Penna. RR Co. v. Puritan Coal Co. , 237 U.S. 121 ( 1915 )


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  • 237 U.S. 121 (1915)

    PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD COMPANY
    v.
    PURITAN COAL MINING COMPANY.

    No. 76.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued November 11, 1914.
    Decided April 5, 1915.
    ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA.

    *125 Mr. Francis I. Gowen, with whom Mr. Frederic D. McKenney and Mr. John G. Johnson were on the brief, for plaintiff in error.

    Mr. A.M. Liveright and Mr. A.L. Cole for defendant in error.

    *126 MR. JUSTICE LAMAR, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

    The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, an interstate carrier, was sued in a state court for damages caused by its *127 failure to furnish the Puritan Company with cars in which to load coal for shipment to points within and without the State. The pleadings alleged not only that the carrier had failed to perform its duty to furnish cars, but that in violation of a state statute it had unjustly discriminated against the Puritan Company by failing to distribute cars in accordance with the carrier's own rule that, in time of shortage, they should be allotted to the coal companies on the basis of mine capacity.

    The trial court held that the plaintiff was entitled to recover damages caused by the unjust discrimination in distribution of cars. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania did likewise and affirmed the judgment in favor of the plaintiff. 237 Pa. St. 420.

    The Railway Company then brought the case here insisting in effect that (1) the determination of the proper basis for the distribution of cars was a matter calling for the exercise of the power of the Interstate Commerce Commission; (2) that no court had jurisdiction of a suit against it for discriminatory allotment until after the Commission had determined that its rule for distribution was improper; and (3) that no suit for damages against an interstate carrier could be brought for damages occasioned by a failure to deliver cars or for an unjust discrimination in distribution, except in a United States court.

    1. These contentions involve a consideration of the jurisdiction of the Commission, of the state courts, and of the Federal courts. But fortunately it will not be necessary to enter into an elaborate discussion of each of the questions.

    Section 3[1] of the Commerce Act makes it unlawful for *128 the carrier to unduly prefer one shipper over another. Section 8[1a] gives a right of action against the carrier for damages occasioned by his doing an act prohibited by the statute, and § 9 provides:

    "That any person or persons claiming to be damaged by any common carrier subject to the provisions of this act may either make complaint to the Commission as hereinafter provided for, or may bring suit in his or their own behalf for the recovery of the damages for which such common carrier may be liable under the provisions of this act, in any district or circuit court of the United States of competent jurisdiction; but such person or persons shall not have the right to pursue both of said remedies, and must in each case elect which one of the two methods of procedure herein provided for he or they will adopt."

    It will be seen that this section does more than create a right and designate the court in which it is to be enforced. It gives the shipper the option to proceed before the Commission or in the Federal courts. The express grant of the right of choice between those two remedies was the exclusion of any other remedy in a state court; and that the Federal tribunals have exclusive jurisdiction of a certain class of cases referred to in § 9 has been recognized *129 in the few decisions dealing with the question. See Copp v. Railroad Co., 43 La. Ann. 511; Carlisle v. Missouri Pacific, 168 Missouri, 656; Western &c. R.R. v. White, 82 S.E. Rep. 644; Gulf, C. & S.F. Ry. v. Moore, 98 Texas, 302; Puritan v. Pennsylvania Co., 237 Pa. St. 448. In Mitchell Company v. Pennsylvania Railroad, 230 U.S. 250, the same view of the statute was taken in discussing another, but related, question. This construction is also supported by the legislative history of the statute. For while the Hepburn Act, as a convenience to shippers, permitted suits on Reparation Orders to be brought in the Federal court of the District where the plaintiff resided or the Company had its principal office; and while the act of 1910 (36 Stat. 554) in further aid of shippers, permitted suits on Reparation Orders to be brought in state or Federal courts, it made no change in §§ 8 and 9 which, as shown above, gave the shipper the option to make complaints to the Commission or to bring suit in a United States court.

    2. But §§ 8 and 9 standing alone might have been construed to give the Federal courts exclusive jurisdiction of all suits for damages occasioned by the carrier violating any of the old duties which were preserved and the new obligations which were imposed by the Commerce Act. And, evidently, for the purpose of preventing such a result, the Proviso to § 22 declared that "nothing in this act contained shall in any way abridge or alter the remedies now existing at common law or by statute, but the provisions of this act are in addition to such remedies."

    That proviso was added at the end of the statute, — not to nullify other parts of the Act, or to defeat rights or remedies given by preceding sections, — but to preserve all existing rights which were not inconsistent with those created by the statute. It was also intended to preserve existing remedies, such as those by which a shipper could, in a state court, recover for damages to *130 property while in the hands of the interstate carrier; damages caused by delay in shipment; damages caused by failure to comply with its common law duties and the like. But for this proviso to § 22 it might have been claimed that, Congress having entered the field, the whole subject of liability of carrier to shippers in interstate commerce had been withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the state courts and this clause was added to indicate that the Commerce Act, in giving rights of action in Federal courts, was not intended to deprive the state courts of their general and concurrent jurisdiction. Galveston &c. R.R. v. Wallace, 223 U.S. 481.

    Construing, therefore, §§ 8, 9 and 22 in connection with the statute as a whole, it appears that the Act was both declaratory and creative. It gave shippers new rights, while at the same time preserving existing causes of action. It did not supersede the jurisdiction of state courts in any case, new or old, where the decision did not involve the determination of matters calling for the exercise of the administrative power and discretion of the Commission; or relate to a subject as to which the jurisdiction of the Federal courts had otherwise been made exclusive. Compare Abilene Case, 204 U.S. 439, 446; Robinson v. Balt. & Ohio, 222 U.S. 506; 36 Stat. 551 (15); 38 Stat. 220.

    In the light of these conclusions, and bearing in mind that the damages sued for here are found to have been inflicted during the anthracite strike of 1902 (before the passage of the Hepburn Act of 1906) it becomes necessary to determine whether the plaintiff's suit was based on a right of action as against an interstate carrier of which the state court had jurisdiction.

    3. The difficulty in answering the question grows out of the double character of the pleadings and the construction given the facts by the state court.

    The "Statement" contains four counts — one on the common law liability for failure to furnish cars, and the *131 other three for damages occasioned by unjust discrimination. The plaintiff seems to have ignored his common law cause of action and the trial court entered a judgment for plaintiff for damages as for unjust discrimination. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the judgment, but said that `if the case was with the plaintiff on its facts, and it is so found there was an offense threefold in character: (1) the offense against the common law, (2) an offense against the Pennsylvania statute of June 3, 1883, making undue and unreasonable discrimination unlawful, (3) an offense against § 3 of the Federal statute regulating interstate commerce.'

    There are several decisions, already cited, which hold that suits against Railroads for unjust discrimination in interstate commerce can only be brought in the Federal courts. But it must be borne in mind that there are two forms of discrimination — one in the rule and the other in the manner of its enforcement; one in promulgating a discriminatory rule, the other in the unfair enforcement of a reasonable rule. In a suit where the rule of practice itself is attacked as unfair or discriminatory, a question is raised which calls for the exercise of the judgment and discretion of the administrative power which has been vested by Congress in the Commission. It is for that body to say whether such a rule unjustly discriminates against one class of shippers in favor of another. Until that body has declared the practice to be discriminatory and unjust no court has jurisdiction of a suit against an interstate carrier for damages occasioned by its enforcement. When the Commission has declared the rule to be unjust, redress must be sought before the Commission or in the United States courts of competent jurisdiction as provided in § 9.

    But if the carrier's rule, fair on its face, has been unequally applied and the suit is for damages, occasioned by its violation or discriminatory enforcement, there is *132 no administrative question involved, the courts being called on to decide a mere question of fact as to whether the carrier has violated the rule to plaintiff's damage. Such suits though against an interstate carrier for damages arising in interstate commerce, may be prosecuted either in the state or Federal courts.

    4. It makes little difference what name is given the cause of action sued on in the present case; or whether it is treated as a suit for a breach of the carrier's common law duty to furnish cars, or an action for damages for the carrier's unjust discrimination in allotting cars to the Berwind-White Company, while at the same time refusing to follow its own rule and furnish them to the Puritan Company on the basis of mine capacity. In either case the liability is the same. For where the carrier performs its duty to A and at the same time fails to perform its duty to B, there has been, in a sense, a discrimination against B. In those instances neither the cause of action, nor the jurisdiction of the court, is defeated because the breach of duty is also called an unjust discrimination.

    In the present case the pleadings contained no reference to the Commerce Act. The damages grew solely out of the fact that the Puritan Company failed to receive the number of cars to which it was entitled. The plaintiff's right and measure of recovery would have been exactly the same if the cars had been furnished to a Manufacturing Plant, instead of to the Berwind-White Coal Company. The plaintiff's cause of action and damages would have been the same if the failure to receive the cars had been due to the fact that the carriers negligently allowed empty cars to stand on side tracks; or, if by reason of a negligent mistake they had been sent to the wrong point. The motive causing the short supply of cars was therefore wholly immaterial, except as corroboration of other evidence showing an actual shortage of cars, so that, if we ignore the plaintiff's characterization of the defendant's *133 conduct, and consider the nature of the case, alleged in the first count and established by the evidence, it will appear that the Puritan Company was entitled to recover because of the fact that the carrier failed to comply with its common law liability to furnish it with a proper number of cars. What was a proper supply was a matter of fact.

    5. Ordinarily a shipper, on reasonable demand, would be entitled to all the cars which it could promptly load with freight to be transported over the carrier's line. But that is not an absolute right and the carrier is not liable if its failure to furnish cars was the result of sudden and great demands which it had no reason to apprehend would be made and which it could not reasonably have been expected to meet in full. The common law of old in requiring the carrier to receive all goods and passengers recognized that "if his coach be full" he was not liable for failing to transport more than he could carry. Hutchinson on Carriers, 146; Lovett v. Hobbs, 2 Shower, 127; Riley v. Horne, 2 Bing. 217; Peet v. Ry., 20 Wisconsin, 594. The same principle is applicable to those who transport freight in cars drawn by steam locomotives. The law exacts only what is reasonable from such carriers — but, at the same time, requires that they should be equally reasonable in the treatment of their patrons. In case of car shortage occasioned by unexpected demands, they are bound to treat shippers fairly, if not, identically. In determining how the inadequate supply shall be distributed, it might be necessary to consider the character of the freight tendered — whether perishable or staple and whether a necessity of life needed in crowded cities and the like. In the distribution of cars to coal companies it might be necessary to determine whether account should be taken of system cars, foreign cars, private cars and the company's own coal cars. In many cases the determination of such an issue would call for the exercise of the regulating function of the Commission. That was true *134 in Morrisdale Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania Railroad, 230 U.S. 304, 312-314. There the plaintiff admitted that it had received all the cars to which it was entitled under the carrier's rule, but insisted that the rule itself was unreasonable and unjustly discriminatory since it took no account of private and foreign cars controlled by the mining company. The reasonableness of the rule was a matter for the Commission.

    6. The present suit, however, is not of that nature. It is not based on the ground that the Pennsylvania Railroad's rule to distribute in case of car shortage on the basis of mine capacity, was unfair, unreasonable, discriminatory, or preferential. But, as shown above, the plaintiff alleged it was damaged by reason of the carrier's failure to furnish it with cars to which it was entitled. In support of that issue of fact the plaintiff relied on the carrier's own rule as evidence. That rule, and the carrier's Distribution Sheets, showed the number of cars to which the Plaintiff, the Berwind-White Company and other Coal Companies in the district, were each entitled. The evidence further showed that the plaintiff did not receive that number of cars to which by rule it was thus entitled. So that on the trial there was no administrative question as to the reasonableness of the rule but only a claim for damages occasioned by its violation in failing to furnish cars. Penna. R.R. Co. v. International Coal Co., 230 U.S. 197. The state and Federal courts had concurrent jurisdiction of such claim against an interstate carrier without a preliminary finding by the Commission.

    7. It is, however, argued that such a question, calling for the exercise of the administrative function of the Commission, did in fact arise out of the defendant's claim and contention that the court should have taken private cars into account in determining whether the plaintiff received the number to which it was entitled. But, probably because of the carrier's own rule of distribution, there was *135 no pleading raising such an issue, and there was no sufficient evidence as to the number of private cars received by the Puritan, the Berwind-White, or other companies. The information on that subject was peculiarly within the knowledge of the carrier and proof adequate to furnish a basis for the contention should have been offered — if, indeed, the carrier could have been heard to insist that private cars should have been counted when its own rule, as well as the general practice in the United States, was to exclude them in calculating the number of coal cars to which each mine was entitled. Neither need we inquire whether the fact that the Commission subsequently announced a rule, under which private cars had to be taken into account in making the distribution, could be given a retrospective effect. For, be that as it may be, the exception was properly disallowed, because, as held by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, no relevant evidence was offered to support the contention, and no point was raised during the trial, that private cars should be counted in the distribution.

    Judgment affirmed.

    NOTES

    [1] "SEC. 3. It shall be unlawful for any common carrier subject to the provisions of this act to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, company, firm, corporation, or locality, or any particular description of traffic, in any respect whatsoever, or to subject any particular person, company, firm, corporation, or locality, or any particular description of traffic, to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage in any respect whatsoever."

    [1a] "SEC. 8. That in case any common carrier subject to the provisions of this act shall do, cause to be done, or permit to be done any act, matter, or thing in this act prohibited or declared to be unlawful, or 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 damages 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."

Document Info

DocketNumber: 76

Citation Numbers: 237 U.S. 121, 35 S. Ct. 484, 59 L. Ed. 867, 1915 U.S. LEXIS 1317

Judges: Lamar, After Making the Foregoing Statement

Filed Date: 4/5/1915

Precedential Status: Precedential

Modified Date: 5/5/2017

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