodations asked for, and to all other facts which would have a bearing upon the question of convenience and cost. In this case the company furnishes eleven different trains a day by which the people of Latta can leave that place, and among them are the daily through trains 39 and 40 for the South and North, respectively. That the inhabitants of a place demand greater facilities than they have is not at all conclusive as to the reasonableness of their demand for something more. Fault is found here with the character of some of the local trains, in that the appointments thereof are not up to a sufficiently high standard. It is true that included in these eleven trains were some which were a combination of freight and passenger, and others which only ran between Latta and Clio, and those are described as dirty and without proper closets and drinking tanks. These deficiencies are remediable by other means than the stoppage of the two trains in question. It is to be remembered that these two places, Latta and Clio, had together a population, by the last census, of about a thousand. Two ordinary modern trains of the usual passenger coaches would comfortably transport the total population of these places. The number of people who are inconvenienced by the non-stoppage of these trains is, of course, comparatively quite small. One witness, who was in the hotel and general merchandise business at Latta, said that he sent a man or two every week to meet the fast train at Dillon, because they could not take it at Latta. Other witnesses said that the demand for those particular trains, 32 and 35, was quite frequent, as many as four people a week, while others said that the inconvenience of the through trains, 39 and 40, was on account of their not being fast trains, and hence were not so pleasant as the others, 32 and 35, and did not get them in to their destination as early as the latter trains did. The demand at Latta by people desiring to go to the termination of the road, either at New York or Tampa, would naturally be small. Some of the plaintiff's witnesses said that the demand for transportation at Latta was large, or quite large, and the inconvenience great, but a further examination of these witnesses showed that in specific details there was much lacking, and instances of inconvenience were really somewhat limited. But assuming that the number actually inconvenienced by the want of fast trains was "quite large," as said by some witnesses, it is perfectly evident the number would be small compared with the inconvenience of the much larger number of through passengers resulting from the stoppage of these trains at Latta and other similar stations in the State.

To stop these trains at Latta, and other stations like it, which could bring equally strong reasons for the stoppage of the trains at their stations, would wholly change the character of the trains, rendering them no better in regard to speed than the other trains, 39 and 40, and would result in the inability of what had been fast trains to make their schedule time, and a consequent loss of patronage, also the loss of compensation for carrying the mails, which would be withdrawn from them, and the end would be the withdrawal of the trains, because of their inability to pay expenses. All these are matters entitled to consideration when the question of convenience and adequate facilities arises. There is no contradiction in the testimony that the company desires, so far as is fairly possible, to pay as much attention to the local demands as to the "through" claims.

Of course, it is not reasonable to suppose that the same facilities can be given to places of very small population that are supplied to their neighbors who live in much larger communities, and the defendants in error, it may be conceded, make no such demand. No one would assert that one daily train each way between New York and Philadelphia would furnish adequate facilities for the transportation of passengers. Twenty times that number of trains would be necessary, and yet one through train a day, each way, through so small a place as Latta to New York or Tampa would in all probability easily transport all the passengers desiring transportation between these places. Nevertheless, the fair needs of the locality for transportation to other local points must be considered and provided for. This, as we think, has been done.

Taking all the circumstances into consideration, as shown by uncontradicted evidence, we are of opinion that the judgment of the Supreme Court, directing a mandamus, was erroneous, and it is therefore reversed, and the case remanded to the Supreme Court of South Carolina for further proceedings therein not inconsistent with this opinion.

Reversed.


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