ICC v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co.
225 U.S. 326 (1912)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

ICC v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 225 U.S. 326 (1912)

Interstate Commerce Commission v.

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company

Argued January 12, 15, 1912

Decided June 7, 1912

225 U.S. 326

Syllabus

An interstate carrier may not charge a different rate for the transportation of railroad fuel coal to a given point than for the transportation of commercial coal to the same point. It would be an illegal preference or discrimination under §3 of Act to Regulate Commerce.

Tariffs are but forms of words, and the Interstate Commerce Commission, in the exercise of its powers to administer the Act to Regulate Commerce, can look beyond the forms to what caused them and what they are intended to, and do, cause.

Page 225 U. S. 327

A railroad company cannot be made a favored shipper and given a lower rate on the same commodity to the same point than other persons.

A railroad company is not to be put on the same basis as a locality and entitled to preferential rates to accommodate competitive conditions. The Import Rate Case,162 U. S. 197, distinguished.

The question in the case is whether railroad companies may charge a different rate for the transportation of coal to a given point to railroads than to other shippers, the coal being intended for the use of the railroads as fuel.

The Interstate Commerce Commission held that a charge of a different rate was an unlawful discrimination against other shippers, and made an order requiring a cessation of such charge. The execution of the order was enjoined by the Commerce Court.

A number of railroads are petitioners, and we shall refer to them as the companies.

The companies attack in their petition the order of the Interstate Commerce Commission on several grounds, which may be summarized as follows: the movement of coal traffic from the point of origin to the point or points of junction to receiving carriers is different from the movement of coal to be delivered locally at such junction points.

The traffic is not governed by the rates published under the Act to Regulate Commerce, which apply to the traffic in coal not intended for use by consuming railroads, because the charges go to the carrier itself. If the coal be shipped under a through rate applicable to other coal, the actual rate upon which it moves to the rails of the consuming road is the division of the through rate going to the roads over which the traffic moves to the junction point with the rails of the consuming road. The division of the rate beyond that point goes to the consuming road itself.

Page 225 U. S. 328

All but an inconsiderable part of such coal is necessary and intended for use as fuel in locomotives. The fueling stations are often many, and are located at convenient points along the line at varying distances from the junction points, and it is not possible at the time of shipment to tell at what point a carload of coal will be needed. If made on a through rate, they must be billed and transported to a point to which the through rate is published. Even if a centrally located distributing yard for fuel be established, and all shipments billed on a through rate to that yard, there must be a reverse movement of the coal between that point and the point of junction.

The fact that fuel coal on the line of a consuming carrier is not governed by the published rates makes the commercial competitive conditions different between such coal and other coal. The value to the shipper is not the same or measured by the same conditions. There is no competition between the fuel coal and other coal.

Because of the circumstances and conditions differentiating the traffic in fuel coal, the companies have for a number of years past published and filed, as required by law, separate tariffs of the rates to be charged and received by them for the transportation of such coal from points of origin to the junction point of delivery to the consuming carrier. The tariffs vary in their definitions or descriptions of the traffic to which the rates apply, but in each case the traffic is such that it would move in reality, not under the published through rates, but would move under the special conditions which have been stated. Some of the tariffs apply only to coal intended for use and used for locomotive fuel. The rates named in the tariffs are open and available to all producers and shippers, if the shipments be made under the special conditions stated.

On January 4, 1910, the Interstate Commerce Commission, of its own motion, instituted an inquiry under an

Page 225 U. S. 329

order of that date entitled, "In the Matter of Restrictive Rates," Docket No. 3053, making the Baltimore & Ohio and the Pennsylvania Railroad Companies parties to the proceeding. The other companies from time to time were admitted as interveners. Testimony was taken, argument heard, and the Commission entered the order complained of in which the Commission required the companies to cease and desist, on or before May 15, 1911, and for a period of two years to abstain from using the tariffs on fuel coal stated.

The Commission erred in its construction of the Act to Regulate Commerce in that it held the facts and circumstances found by it did not distinguish fuel coal from other coal, and that the different conditions of their transportation were not in law circumstances and conditions necessary or proper to be considered in applying the provisions of § 2 of the act.

The Commission erred in holding that the rates on fuel coal under § 2 should be no more nor less than rates for the shipment of other coal from the same point of origin for local delivery at the junction point, the circumstances and conditions showing conclusively that the services done in the transportation of them, respectively, are not alike nor substantially similar, within the meaning of the Act to Regulate Commerce.

Page 225 U. S. 330

The Commission erred in holding that fuel coal should be transported under through rates, as other coal, and that it was unlawful for carriers to publish or charge any rates other than the through rates agreed upon going to the line of the terminal carrier, to be used by it in its business as a common carrier. And that, as the charges on such terminal carrier's line must be borne by it, the Commission erred in holding that such circumstance did not differentiate the traffic in such coal from the traffic in other coal, and did not constitute a substantial difference under § 2 in the conditions of transportation.

The commission erred in holding, further, that any difference in the tariff for fuel coal, and not applicable to all other coal, was unjustly discriminatory, in violation of § 3.

It appears on the face of the report of the Commission, it is alleged, that it proceeded in making the order upon its view of §§ 2 and 3; that it did not find it necessary to consider any specific tariff or tariffs or the rates named thereby; that the difference in conditions affecting the respective tariffs could not be considered as distinguishing them. And it is alleged that the findings of the Commission are findings of law, as well in regard to the violation of the third section of the act as in regard to violation of the second section. Irreparable damages is alleged, and the alternatives presented of desisting from the carriage of fuel coal at the expense of the loss of large and valuable revenues, or accepting divisions of through rates, on both fuel coal and other coal, which will give the companies, as originating or intermediate carriers, a much lower compensation for both classes of traffic than they are now receiving and would continue to receive but for the order of the Commission.

In either case, the loss will amount to many thousand dollars. There will be loss, it is alleged, to the producers of fuel coal who have sold coal under contracts for future delivery at junction points, and loss also to producers and shippers who depend on the railroad fuel business to enable them to operate their mines at all.

A final decree is prayed for the annulment of the order and a temporary injunction enjoining and suspending it pending final hearing and determination.

The petition was supported by affidavits made by a number of coal producers and shippers.

The answer of the Interstate Commerce Commission is directed principally at the third paragraph of the petition, and charges against it as follows: its allegations relate to

Page 225 U. S. 331

comparisons between coal, on the one hand, consigned to a railroad company, and coal, on the other hand, consigned to some other party. The former is called railroad fuel coal, the latter is known as commercial coal. In each instance, however, regardless of the consignee, the point of origin and the point of destination of the shipments are the same, but the rate charged for transporting fuel coal is much less than the rate exacted for the transportation of commercial coal over the same line, in the same direction, and between the same points. Schedules or tariffs providing for such differences in rates have been heretofore established and put in force and are now maintained and enforced by the companies.

Where the destination is a junction which is a point of connection between the lines of two or more of the companies, the movement of coal, fuel and commercial, is the same, except that at such destination the cars containing fuel coal are ordinarily placed upon what is called an exchange track, which is used in common by the connecting carriers, while the cars containing commercial coal are usually placed upon the side track of the delivering carrier. The cost of delivering both kinds of coal is practically the same, depending upon the nature of the delivery facilities furnished by the companies. Therefore, the cost of delivering fuel coal may be and is less than the cost of delivering the commercial coal, but the reverse is sometimes the case. It is alleged, however, that such differences are similar to differences pertaining to some shipments of commercial coal compared with other shipments.

Generally what is called "free time" is allowed by the companies -- that is to say, a certain period of time for unloading the coal is allowed. If the coal is unloaded within that time, no charge is made for the use of the car. If that time be exceeded, a charge of $1.00 for each day or fraction of a day in excess of the "free time," known as a demurrage charge, is exacted by the companies, while the

Page 225 U. S. 332

compensation paid by one carrier to another carrier for the use of a car owned by the latter is twenty-five cents a day. Where the coal transported is fuel coal, no "free time" is allowed, nor is such demurrage charge exacted or collected. These differences, however, are offset, and much more than offset, by the differences in the rates of transportation between the different coals.

Where the destination of the shipment of coal is not a point of connection between the lines of two or more of the companies, the circumstances and conditions pertaining to the transportation and delivery of coal are the same as above described, except that at such destination there are no exchange tracks used in common by two or more of the companies. Where the shipment passes over more than one line of railway to such destination, delivery by one of the companies to another is made in the same way and under similar circumstances and conditions regardless of whether the coal be fuel or commercial.

The lower rates established by the companies and applied by them to the transportation of fuel coal are not open alike to all shippers, but are, by reason of the schedules and tariffs above mentioned and by reason of the practices of the companies, confined to shippers of fuel coal, and denied to shippers of all other coal, including commercial coal.

The Commission denies the errors attributed to it, and alleges that its report shows as follows:

"We have never held that the local rate to the junction point must be paid on shipments that are going beyond that point. What we have said is that the local rate to the junction point shall be the same for all shippers to that point, and that the through charges on shipments going beyond the junction point shall be alike for all shippers to the same destination."

The Commission alleges (somewhat singularly, on information and belief) that it considered all facts, circumstances,

Page 225 U. S. 333

and conditions pertinent to the subject matter of the order, including degrees of difference and distinction, and each and all of the tariffs and rates of the companies which are affected by the order, and did not entertain the opinion attributed to it, that the facts, circumstances, and conditions affecting the particular traffic could not be lawfully considered by it as distinguishing the traffic in railroad fuel coal from the traffic in other coal.

It is alleged that the traffic is interstate, and that fuel coal, as compared with other coal, including commercial coal, is a like kind of traffic; that the services performed by the companies in connection with the transportation of fuel coal, as compared to the services performed by them in connection with the transportation of other coal, including commercial coal, are alike and contemporaneous, and are performed under substantially similar circumstances and conditions. It is hence alleged that the companies are violating §§ 2 and 3 of the Interstate Commerce Act.

The final allegation of the Commission is that the matters are within its jurisdiction, and that therefore the correctness of its findings is not open to review in the Commerce Court or any other court.

Page 225 U. S. 339

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