MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.
The United States on January 4, 1911, commenced this suit to prevent the further execution of an agreement to which the defendants were parties and which it was charged constituted the foundation of an illegal combination in violation of the Anti-Trust Act of July 2, 1890, (26 Stat. 209, c. 647). The relief asked moreover in the nature of things embraced certain subsidiary agreements made during the course of the execution of the main contract in furtherance of its alleged prohibited result. The principal agreement was made in 1908 to last until February 28, 1911, but was to continue in force thereafter from year to year unless not later than December 1st of each year a notice of the intention not to continue was given. On December 3, 1910, however, just a month before this suit was filed, the agreement in question was renewed for a period of five years.
We give from the argument on behalf of the United States a statement of the corporate defendants to the bill, some of whom had become parties to the alleged illegal combination by subsidiary agreement or agreements made at a later date than the original contract.
1. "The Allan Line Steamship Company, Limited, hereafter called the `Allan Line,' a British corporation, operating from Portland, Boston, and Philadelphia to London, Liverpool, and Glasgow and return.
3. "Its ships, together with those of its subsidiary company, defendant International Navigation Company, Limited, also operating from New York and Philadelphia to Liverpool and Southampton, . . . are referred to as the `American Line.' Besides International Navigation Company, Limited, it also controls through stock ownership the defendants British and North Atlantic Steam Navigation Company, Limited, Societe Anonyme de Navigation Belge Americaine, and Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, Limited.
4. "British and North Atlantic Steam Navigation Company, Limited, a British corporation, hereafter called the `Dominion Line,' operating from Portland to Liverpool and return.
5. "Societe Anonyme de Navigation Belge Americaine, a Belgian corporation, hereafter called the `Red Star Line,' operating from New York and Philadelphia to Antwerp and return.
6. "Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, Limited, a British corporation, hereafter called the `White Star Line,' operating from New York and Boston to Liverpool and Southampton and return.
7. "The Anchor Line (Henderson Brothers), Limited, a British corporation, hereafter called the `Anchor Line,' operating from New York to Glasgow and return.
8. "Canadian Pacific Railway Company, a Canadian corporation, operating a regular line of steamships, hereafter called the `Canadian Pacific Line,' from Montreal, Quebec, and St. John in the Dominion of Canada to Liverpool, England, and return. It also owns and operates a transcontinental railroad which, partly through branches running into the United States and partly through connections with the Wabash and other American railroads,
9. "The Cunard Steamship Company, Limited, a British corporation, hereafter called the `Cunard Line,' operating from New York and Boston to Liverpool in England, Fiume in Hungary, and Trieste in Austria, and return.
10. "Hamburg-Americkanische Packetfahrt-Actien Gesellschaft, a German corporation, hereafter called the `Hamburg-American Line,' operating from New York to Hamburg and return.
11. "Nord Deutscher Lloyd, a German corporation, hereafter called the `North German Lloyd Line,' operating from New York, Baltimore, and Galveston to Bremen and return.
12. "Nederlandsh-Amerikaansche Stoomvaart Maatschapij (Holland-Amerika Lijn), a Netherlands corporation, hereafter called the `Holland-American Line,' operating between New York and Rotterdam and return.
13. "Russian East Asiatic Steamship Company, a Russian corporation, hereafter called the `Russian-America Line,' operating between New York and Libau, Russia, and return."
The individuals named as defendants were the principal officers and agents in this country of the corporate defendants. We extract from the argument on behalf of the Government the following statement of the main provisions of the principal agreement.
"(1) The parties guarantee to each other certain definite percentages of the entire steerage traffic carried by them both eastbound and westbound between European ports and the United States and Canada, except Mediterranean passengers.
"(2) Any line exceeding its allotment must pay into the pool a compensation price of £ 4 for each excess passenger, which sum is to be paid proportionately to the line or lines
"(3) Each line must make a weekly report of the number of steerage passengers carried, and from these the secretary of the pool compiles weekly statements showing the pool position of each line. He also prepares each month provisional accounts of the compensation due from lines which have exceeded their quota. This must be paid immediately on pain of heavy penalties. Final settlements are made at the end of each year.
"(4) Each line undertakes to arrange its rates and service in such manner that the number of steerage passengers it actually carries shall correspond as nearly as possible with the number allotted to it by the contract. If any line exceeds its proportion it is in duty bound to adopt measures calculated to bring about a correct adjustment. The other lines may either await the action of the individual line or a majority of the lines representing 75 per cent. of the pool shares can immediately order rates on a plus line to be raised or rates on a minus line to be lowered, and from this order there is no appeal. It is expressly stated, however, that `all parties were unanimously of the opinion that the adjustment is, whenever practicable, to be effected not by reducing the rates of one Line but on the contrary by raising the rates of one or several of the Lines.
"(5) No line has the right to alter its steerage rates without having previously informed the secretary; i.e., all lines are bound to maintain existing rates until the other pool members are notified.
"(6) No circulars or publications shall be issued by any line reflecting upon or instituting comparisons with any other conference line unfavorable to the latter, and no party shall support (advertise in) any newspaper which shall systematically attack any conference line.
"(7) To insure the faithful performance of the agreement,
"(8) New lines may be admitted or the terms of the agreement altered only by unanimous vote, unless otherwise provided in the contract.
"(9) To assist in the carrying out of the agreement a Secretary was appointed.
"(10) Regular meetings are to be held alternately at London and Cologne for the purpose of carrying out this agreement and agreements collateral thereto. These meetings constitute what is called The Atlantic Conference.
"Representatives of the Atlantic Conference Lines likewise meet in New York in what is called the American Atlantic Conference or New York Conference."
It is to be observed in addition that the agreement expressly provided that the withdrawal of any one of the lines from the contract should release all others from all future obligation unless the others agreed among themselves to continue.
To the elucidation of the view we take of the case it suffices to say that as the result of the answers of the defendants the issues which arose for decision were twofold in character: Did the Anti-Trust Act relate to the business of ocean transportation with which the assailed agreement and those subsidiary to it were concerned; and if so, did the agreements and the conduct of the defendants under them, constitute a violation of the provisions of the Anti-Trust Act?
The court below, although deciding that the ocean
The contentions which presumably were urged in the court below and which it is deemed by the parties here arise for decision will at once appear by giving a brief statement concerning those made on this appeal by the United States and by the defendants as appellees or on a cross appeal. On behalf of the United States it is insisted that the provisions of the Anti-Trust Act govern the subject, that the terms of the agreement constitute a plain violation of that act, that the conduct of the parties under
While this mere outline shows the questions which are at issue and which would require to be considered if we had the right to decide the controversy, it at once further demonstrates that we may not, without disregarding our duty, pass upon them because of their absolute want of present actuality, that is, because of their now moot character as an inevitable legal consequence springing from the European war which is now flagrant — a matter of which we take judicial notice. Montgomery v. United States, 15 Wall. 395; United States v. Lapene, 17 Wall. 601; 7 Moore's International Law Digest, 244, 250. The legal proposition is not in substance controverted, but it is urged in view of the character of the questions and the possibility or probability that on the cessation of war the parties will resume or recreate their asserted illegal combination, we should now decide the controversies in order that by operation of the rule to be established any attempt at renewal of or creation of the combination in the future will be rendered impossible. But this merely upon a prophecy as to future conditions invokes the exercise of judicial power not to decide an existing controversy, but to establish a rule for controlling predicted future conduct, contrary to the elementary principle which was thus stated in California v. San Pablo & Tulare R.R., 149 U.S. 308, 314: "The duty of this court, as of every judicial tribunal, is limited to determining rights of persons or of property, which are actually controverted in the particular case before it. When, in determining such rights, it becomes necessary to give an opinion upon a question of law, that opinion may have weight as a precedent for future decisions. But the court is not empowered to decide moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare, for the government of future cases, principles or rules of law which cannot affect the result as to the thing in issue
See also Lord v. Veazie, 8 How. 251; Cheong Ah Moy v. United States, 113 U.S. 216; Little v. Bowers, 134 U.S. 547; Jones v. Montague, 194 U.S. 147; Security Life Insurance Co. v. Prewitt, 200 U.S. 446; Richardson v. McChesney, 218 U.S. 487; Stearns v. Wood, 236 U.S. 75.
Our attention has indeed been directed to a recent decision in United States v. Prince Line, Limited, 220 Fed. Rep. 230, where although it was recognized that "The combination against which this proceeding is directed, composed of two British and two German steamship companies, has been practically dissolved as a result of the European War," and the questions presented "have become largely academic," the court nevertheless proceeded to consider and dispose of the case on the merits, observing in conclusion, however: "In view of the fact that the logic of events has turned this investigation into an autopsy, instead of a determination of live issues it seems unnecessary to discuss the persuasiveness of the proofs," etc. But we cannot give our implied sanction to what was thus done or accept the persuasiveness of the reasoning upon which the action was based in view of the settled decisions of this court to the contrary and the fundamental principles of public policy upon which they are based. In fact at this term, although we were pressed to take jurisdiction of a cause in a capital case after the death penalty had been inflicted on the accused, we declined to do so and dismissed for want of jurisdiction because the case had become a moot one. Director of Prisons v. Court of First Instance of the Province of Cavite, post, p. 633.
Nor is there anything in United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Association, 166 U.S. 290, and Southern Pacific Terminal Co. v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 219 U.S. 498,
Although it thus follows that there are no issues on the merits before us which we have a right to decide, it yet remains to be determined what our order should be with reference to the decree below rendered, which as we have seen was against the Government and in favor of the assailed combination because it was found not to be within the prohibitions of the Anti-Trust Act. As established by the ruling in South Spring Hill Gold Co. v. Amador Gold Co., 145 U.S. 300, our conclusion on such subject must be reached without at all considering the merits of the cause
And it is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.