Nos. 459, 460.

219 U.S. 498 (1911)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided February 20, 1911.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Maxwell Evarts, with whom Mr. F.C. Dillard and Mr. H.M. Garwood were on the brief, for appellants.

Mr. Wade H. Ellis and Mr. Luther M. Walter for appellee, the Interstate Commerce Commission.

MR. JUSTICE McKENNA, after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

It will be observed that the order of the Commission required appellants to cease and desist from granting Young the alleged undue preference for a period of not less than two years from September 1, 1908 (subsequently extended to November 15). It is hence contended that the order of the Commission has expired and that the case having thereby become moot, the appeal should be dismissed.

This court has said a number of times that it will only decide actual controversies, and if, pending an appeal, something occurs without any fault of the defendant which renders it impossible, if our decision should be in favor of the plaintiff, to grant him effectual relief, the appeal will be dismissed. Jones v. Montague, 194 U.S. 147, and Richardson v. McChesney, decided November 28 of this term, 218 U.S. 487. But in those cases the acts sought to be enjoined had been completely executed, and there was nothing that the judgment of the court, if the suits had been entertained, could have affected. The case at bar comes within the rule announced in United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Ass'n, 166 U.S. 290, 308, and Boise City Irr. & Land Co. v. Clark (C.C. App. 9th Cir.), 131 Fed. Rep. 415.

In the case at bar the order of the Commission may to some extent (the exact extent it is unnecessary to define) be the basis of further proceedings. But there is a broader consideration. The questions involved in the orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission are usually continuing (as are manifestly those in the case at bar) and their consideration ought not to be, as they might be, defeated, by short term orders, capable of repetition, yet evading review, and at one time the Government and at another time the carriers have their rights determined by the Commission without a chance of redress.

In United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Ass'n, supra, the object of the suit was to obtain the judgment of the court on the legality of an agreement between railroads, alleged to be in violation of the Sherman law. In the case at bar the object of the suit is to have declared illegal an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission. In that case there was an attempt to defeat the purposes of the suit by a voluntary dissolution of the agreement, and of the attempt the court said: "The mere dissolution of the association is not the most important object of this litigation. The judgment of the court is sought upon the question of the legality of the agreement itself, for the carrying out of which the association was formed, and if such agreement be declared to be illegal the court is asked not only to dissolve the association named in the bill, but that the defendant should be enjoined for the future. . . . Private parties may settle their controversies at any time, and rights which a plaintiff may have had at the time of the commencement of the action may terminate before judgment is obtained, or while the case is on appeal, and in any such case the court, being informed of the facts, will proceed no further in the action. Here, however, there has been no extinguishment of the rights (whatever they are) of the public, the enforcement of which the Government has endeavored to procure by the judgment of a court under the provisions of the act of Congress above cited. The defendants cannot foreclose those rights nor prevent the assertion thereof by the Government as a substantial trustee for the public under the act of Congress, by any such action as has been taken in this case." Referring to the agreement as one claimed by the Government as illegal, it was further said (p. 310): "That question the Government has the right to bring before the court and obtain its judgment thereon." The interests there passed upon are no more of a public character than those involved in the order of the Interstate Commerce Commission in the case at bar, and there was no greater necessity for continuing a jurisdiction which had properly attached, and that the Government is the respondent, not complainant, does not lessen or change the character of the interests involved in the controversy or terminate its questions.

In Boise City Irr. & Land Co. v. Clark, supra, the period for which a municipal ordinance fixed a water rate expired pending the litigation as to its legality, and it was contended that the case had become moot. The court replied: "But the courts have entertained and decided such cases heretofore, partly because the rate, once fixed, continues in force until changed as provided by law, and partly because of the necessity or propriety of deciding some question of law presented which might serve to guide the municipal body when again called upon to act in the matter."

The motion to dismiss is denied.

Four errors are assigned in the action of the Circuit Court in dismissing the bill of complaint. (1) The Interstate Commerce Commission had no jurisdiction over the Terminal Company, it not being a common carrier, and therefore not subject to the act to regulate commerce. (2) The Commission had no power or authority to declare the lease to Young illegal. (3) The lease does not constitute an unlawful or undue preference or advantage within the meaning of the act to regulate commerce. (4) The Commission by its order assumed to control intrastate and foreign commerce, not subject to the act to regulate commerce.

Two facts are prominent in the case, that the piers of the Terminal Company are facilities of import and export traffic at the port of Galveston and that the arrangement of the Terminal Company with Young has enabled him to largely and rapidly increase his business until his exports of cotton seed products are more than twice those of all other competitors, that he derives therefrom 30 to 40 cents per ton over the ordinary buying and selling profit, and that some who were his competitors have ceased to export. A direct advantage to Young is manifest. A direct detriment to other exporters is equally manifest.

The situation challenges attention. Appellants find in it nothing but the natural and legal result of the sagacity which could see an opportunity for profit and the enterprise which could avail of it. It was the simple matter on the part of Young, it is contended, of bringing his business to the ship's side and cutting out intervening expenses. And it is said that the Terminal Company had an equally lawful inducement. It had an idle property, it is contended, over which it had absolute control and which it turned to use and profit by the arrangement with Young. And this, it is insisted, was a simple exercise of ownership. If the elements of the controversy are correctly stated, the justification may be considered as made out.

Appellants make much of their title and, assuming it to be absolute, assert the right to an unrestrained use of the property. But the assertion overlooks or underestimates the condition expressed in the deed to Huntington, that from his estate to the Terminal Company, in the ordinance of the city of Galveston, and in the act of the legislature of the State of Texas. The condition expressed in all of them was that terminal facilities should be constructed upon the property for the use of the Southern Pacific Railroad and Steamship Systems. The act of the legislature declared that the property "should be developed for shipping and transportation purposes, and that the shipping facilities at the port of Galveston should be thereby improved and enlarged in order to better accommodate the commerce of the port and of the State." And wharfage charges, except so far as they should be covered by the freight rates, should be subject to regulation by the railroad commission of the State.

It is clear, therefore, that it was the purpose of the ordinance and of the act confirming it to secure shipping facilities for the city, open to public use, and necessarily so, for the property was to be the terminal of a railroad and steamship system. It may be, as it is contended, that there was no necessity for the ordinance, "except for the purpose of a valid relinquishment of the municipal right, often asserted by it, of opening streets through the bay front property and constructing wharves thereon." The relinquishment was treated as valuable and Huntington pledged the property to a public use as a consideration for it. And, as we have said, such use was also a condition expressed in the act of the legislature. It was not discharged by the expenditure of $150,000 and the erection of wharves by Huntington, as seems to be the contention.

The case has no likeness whatever to Louisville &c. R.R. Co. v. West Coast Co., 198 U.S. 483. In the latter case there was no discrimination against the West Coast Company by the railroad company or a preference given to any person. The West Coast Company had the same privilege of using the wharves of the railroad company as other shippers were given. It asserted other privileges. It asserted the privilege of using the wharf for the purpose of transferring goods into vessels which it might arrange to take them; in other words, not into the vessels of the railroad company or into those with which it had traffic agreements. And we said, through Mr. Justice Peckham, "In brief, the fact seems to be that the only complaint of the plaintiff (West Coast Company) is that the defendant (the railroad company) will not permit competing vessels to make use of its wharf for the purpose of such competition."

It is true that there was a contention that the wharf was a public one, but the contention was based only on the fact that the wharf was built at the foot of a public street by authority from the city of Pensacola and the State of Florida. That fact alone was not considered sufficient to support the contention. And it was said, "The city or State authorities in granting the right to erect such facilities might, of course, have attached such conditions as they thought wise, but in their absence neither the public nor this plaintiff, as the owner of goods, would have the right, on this state of facts, to go to the wharf with vessels for the purpose of continuing transportation of goods in competition with defendant." It is true it was said that the railroad company never became a common carrier as to the wharf, in the sense that it was bound to accord to the public or to the West Coast Company the right to use it upon payment of compensation. But it was added that the railroad company would be bound to carry the West Coast Company's goods on the rails which led to the wharf, for the same purpose and upon the same terms that it did for others, viz., in order that it might itself, or through others it had contracted with, forward the goods beyond its own line. And it was further said that the West Coast Company demanded more than this; it demanded that the railroad company should carry its goods in order that it might itself forward them by vessels of its own selection, and that the railroad company should surrender possession of enough of its wharf to enable the other company to do so.

Nor is Weems Steamboat Company v. People's Company, 214 U.S. 344, applicable to the pending controversy. The contest there was between two independent lines of steamboats, the one claiming a right to use the wharves of the other, on the ground that the wharves had been dedicated to the public. The fact was found adversely to the contention, and the claim of right to the use of the wharves denied. A review of the reasoning of the court is unnecessary. There is great difference between competing carriers claiming the right to use the facilities of one another and the patrons of the same carrier contending for equality of treatment. In stating this we assume that the wharves in the pending case are the instruments of a common carrier. This is, however, denied, and it is asserted that the Terminal Company is purely a wharfage company, and "has no power under its charter to act as a common carrier." The contention is based on a partial view of the conditions. The Terminal Company was incorporated to execute the purposes expressed in the act of the legislature of the State of Texas, that is, to construct terminal facilities for the Southern Pacific Railroad and Steamship Systems, and to accommodate the export and import traffic at Galveston; and, necessarily, as instrumentalities of such traffic, wharves and piers are as essential as steamships and railroads, and are, in fact, as they were intended to be by the charter of their authorization, parts of a system. The only track facilities for movement of cars to or from the ships, from or to the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railways, are on the Terminal Company's lands, and are owned by it. To these tracks the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway switches cars for other railroads, charging $1.75 per car, and the Terminal Company receives a trackage charge of 50 cents per car. It is true that the Terminal Company does a wharfage business and publishes a schedule of its charges, which, while not filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission, shows a charge of 20 cents a ton on cotton seed cake and meal, and this appears as a wharfage charge in the tariffs of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway Company and other railways entering the city of Galveston. And, besides, the Terminal Company was a party to numerous circulars issued by the Southern Pacific Railway Company, and that effective May 23, 1905, was filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission. These circulars gave terminal charges at the port of Galveston. The charge on cotton seed meal and cake was given at 1 cent per 100 pounds. Shipments on through bills of lading include in the freight rate the wharfage charge.

Another and important fact is the control of the properties by the Southern Pacific Company through stock ownership. There is a separation of the companies if we regard only their charters; there is a union of them if we regard their control and operation through the Southern Pacific Company. This control and operation are the important facts to shippers. It is of no consequence that by mere charter declaration the Terminal Company is a wharfage company or the Southern Pacific a holding company. Verbal declarations cannot alter the facts. The control and operation of the Southern Pacific Company of the railroads and the Terminal Company have united them into a system of which all are necessary parts, the Terminal Company as well as the railroad companies. As said by the Interstate Commerce Commission, "the Terminal Company was organized to furnish terminal facilities for the system at the port of Galveston," and it is further said that "through shipments on the railroad lines from and to points in different States of the Union pass and repass over the docks of the Terminal Company. It forms a link in this chain of transportation. It is necessary to complete the avenue through which move shipments over these lines owned by a single corporation." And this unity of the railroad's lines and the terminal facilities is recognized in the lease to Young. By it he agrees to route all of his shipments over "the lines of the Terminal Company and its connections, according to the instructions of said Terminal Company from time to time." And provision is made against the possibility of other lines bidding for the traffic by lower rates. In such event he must give notice to the Terminal Company and give it "the option of meeting such proposed rates," and if the company "elects to do so," then he "shall not divert such shipments, but shall abide by the provisions" of his agreement. And surely a system so constituted and used as an instrument of interstate commerce may not escape regulation as such because one of its constituents is a wharfage company and its dominating power a holding company. As well said by the Interstate Commerce Commission, "a corporation such as this Terminal Company, which has `competing lines,' should not be permitted to defeat the jurisdiction of this Commission by showing that it is not in fact owned by any railroad company. . .. The Terminal Company is part and parcel of the system engaged in the transportation of commerce, and to the extent that such commerce is interstate the Commission has jurisdiction to supervise and control it within statutory limits. To hold otherwise would in effect permit carriers generally, through the organization of separate corporations, to exempt all of their terminals from our regulating authority."

The reasoning of the Commission is justified by the statute. It includes in the term "railroad" "all bridges and ferries used or operated in connection with any railroad, and also all the road in use by any corporation operating a railroad, whether owned or operated under a contract, agreement, or lease, and shall also include all switches, spurs, tracks, and terminal facilities of every kind used or necessary in the transportation of the persons or property designated herein, and also all freight depots, yards, and grounds used or necessary in the transportation or delivery of any of said property."

The property of the Terminal Company is "necessary in the transportation or delivery" of the interstate and foreign freight transported by the lines of the Southern Pacific system. It is the only terminal for freight moving over the lines of such system, the rails of one of those lines, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway Company, connecting with tracks upon the docks of the Terminal Company. That the latter collects a trackage charge from the former and it a switching charge from the Terminal Company are, to quote the Commission, "but incidents of the separate corporations."

In opposition to these views appellants urge the legal individuality of the different railroads and the Terminal Company and cite cases which establish, it is contended, that stock ownership simply or through a holding company does not identify them. We are not concerned to combat the proposition. The record does not present a case of stock ownership merely or of a holding company which was content to hold. It presents a case, as we have already said, of one actively managing and uniting the railroads and the Terminal Company into an organized system. And it is with the system that the law must deal, not with its elements. Such elements may, indeed, be regarded from some standpoints as legal entities; may have, in a sense, separate corporate operation; but they are directed by the same paramount and combining power and made single by it. In all transactions it is treated as single. In the ordinance of the city of Galveston, in the act of 1899, of the legislature of the State, and in public circulars and in the lease of Young, it is the system which is dealt with and not its separate links. And, we have seen, the terminal facilities which the Terminal Company was authorized to maintain were for the system, not for the corporate elements considered separately.

It is next contended that the lease to Young under the facts proven does not constitute an unlawful or undue preference under the Interstate Commerce Act.

To a certain extent we have considered this contention. An absolute advantage to Young cannot be denied. A facility that has enabled him to acquire practically all the export of cotton seed products must have something in it of advantage which other shippers do not receive, and it would seem to proclaim a power working for his benefit which is not working for others. And yet it is urged that there is a contrariety of opinion about it among cotton seed cake producers and as to whether Young is able to dominate the Texas market and to command the foreign trade. The facts, we think, put the matter beyond conjecture or opinion and demonstrate the potency of his situation. That it is a preference, however, is denied; and it is urged that by the agreed statement of facts all cotton seed cake producers "agree that if there was a general establishment of plants in Galveston, so that a monopoly could not be acquired" by Young, "it would be of great benefit to the cotton seed industry." But it is also agreed that neither the Galveston Wharf Company nor the Terminal Company has space enough to afford facilities to "all exporters doing business at Galveston" such as Young. And the Commission found that as a practical matter other shippers could not be given the same facilities on the same conditions as those granted to him, nor could such facilities be secured on the bay front. It was further found that the Terminal Company had indicated that it is not willing to accord shippers generally such facilities, and that the situation of its docks with respect to space is such that it cannot do so even if it were willing. It may be contended that the patrons of a railroad are not obliged to seek or compete for extraordinary facilities in its terminals. But, be that as it may, all shippers must be treated alike.

Appellants bring forward the same argument to support the contention under consideration which they advance to support their first contention, to wit, the right, as owner of the property, to make a lease of its "unused property," subject only to the limitation that there shall be no interference "with the use of the adjacent navigable waters." It would seem that, if the argument have any force at all, it would extend the rights of ownership to used as well as unused property and be exercised in any form of preference, even to the exclusion of some shippers from the wharves. However, as appellants do not press the argument so far we need not dwell upon it and will only add that the terminal facilities contemplated by the ordinance of the city of Galveston and the act of the legislature of Texas confirming it were public terminal facilities, not those which might be granted or withheld in preferences or discriminations.

The last contention advanced is that "the order of the Commission transcends its jurisdiction, in that it regulates commerce purely State and intrastate, and also purely foreign commerce, neither of which is subject to its authority."

In support of this contention it is insisted that the evidence shows the following facts: The cake and meal purchased by Young are bought by him in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, but chiefly in Texas, and shipped to him on bills of lading and way bills, showing the point of origin in those States and the destination at Galveston. The purchases are made for export, there being no consumption of the products at Galveston. His sales to foreign countries are sometimes for immediate and sometimes for future delivery, irrespective of whether he has the product on hand at Galveston. At times he has it on hand. At times, therefore, orders must be filled from cake to be purchased in the interior or then in transit to him. When the cake reaches Galveston it is ground into meal and sacked by Young, and for the meal thus ground and such meal as has been brought to his customers he takes out ships' bills of lading made to his order.

This evidence establishes, appellants contend, that the transit of the cake and meal is absolutely ended at the leased premises at Galveston, and that it is "a final point of concentration and manufacture, the cotton seed cake being there manufactured into meal and sacked for export." But this does not distinguish between the meal and the cake, nor between the meal that is purchased at points outside of Texas and directly exported, from that so purchased and manufactured on the wharves of the Terminal Company. Nor does it take account of the fact that the wharves were intended for shipping facilities, a means of transition from land carriage to water carriage. It is manifest, as we have said, that to make the wharves manufacturing or concentrating points for one shipper and not for all is to give that shipper a preference. And, being a preference, the traffic necessarily comes under the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission. In other words, the manufacture or concentration on the wharves of the Terminal Company are but incidents, under the circumstances presented by the record, in the trans-shipment of the products in export trade and their regulation is within the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission. To hold otherwise would be to disregard, as the Commission said, the substance of things and make evasions of the act of Congress quite easy. It makes no difference, therefore, that the shipments of the products were not made on through bills of lading or whether their initial point was Galveston or some other place in Texas. They were all destined for export and by their delivery to the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway they must be considered as having been delivered to a carrier for transportation to their foreign destination, the Terminal Company being a part of the railway for such purpose. The case, therefore, comes under Coe v. Errol, 116 U.S. 517, where it is said that goods are in interstate, and necessarily as well in foreign, commerce when they have "actually started in the course of transportation to another State, or delivered to a carrier for transportation." In G., C. & S.F. Ry. Co. v. State of Texas, 204 U.S. 403, the facts are different and the case is not apposite.

Decree affirmed.


1000 Characters Remaining reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

User Comments

Listed below are the cases that are cited in this Featured Case. Click the citation to see the full text of the cited case. Citations are also linked in the body of the Featured Case.

Cited Cases

  • No Cases Found

Listed below are those cases in which this Featured Case is cited. Click on the case name to see the full text of the citing case.

Citing Cases