United States v. California,
297 U.S. 175 (1936)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. California, 297 U.S. 175 (1936)

United States v. California

No. 33

Argued January 16, 17, 1936

Decided February 3, 1936

297 U.S. 175


1. Whether a transportation agency is a common carrier depends not upon its corporate character or declared purposes, but upon what it does. P. 297 U. S. 181.

2. The State Belt Railroad, owned by the California and operated by it along the waterfront of San Francisco harbor, which receives all freight cars, loaded and empty, offered to it by railroads, industrial plants and steamships, with which it connects, and hauls them at a flat rate per car, the larger part of such traffic having its origin or destination in States other than California, is a common carrier engaged in interstate commerce. P. 297 U. S. 182.

3. In operating a common carrier railroad in interstate transportation, though the purpose be to facilitate the commerce of a port and the net proceeds be used in harbor improvement, a State acts in subordination to the power of Congress under the commerce clause. P. 297 U. S. 183.

4. Even though the State, in the conduct of its railroad, be said to act in its "sovereign," distinguished from a "private," capacity, its sovereignty in that regard is necessarily diminished to the extent of the power granted by the Constitution to the Federal Government. P. 297 U. S. 183.

5. The principle by which state instrumentalities are protected from federal taxation, and vice versa, is inapplicable by analogy as a limitation upon the federal power to regulate interstate commerce. P. 297 U. S. 184

6. The provisions of the Safety Appliance Act forbidding any common carrier engaged in interstate commerce by railroad to haul cars not equipped with couplers as prescribed, and penalizing infractions, include state-owned interstate rail carriers. P. 297 U. S. 185.

7. The canon of construction that a sovereign is presumptively not intended to be bound by its own statute unless named in it should not be extended so as to exempt from an Act of Congress a business plainly within its terms and purpose merely because the business is carried on by a State. P. 297 U. S. 186.

8. Congress may confer on inferior courts original jurisdiction of suits in which a State is a party. P. 297 U. S. 187.

Page 297 U. S. 176

9. The inclusion of an earlier provision in the Judicial Code was not a reenactment. P. 297 U. S. 187.

10. Section 6 of the Safety Appliance Act, as amended in 1896, provides that any common carrier, for each car hauled by it in violation of the Act, shall be liable to penalty of $100,

"to be recovered in a suit or suits to be brought by the United States district attorney in the district court of the United States having jurisdiction in the locality where such violation shall have been committed."

Section 233, Jud.Code, originally enacted as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, gave this Court "exclusive jurisdiction of all controversies of a civil nature where a State is a party," (with certain exceptions). Assuming that a suit to recover the penalty is a controversy of a civil nature, held that, with respect to such suits when brought against States, § 6 supplants § 233, and lodges jurisdiction in the district court of the locality. P. 297 U. S. 187.

75 F.2d 41 reversed.

Certiorari, 296 U.S. 554, to review a judgment reversing a judgment for a penalty recovered by the United States against the California by suit in the District Court.

Page 297 U. S. 180

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