McChord v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co.
183 U.S. 483 (1902)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

McChord v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 183 U.S. 483 (1902)

McChord v. Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company

Nos. 141-145

Argued January 7-8, 1901

Decided January 6, 1902

183 U.S. 483

Syllabus

By the decrees in these cases, the Railroad Commission of the State of Kentucky was enjoined from proceeding to fix rates under a certain act of the General Assembly charged to be unconstitutional, the ground of equity jurisdiction being threatened multiplicity of suits, and irreparable injury.

This Court, being of opinion that, under the Kentucky statutes, the duty of enforcing the rates it might fix vested in the Railroad Commission, held that none of the alleged consequences could be availed of as threatened before the rates were fixed at all.

These are appeals from the final decrees of the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Kentucky, perpetually

Page 183 U. S. 484

enjoining Charles C. McChord and others, railroad commissioners of the State of Kentucky, from doing any of the things required by, or from taking any action whatever against complainants under, a certain act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky approved March 10, 1900, which is entitled and reads as follows:

"An Act to Prevent Railroad Companies or Corporations Owning and Operating a Line or Lines of Railroad, and its Officers, Agents, and Employees, from Charging, Collecting, or Receiving Extortionate Freight or Passenger Rates in this Commonwealth, and to Further Increase and Define the Duties and Powers of the Railroad Commission in Reference Thereto, and Prescribing the Manner of Enforcing the Provisions of this Act and Penalties for the Violations of its Provisions."

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Kentucky:"

"SEC. 1. When complaint shall be made to the railroad commission accusing any railroad company or corporation of charging, collecting or receiving extortionate freight or passenger rates over its line or lines of railroad in this commonwealth, or when said commission shall receive information or have reason to believe that such rate or rates are being charged, collected, or received, it shall be the duty of said commission to hear and determine the matter as speedily as possible. They shall give the company or corporation complained of not less than ten days' notice, by letter mailed to an officer or employee of said company or corporation, stating the time and place of the hearing of same, also the nature of the complaint or matter to be investigated, and shall hear such statements, arguments, or evidence offered by the parties as the commission may deem relevant, and should the commission determine that the company or corporation is or has been guilty of extortion, said commission shall make and fix a just and reasonable rate, toll, or compensation which said railroad company or corporation may charge, collect, or receive for like services thereafter rendered. The rate, toll, or compensation so fixed by the commission shall be entered and be an order on the record book of their office, and signed by the commission, and a copy thereof

Page 183 U. S. 485

mailed to an officer, agent, or employee of the railroad company or corporation affected thereby, and shall be in full force and effect at the expiration of ten days thereafter, and may be revoked or modified by an order likewise entered of record. And should said railroad company or corporation, or any officer, agent, or employee thereof charge, collect, or receive a greater or higher rate, toll, or compensation for like services thereafter rendered than that made and fixed by said commission as herein provided, said company or corporation, and said officer, agent, or employee shall each be deemed guilty of extortion, and upon conviction shall be fined for the first offense in any sum not less than five hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, and upon a second conviction, in any sum not less than one thousand dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, and for third and succeeding convictions, in any sum not less than two thousand dollars nor more than five thousand dollars."

"SEC. 2. The circuit court of any county into or through which the line or lines of road carrying such passenger or freight owned or operated by said railroad, and the Franklin circuit court, shall have jurisdiction of the offense against the railroad company or corporation offending, and the circuit court of the county where such offense may be committed by said officer, agent, or employee shall have jurisdiction in all prosecutions against said officer, agent, or employee."

"SEC. 3. Prosecutions under this act shall be by indictment."

"SEC. 4. All prosecutions under this act shall be commenced within two years after the offense shall have been committed."

"SEC. 5. In making said investigation, said commission may, when deemed necessary, take the depositions of witnesses before an examiner or notary public, whose fee shall be paid by the state, and upon the certificate of the chairman of the commission, approved by the governor, the auditor shall draw his warrant upon the treasurer for its payment."

All the bills sought the same relief, and their averments, excepting those in respect of alleged contracts with the state in relation to rates set up in the bills of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company and of the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway Company, were in substance the same.

Page 183 U. S. 486

The Act of March 10, 1900, was set out in full, its provisions recapitulated, and complainants' view of the legal effect thereof given. The third paragraph was:

"All of your orator's rates charged, collected, or received within the State of Kentucky are just and reasonable, and have not been sufficient for many years to give it a fair return upon the reasonable value of its investment, notwithstanding it has at all times operated its property with the strictest economy and in the most skilful manner."

It was then averred that it was the duty of the railroad commission to see that the laws relating to all railroads, except street, were faithfully executed, and to exercise a general supervision over the railroads of the state; that its functions were administrative; that it was not established as a court, and that, under the state constitution, it could not be permitted to exercise judicial powers. That all common carriers were subject only to the requirement that their rates should be just and reasonable, and they were in case of controversy entitled to have the judgment of the courts on that question; but that the act referred to singled out railroad corporations, and deprived them of any opportunity to have a judicial determination of the reasonableness of their rates when disputed, substituted the nonjudicial determination of the railroad commission, and subjected them to penalties, there being no infliction of penalties provided as to other common carriers. That if defendants be permitted to proceed under the act, each complainant

"will be compelled to charge the rates fixed by them, without any opportunity for a judicial investigation and determination as to their reasonableness, and it will thus be deprived of the lawful use of its property, and, in substance and effect, of its property itself, without due process of law, and will also be denied the equal protection of the laws, in violation of Section 1 of Article XIV of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States."

It was further averred that the act was in conflict with clause 3 of Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution of the United States, giving Congress the exclusive power to regulate commerce among the states, and with the acts of Congress in that behalf.

Page 183 U. S. 487

The bills then continued:

"And defendants have called for and obtained from your orator a list of rates fixed and charged by it for transportation of freight and passengers over its railroads in the State of Kentucky for the purpose of considering whether or not they shall be altered and reduced in accordance with the terms of said act, and are giving it out in speeches and interviews that they intend to proceed at once under said act, and unless restrained by the order of this Court defendants will proceed at once to hear and determine complaints under said act, although the same is in contravention of the Constitution of the United States in all the particulars hereinabove set out, and is therefore null and void, and will proceed thereupon to reduce your orator's rates to such as they think your orator should charge, and will thereafter at pleasure modify and still further reduce the rates so fixed, and if your orator does not observe the rates so fixed, no matter how unjustly and unreasonably low, your orator will be subjected to innumerable prosecutions throughout the State of Kentucky for failing to comply with such rates fixed in this unconstitutional manner, and it will be subjected to innumerable suits by consignors and consignees, who will claim the right to ship at said rates so unconstitutionally fixed and to sue for any excess they may be charged over said rates, though rightfully charged, and at the same time all your orator's officers and agents and servants, though perfectly innocent of any offense, and though merely assisting your orator to maintain its constitutional rights, will be indicted, prosecuted, and heavily fined, to the great demoralization of the public service which your orator is bound to render, and so it is, unless said defendants are restrained by the order of this Court from proceeding under said act, your orator's contract rights will be impaired, it will be deprived of its property without due process of law, denied the equal protection of the law, and subjected to great and irreparable wrong and injury, and to a vast multiplicity of prosecutions and actions in the courts of said state."

The cases were disposed of on demurrer.

The Constitution of the State of Kentucky provided:

"§ 209. Railroad commission -- Number -- Qualifications --

Page 183 U. S. 488

Powers -- Election -- Term of office -- Removal of. -- A commission is hereby established, to be known as 'The Railroad Commission,' which shall be composed of three commissioners. During the session of the General Assembly which convenes in December, eighteen hundred and ninety-one, and before the first day of June, eighteen hundred and ninety-five, the governor shall appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, said three commissioners, one from each superior court district as now established, and said appointees shall take their office at the expiration of the terms of the present incumbents. The commissioners so appointed shall continue in office during the term of the present governor, and until their successors are elected and qualified. At the regular election in eighteen hundred and ninety-five, and every four years thereafter, the commissioners shall be elected, one in each superior court district, by the qualified voters thereof at the same time and for the same term as the governor. No person shall be eligible to said office unless he be at the time of his election at least thirty years of age, a citizen of Kentucky two years, and a resident of the district from which he is chosen one year next preceding his election. Any vacancy in this office shall be filled as provided in section one hundred and fifty-two of this Constitution. The General Assembly may, from time to time, change said districts so as to equalize the population thereof, and may, if deemed expedient, require that the commissioners be all elected by the qualified voters of the state at large. And if so required, one commissioner shall be from each district. No person in the service of any railroad or common carrier, company, or corporation, or of any firm or association conducting business as a common carrier, or in anywise peculiarly interested in such company, corporation, firm, or association, or in the railroad business, or as a common carrier, shall hold such office. The powers and duties of the railroad commissioners shall be regulated by law, and until otherwise provided by law, the commission so created shall have the same powers and jurisdiction, perform the same duties, be subject to the same regulations, and receive the same compensation as now conferred, prescribed, and allowed by law to the existing railroad commissioners.

Page 183 U. S. 489

The General Assembly may, for cause, address any of said commissioners out of office by similar proceedings as in the case of judges of the court of appeals, and the General Assembly shall enact laws to prevent the nonfeasance and misfeasance in office of said commissioners, and to impose proper penalties therefor."

"§ 218. Penalty for charging more for short than long haul -- Power of commission. -- It shall be unlawful for any person or corporation owning or operating a railroad in this state, or any common carrier, to charge or receive any greater compensation in the aggregate for the transportation of passengers, or of property of like kind, under substantially similar circumstances and conditions, for a shorter than for a longer distance over the same line, in the same direction, the shorter being included within the longer distance; but this shall not be construed as authorizing any common carrier, or person, or corporation owning or operating a railroad in this state, to receive as great compensation for a shorter as for a longer distance; provided that, upon application to the railroad commission, such common carrier, or person, or corporation owning or operating a railroad in this state may, in special cases, after investigation by the commission, be authorized to charge less for longer than for shorter distances for the transportation of passengers or property, and the commission may from time to time prescribe the extent to which such common carrier, or person, or corporation, owning or operating a railroad in this state may be relieved from the operations of this section."

The following are sections of the General Laws of Kentucky of 1894:

"§ 816. Extortion -- What is. -- If any railroad corporation shall charge, collect, or receive more than a just and reasonable rate of toll or compensation for the transportation of passengers or freight in this state, or for the use of any railroad car upon its track, or upon any track it has control of, or the right to use in this state, it shall be guilty of extortion."

"§ 817. Discrimination -- What is. -- If any corporation engaged in operating a railroad in this state shall, directly or indirectly, by any special rate, rebate, drawback, or other device,

Page 183 U. S. 490

charge, demand, collect, or receive from any person a greater or less compensation for any service rendered in the transportation of passengers or property than it charges, demands, collects, or receives from any other person for doing for him a like and contemporaneous service in the transportation of a like kind of traffic, it shall be deemed guilty of unjust discrimination."

"§ 818. Preference or advantage forbidden -- Rules defining same -- Quantity of freight. -- It shall be unlawful for any corporation to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person or locality, or any particular description of traffic, in any respect whatever, in the transportation of a like kind of traffic; 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. . . ."

"§ 819. Penalty in damages for extortion, discrimination, preference -- Jurisdiction -- Duty of commission -- Limitation. -- Any railroad corporation that shall be guilty of extortion or unjust discrimination, or of giving to any person or locality, or to any description of traffic, an undue or unreasonable preference or advantage, shall, upon conviction, be fined for the first offense in any sum not less than five hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, and upon a second conviction, in any sum not less than five hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, and upon a third conviction, in any sum not less than two thousand dollars nor more than five thousand dollars. The circuit court of any county into or through which the line of railroad may run, owned or operated by the corporation alleged to be guilty as aforesaid, and the Franklin Circuit Court, shall have jurisdiction of the offense, which shall be prosecuted by indictment or by action in the name of the commonwealth, upon information filed by the board of railroad commissioners, and such railroad corporation shall also be liable in damages to the party aggrieved to the amount of damages sustained, together with cost of suit and reasonable attorneys' fees to be fixed by the court. Indictments under this section shall be made only upon the recommendation or request of the railroad commission, filed in the court having jurisdiction of the offense;

Page 183 U. S. 491

and all prosecutions and actions under this law shall be commenced within two years after the offense shall have been committed or the cause of action shall have accrued."

"§ 820. Long and short haul over same road -- Penalty -- Jurisdiction of courts -- Duty of commission. -- If any person owning or operating a railroad in this state, or any common carrier, shall charge or receive any greater compensation in the aggregate for the transportation of passengers or property of like kind, under substantially similar circumstances and conditions, for a shorter than for a longer distance, over the same line, in the same direction, the shorter being included within the longer distance, such person shall for each offense be guilty of a misdemeanor, and fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five hundred dollars, to be recovered by indictment in the Franklin Circuit Court or the circuit court of any county into or through which the railroad or common carrier so violating runs or carries on its business. Upon complaint made to the railroad commission that any railroad or common carrier has violated the provisions of this section, it shall be the duty of the commission to investigate the grounds of complaint, and if, after such investigation, the commission deems it proper to exonerate the railroad or common carrier from the operation of the provisions of this section, an order in writing to that effect shall be made by the commission, and a copy thereof delivered to the complainant and the railroad or common carrier, and the same shall be published as a part of the report of the commission, and after such order, the railroad or carrier shall not be prosecuted or fined on account of the complaint made. If the commission, after investigation, fails to exonerate the railroad or carrier from the operation of the provisions of this section, an order in writing to that effect shall be made by the commission, and a copy thereof delivered to the complainant and the railroad or common carrier, and the same shall be published as a part of the report of the commission, and after such order, it shall be the duty of the commission to furnish a statement of the facts, together with a copy of its order, to the grand jury of any county, the circuit court of which has jurisdiction, in order that the railroad company or carrier may be indicted for the offense, and the commission

Page 183 U. S. 492

shall use proper efforts to see that such company or carrier is indicted and prosecuted."

"§ 821. Three commissioners -- Duties. -- There is established a department in the state government to be known as the railroad commission, which shall be composed of three commissioners, one of whom shall act as chairman, and whose duty it shall be to see that the laws relating to all railroads, except street, are faithfully executed, and to exercise a general supervision over the railroads of the state. Each of said commissioners is authorized to administer oaths, and two of them shall constitute a quorum."

"§ 826. Rates from foreign points to be examined by commission -- Duty of commission. -- Said commission shall examine all through freight rates from points out of this state to points into this state, and whenever they find that a through rate charged into or out of this state is excessive or unreasonable or discriminating in its nature, they shall call the attention of the railroad officials in this state to the fact, and to urge them of the propriety of changing such rates. And when such rates are not changed, it shall be the duty of said commission to present the facts to the Interstate Commerce Commission and appeal to it for relief, and they shall receive upon application the services of the attorney general of this state and into the condition, management, and all other matters concerning the business of railroads in this state, so far as the same pertain to the relation of such railroads to the public, and whether such railroad corporations, their officers and employees, comply with the laws of the state, and whenever it shall come to their knowledge or they shall have reason to believe that the laws affecting rail- road corporations in their business relations to the public have been violated, they shall prosecute, or cause to be prosecuted, the corporations or persons guilty of such violations."

"§ 827. Examination of officers and employees by commission -- Penalty for contempt. -- They shall have the power to examine under oath any person, or the directors, officers, agents, and employees of any railroad corporation doing business in this state concerning the management of its affairs, and to obtain information pursuant to this law, and shall have power to issue

Page 183 U. S. 493

subpoenas for the attendance of witnesses, and to administer oaths, and any person who shall neglect or refuse to obey the process of subpoenas issued by said commission, or who, being in attendance, shall refuse to testify, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished for each offense by a fine of not less than fifty dollars nor more than one hundred dollars, or by imprisonment not less than ten nor more than fifty days, or both, in the discretion of the jury."

"§ 828. Penalty for failing to make required reports or obstructing commission -- Jurisdiction of courts. -- Each officer, agent, or employee failing or refusing to make under oath any report required by the commission within the time required, or failing or refusing to answer fully, under oath, if required, any inquiry propounded by the commission, or who shall in any way hinder or obstruct the commission in the discharge of its duty, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be fined for each offense not less than five hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, and it shall be the duty of the commission to prosecute the person offending, and the Franklin Circuit Court, or the circuit court of any county through which the railroad runs, the officer, agent, or employee of which has violated the provisions of this section, shall have jurisdiction of such prosecution, and it shall be the duty of the commonwealth's attorney to prosecute all indictments, actions, and proceedings under this law."

"§ 829. Complaints against companies -- Award of commission -- Proceedings upon. -- The commission shall hear and determine complaints under sections eight hundred and sixteen, eight hundred and seventeen, and eight hundred and eighteen. Such complaints shall be made in writing, and they shall give the company complained of not less than ten days' notice of the time and place of the hearing of the same. They shall hear and reduce to writing all the evidence adduced by the parties, and render such award as may be proper. If the award of the commission be not satisfied within ten days after the same is rendered, the chairman shall file a copy of said award and the evidence heard in the office of the clerk of the circuit court of the county which, under the Code of Practice, would have jurisdiction

Page 183 U. S. 494

of said controversy, and the clerk of said court shall enter the same on the docket for trial, and summons shall be issued, as in other cases, against the party against whom the award shall have been rendered, requiring said party to appear in the court within the time allowed in ordinary cases, and show cause why said award shall not be satisfied. If such party fails to appear, judgment shall be rendered by default, and the same proceedings had thereon as in other ordinary cases. If a trial is demanded the case shall be tried in all respects as other ordinary cases in which the same amount is involved, except that no evidence shall be introduced by either party except that heard by the commission, except such as the court shall be satisfied, by sworn testimony, could not have been produced before the commission by the exercise of reasonable diligence; the judgment and proceedings thereon shall be the same as in other ordinary cases."

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