Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co.
Annotate this Case
211 U.S. 210 (1908)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U.S. 210 (1908)
Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Company
Argued October 16, 19, 20, 1908
Decided November 30, 1908
211 U.S. 210
So far as the federal Constitution is concerned, a state may, by constitutional provision, unite legislative and judicial powers in the same body.
A judicial inquiry investigates, declares, and enforces liabilities as they stand on present or past facts and under existing laws, while legislation looks to the future and changes conditions, making new rules to be thereafter applied.
The making of a rate by a legislative body, after hearing the interested parties, is not res judicata upon the validity of the rate when questioned by those parties in a suit in a court. Litigation does not arise until after legislation; nor can a state make such legislative action res judicata in subsequent litigation.
Proceedings legislative in nature are not proceedings in a court within the meaning of Rev.Stat. § 720, no matter what may be the character of the body in which they take place.
Whether a railroad rate is confiscatory so as to deprive the company of its property without due process of law within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment depends upon the valuation of the property, the income derivable from the rate, and the proportion between the two, which are matters of fact which the company cannot be prevented from trying before a competent tribunal of its own choosing. Where a state railroad commission, which is granted power by the state constitution to make and enforce rates, enacts and attempts to enforce rates which are so low as to be confiscatory, the proper remedy is by bill in equity to enjoin such enforcement, and such a suit against the members of the commission will not be bad as one against the state, but it should not be commenced until the rate has been fixed by the body having the last word.
While a party does not lose his right to complain of action under an unconstitutional law by not using diligence to prevent its enactment, on a question of railroad rates, when an appeal to the supreme court of the state from an order of the state Corporation Commission fixing such rates is given by the state constitution, it is proper that dissatisfied railroads should take this matter to the Supreme Court of their state before bringing a bill in the Circuit Court of the United States. Under the circumstances of this case, action on a bill was suspended to await the result of such an appeal.
The facts are stated in the opinion.