No. 25.

226 U.S. 426 (1913)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided January 6, 1913.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. M.V. Seymour, with whom Mr. Edward C. Stringer and Mr. Edward S. Stringer were on the brief, for plaintiff in error:

Mr. C.H. Christopherson for defendant in error.

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

The argument at bar has been primarily concerned with the question of the validity of the Minnesota statute, considered as having been enacted in the exercise of a power assumed to exist to legislate reasonably in the absence of action by Congress on the subject of the delivery when called for, of cars to be used in interstate traffic. Thus counsel for the defendant in error urges the correctness of the action of the Supreme Court of Minnesota in sustaining the statute upon the hypothesis that Congress had not legislated on the subject and that the act was a reasonable exertion of the power of the State. On the contrary, on behalf of the Railroad Company it is insisted that even upon the assumption that the State had power to deal with the subject for which the statute provides in the absence of legislation by Congress, the enactment is nevertheless void, since it but expresses a policy which by penalization, fines and forfeitures will substitute for a free and unrestrained flow of commerce a service favoring a particular locality and shippers within the confines of one State, to the disadvantage of others. We are not, however, called upon to test the merits of these conflicting contentions, since we are of opinion that by the act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 584, c. 3591, known as the Hepburn Act, amendatory of the act to regulate commerce, Congress has legislated concerning the deliveries of cars in interstate commerce by carriers subject to the act.

In the original act to regulate commerce the term "transportation" was declared to embrace all instrumentalities of shipment or carriage. By the Hepburn Act it was declared that the term transportation (italics ours) — "shall include cars and other vehicles and all instrumentalities and facilities of shipment or carriage, irrespective of ownership or of any contract, express or implied, for the use thereof and all services in connection with the receipt, delivery, elevation, and transfer in transit, ventilation, refrigeration or icing, storage, and handling of property transported; and it shall be the duty of every carrier subject to the provisions of this Act to provide and furnish such transportation upon reasonable request therefor, and to establish through routes and just and reasonable rates applicable thereto."

The purpose of Congress to specifically impose a duty upon a carrier in respect to the furnishing of cars for interstate traffic is of course by these provisions clearly declared. That Congress was specially concerning itself with that subject is further shown by a proviso inserted to supplement § 1 of the original act imposing the duty under certain circumstances to furnish switch connections for interstate traffic, whereby it is specifically declared that the common carrier making such connections "shall furnish cars for the movement of such traffic to the best of its ability without discrimination in favor of or against any such shipper." Not only is there then a specific duty imposed to furnish cars for interstate traffic upon reasonable request therefor, but other applicable sections of the Act to Regulate Commerce give remedies for the violation of that duty. Thus, by § 8 it is provided "That in case any common carrier subject to the provisions of this act . . . shall omit to do any act, matter or thing in this act required to be done, such common carrier shall be liable to the person or persons injured thereby for the full amount of damage sustained in consequence of any such violation of the provisions of this act, together with a reasonable counsel or attorney's fee, to be fixed by the court in every case of recovery, which attorney's fee shall be taxed and collected as part of the costs in the case." Further by § 9 an election is given to either make complaint to the Interstate Commerce Commission or to bring, in a designated court, an action for the recovery of damages, and by § 10 it is made a criminal offense for an employe of a corporation carrier to "wilfully omit or fail to do any act, matter, or thing in this act required to be done."

As legislation concerning the delivery of cars for the carriage of interstate traffic was clearly a matter of interstate commerce regulation, even if such subject was embraced within that class of powers concerning which the State had a right to exert its authority in the absence of legislation by Congress, it must follow in consequence of the action of Congress to which we have referred that the power of the State over the subject-matter ceased to exist from the moment that Congress exerted its paramount and all embracing authority over the subject. We say this because the elementary and long settled doctrine is that there can be no divided authority over interstate commerce and that the regulations of Congress on that subject are supreme. It results, therefore, that in a case where from the particular nature of certain subjects the State may exert authority until Congress acts under the assumption that Congress by inaction has tacitly authorized it to do so, action by Congress destroys the possibility of such assumption, since such action, when exerted, covers the whole field and renders the State impotent to deal with a subject over which it had no inherent but only permissive power. Southern Ry. Co. v. Reid, 222 U.S. 424.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Minnesota must therefore be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Judgment reversed.


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