St. Louis, I.M. & Sou. Ry. Co. v. United States
251 U.S. 198 (1920)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

St. Louis, I.M. & Sou. Ry. Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 198 (1920)

St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern

Railway Company v. United States

No. 71

Argued November 12, 1919

Decided January 5, 1920

251 U.S. 198

APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CLAIMS

Syllabus

A railroad company which contracted to carry the mail for a compensation fixed by test weighings made after withdrawing empty mail bags, as directed by the Act of May 27, 1908, c. 206, 35 Stat. 412, is not injured by such withdrawal, although its purpose was to diminish the pay for mail carriage. P. 251 U. S. 205.

Empty mail bags withdrawn from the mails, and which, with other articles of furniture and equipment, are, under the Act of May 27, 1908, supra, required to be transmitted by freight or express are "property of the United States," within the free transportation provisions of the railroad land grant Acts of February 9, 1853, c. 59, § 4, 10 Stat. 155, and July 28, 1866, c. 300, § 1, 14 Stat. 338. P. 251 U. S. 206.

The provision of the land grant Act of 1853, supra, § 6, requiring transportation of the mail over claimant's land-aided road at such price as Congress may by law direct, and that of the Act of July 12, 1876, c. 179, § 13, 19 Stat. 82, fixing the compensation in such cases at 80 percent of that generally allowed, do not embrace, as part of the mail, empty mail bags which by the Act of May 27, 1908, are classified with other property of the United States for transportation by freight or express. Id.

The Act of June 30, 1882, c. 254, 22 Stat. 120, directing payment on a 50 percent basis for army transportation by land grant railroads, is inapplicable to transportation of empty mail bags. P. 251 U. S. 207.

53 Ct.Clms. 45 affirmed.

Page 251 U. S. 199

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 251 U. S. 202

MR. JUSTICE DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents questions arising upon a suit brought by the railway company in the Court of Claims to recover compensation for the carriage of mail bags under facts found in the Court of Claims in the record sent up for our consideration. These facts are that the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway Company, a corporation organized under the laws of the Missouri, operated a line of railway between Tower Grove, Missouri, and Texarkana, in Arkansas. So much of the railway line as lies between Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and Texarkana, Arkansas, was aided in its construction by a grant of land from the United States by the Act of February 9, 1853, c. 59, 10 Stat. 155, and by the Act of July 28, 1866, c. 300, 14 Stat. 338.

The fourth section of the Act of February 9, 1853, provides:

"The said railroad and branches shall be and remain a public highway for the use of the government of the United States, free from toll or other charge upon the transportation of any property or troops of the United States."

The first section of the Act of July 28, 1866, with respect to said railway provides:

"All property and troops of the United States shall at all times be transported over said railroad and branches at the cost, charge, and expense of the company or corporation owning or operating said road and branches respectively when so required by the government of the United States."

February 4, 1910, the Post Office Department transmitted to the claimant company a distance circular which

Page 251 U. S. 203

relates to mail transportation, the same was duly filled out and certified and returned to the Post Office Department. Between the 17th of February and the first day of June, 1910, the Post Office Department made the quadrennial weighing of mail in the weighing division which included the railway company's lines. Before this weighing of the mails, Congress passed the Act of May 27, 1908, c. 206, 35 Stat. 412, making appropriations for the Post Office Department, which provides:

"The Postmaster General shall require, when in freightable lots and whenever practicable, the withdrawal from the mails of all postal cards, stamped envelopes, newspaper wrappers, empty mail bags, furniture, equipment, and other supplies for the postal service except postage stamps, in the respective weighing divisions of the country, immediately preceding the weighing period in said divisions, and thereafter such postal cards, stamped envelopes, newspaper wrappers, empty mail bags, furniture, equipment and other supplies for the postal service, except postage stamps, shall be transmitted by either freight or express."

Subsequent to the passage of the Act of May 27, 1908, the Post Office Appropriation Acts provided for specific sums for the payment of expressage on postal cards, stamped envelopes, newspaper wrappers, and empty mail bags, and they carried similar provisions as to the withdrawal of said articles from the mails preceding weighing periods.

Before the weighing of the mails of the railway company, the Postmaster General, acting under authority of the provisions of the Act of 1908, withdrew from the mail the empty mail bags, and the same were thereafter transported by freight over claimant's line of railway, and the weights were not included in estimating the weight of the mail carried during the contract term beginning July 1, 1910.

The findings give the number of pounds of empty mail

Page 251 U. S. 204

bags withdrawn from the mails during the weighing season of 1910 and sent by freight to St. Louis from Texarkana, Arkansas, and Little Rock, Arkansas, and show that, if these empty bags had not been so withdrawn and the weight thereof had been included with the weight of the mails, upon which compensation was based, the claimant would have received $15,296.82 more than it did receive for service performed between July 1, 1910, and February 1, 1912.

During the period from July 1, 1910, to and including January 31, 1912, a total of 1,452,271 pounds of empty mail bags were transported over the railroad of the claimant in freight trains from Texarkana, Arkansas, to St. Louis, Missouri, for which service the claimant submitted bills at the published tariff rate against the United States amounting in the aggregate to $14,043.17. In making settlement of these charges, the Auditor for the Post Office Department made a deduction for the entire charge for the services performed from Texarkana, Arkansas, to Poplar Bluff, Missouri, amounting to $8,251.45.

The sixth section of the Act of 1853 provides:

"The United States mail shall at all times be transported on the said road and branches, under the direction of the Post Office Department at such price as Congress may by law direct."

And the thirteenth section of the Act of July 12, 1876, c. 179, 19 Stat. 78, provides:

"That railroad companies whose railroad was constructed in whole or in part by a land grant made by Congress on the condition that the mails should be transported over their road at such price as Congress should by law direct shall receive only eighty percentum of the compensation authorized by this act."

The findings further state that, ever since the passage of said last-mentioned act, it has been the custom and practice of the Post Office Department to pay all the railroads

Page 251 U. S. 205

whose construction was aided by grants of land from the United States eighty percentum of the rate of compensation paid to non-land-aided roads for carrying the mails.

Claimant presented its bill for the transportation of said freight at the full commercial rate provided by the duly published and approved tariffs. In making settlement therefor, the Postmaster General made deduction of the entire charge between Texarkana, Arkansas, and Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and refused to pay anything therefor, on the ground that the railway company was obliged by the provisions of the Acts of 1853 and 1866 to transport said empty mail bags without cost or expense to the United States.

Upon these findings, the Court of Claims decided against the claimant, and dismissed its petition. 53 Ct.Clms. 45.

Two questions are presented, which are thus stated in the opinion of the Court of Claims:

"(1) Could the empty mail bags be lawfully withdrawn from the mails merely for the purpose of reducing claimant's compensation for mail transportation service?"

"(2) And assuming that said empty mail bags were lawfully withdrawn from the mails and shipped by freight, were they 'property' of the United States within the purview of the land grant acts of 1853 and 1866?"

As to the first question, there can be little difficulty. There was nothing in any law or contract of the government which required it to permit the weighing of empty sacks or containers as part of the mail in determining the compensation to be paid for carrying the same. While, generally speaking, a bag or container in which letters or other mailable matter is carried is part of the mail, and collectively the containers might be considered as part of the mail essential to carry the mailable matter from one place to another, nevertheless there was nothing to prevent Congress, in fixing compensation for the carriage of the mails, to expressly withdraw therefrom the empty

Page 251 U. S. 206

mail bags, and this it did by the Act of May 27, 1908, above quoted.

For the purposes of fixing compensation in the weighing of the mail, Congress directed that the weight of the empty bags should be withheld in determining the average weight of the mails as the basis of fixing compensation. We agree with the Court of Claims that such action violated no contractual or other right of the claimant.

Concerning the other question presented, there is perhaps more difficulty. By the sixth section of the Act of 1853, it was directed that the United States mail should be transported over the claimant's road at such prices as Congress may by law direct, and by the thirteenth section of the Act of July 12, 1876, railroads aided by grants of land made by Congress on condition that Congress should fix the basis of compensation for transportation of mails over its lines should receive 80 percentum of the compensation provided for in the act. These acts make specific reference to the amounts to be paid for the transportation of the mails. The payment provided in them is for the transportation of the mails, which, it may be conceded, might include with the mail matter the bags in which the same was carried. However, by the Act of May 27, 1908, the Congress has classified empty mail bags with furniture and equipment and other supplies for the postal service, to be transported by freight or express. Congress thus undertook to make a separate provision covering the carrying of empty mail containers after they had served their purpose of enclosing the mail matter during transportation.

It is insisted that the return of the empty mail bags is but part of the transportation of the mail. But certainly Congress might provide that empty mail bags should be differently treated than those used in the actual transportation of mailable matter. None will dispute that forwarding mail bags from their place of manufacture to

Page 251 U. S. 207

different points in the country for use would not constitute transportation of mail. We see no reason why Congress may not regard empty mail bags being returned for further use as no longer a part of the mails. Congress authorized contracts for the transportation of the mail, but, by the Act of May 27, 1908, it withdrew empty mail bags from mail transportation and directed that they be sent by freight or express. How, then, was such transportation to be compensated? Ordinarily, the applicable freight or express rates would control. But the acts of Congress which provided that property of the United States should be transported at the expense of the company were in full force and effect. It is said that, in the report and action upon the legislation which took empty mail bags from carriage as part of the mails and directed the carriage by freight or express, there is no intimation that the result of such legislation would have the effect of obtaining free transportation under the land grant acts, and that no such requirement is made in the act itself. But Congress must be presumed to have known of its former legislation in the Acts of 1853 and 1866, and to have passed the new laws in view of the provisions of the legislation already enacted. These statutes must be construed together, and effect given to all of them. Under the earlier acts, this railroad, in consideration of benefits received, was bound, when required, to transport troops and property of the United States free of charge.

We have here a question concerning the transportation of property of the United States. See Southern Pacific Co. v. United States,237 U. S. 202, 237 U. S. 204. The act of Congress providing for fifty percent rates concerns only "army" transportation, and is not applicable to this case. See 22 Stat. 120, 1st Supp.Rev.Stats. 375, 376. The empty mail bags were property, and belonged to the United States. When the government required their transportation by freight, the former legislation which accompanied

Page 251 U. S. 208

the grant of lands to this railway company controlled the terms of carriage.

We find no error in the judgment of the Court of Claims, which was also the conclusion of the Comptroller of the Treasury, 17 Comp.Dec. 749.

Affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS, dissenting.

Appellant's right to recover seems quite plain to me.

The Act of February 9, 1853, c. 59, 10 Stat. 155, granted lands afterwards used to aid in constructing appellant's lines. Section 4:

". . . The said railroad and branches shall be and remain a public highway for the use of the government of the United States, free from toll or other charge upon the transportation of any property or troops of the United States."

Section 6:

"That the United States mail shall at all times be transported on the said road and branches, under the direction of the Post Office Department at such price as Congress may by law direct."

The Act of July 28, 1866, c. 300, 14 Stat. 338, among other things, revived and extended the Act of 1853. Section 1:

". . . And provided further, that all property and troops of the United States shall at all times be transported over said railroad and branches at the cost, charge, and expense of the company or corporation owning or operating said road and branches respectively, when so required by the government of the United States."

And thus it appears that one section of the statutes directs free transportation of "all property and troops of the United States," and a wholly different section requires transportation of the United States mail "under the direction of the Post Office Department at such price as Congress may by law direct."

Through the Post Office Department, the United States

Page 251 U. S. 209

are engaged in handling the mails for pay. Their transportation is part of a well defined business. In the orderly course and as an essential part of that business, emptied sacks are constantly being returned for further use. They are property of the United States in a certain sense, whether full or empty, and they are elements of the mail whether going out or coming back.

A clear distinction between property of the United States and United States mail is preserved by the very language of the land grant statutes, and, I think, Congress had no purpose -- if, indeed, the power -- to convert mail into property within the meaning of these statutes simply by directing carriage of the former in freight trains. The purpose was to secure transportation at less than former cost, and, to such end, Congress in effect commanded that emptied bags, a portion of the mails for which rapid movement is not essential, "shall be transmitted by either freight or express," and compensation made according to the ordinary rates. Under this interpretation, the railroad would suffer no oppressive burden, and contemplated economics would be effectuated.

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