Ellis v. Interstate Commerce Commission,
237 U.S. 434 (1915)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ellis v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 237 U.S. 434 (1915)

Ellis v. Interstate Commerce Commission

No. 712

Argued April 12, 15, 1915

Decided May 10, 1915

237 U.S. 434


The definition of transportation in § 1 of the Act to Regulate Commerce includes the instrumentalities enumerated, but, as a preliminary, a requirement that the carriers shall furnish them upon reasonable request; the definition does not mean, however, that the owners and builders of such instrumentalities shall, contrary to truth, be regarded as carriers.

The control of the Interstate Commerce Commission over private cars and such instrumentalities of commerce is effected by its control over the carriers subject to the Act, and not over the builders and owners of such instrumentalities who are not subject to the Act.

An appeal lies to this Court from a final order of the district court made upon petition of the Interstate Commerce Commission directing a witness to answer certain questions and produce certain documents. Interstate Commerce Commission v. Baird, 194 U. S. 25; Alexander v. United States, 201 U. S. 117, distinguished.

The Interstate Commission may not, in a mere fishing expedition, interrogate a witness in regard to the affairs of a stranger on the chance that something discreditable may be disclosed.

An intervening corporation may be a means by which an owner of property transported incidentally renders services, and, if so, its charges therefor are subject to the supervision of the Commission, and, as unreasonable charges may be used as a device to obtain a forbidden end, the Commission should be allowed a reasonable latitude in interrogating a witness in a proper proceeding to ascertain if any such device is used. Int. Com. Comm'n v. Brinson, 154 U. S. 447.

Every advantage which may enure to a shipper as the result of the position of his plant, his ownership, or his wealth is not necessarily a preference within the prohibitions of the Act to Regulate Commerce.

In this case, held that, until the corporation, not a carrier, furnishing instrumentalities to shippers was shown to be a mere tool of the latter for obtaining preferences, a witness need not answer questions concerning private business of the corporation, but also held that he

Page 237 U. S. 435

should answer questions in regard to the furnishing of instrumentalities so far as they affected matters which, under § 15 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, are subject to the Commission.

The facts, which involve the construction and application of § 12 of the Act to Regulate Commerce and the power of the court to compel witnesses to answer questions propounded, and to produce documents demanded, by the Interstate Commerce Commission, are stated in the opinion.

Page 237 U. S. 442

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