The Interstate Commerce Commission approved special charges, in
addition to the existing line-haul rates, for unloading services
performed by railroads transporting fruits and vegetables into New
York and Philadelphia. Normally, unloading is done by the
consignee, but at these points, due to special conditions, the
unloading is performed by the carriers at considerable expense. The
produce is not accessible to the consignees until after it has been
unloaded. Various protestants contended that, since circumstances
here make the unloading a part of the transportation service, the
Commission could not allow these special charges without first
examining the sufficiency of the line-haul rates to cover these
unloading costs. On appeal from a judgment of the District Court
upholding the order of the Commission,
the judgment is vacated and the cases are
remanded to the Commission because of the inadequacy of its
findings to explain the legal basis of its decision. Pp.
347 U. S.
(a) In dealing with technical and complex matters, the
Commission must necessarily have wide discretion in formulating
appropriate solutions. But here, the Commission has not adequately
explained its departure from prior norms. A court must know clearly
what a Commission decision, when challenged, means before it can
say whether that decision can be sustained. Pp. 347 U. S.
(b) In respect of appellants' contention that to permit separate
charges to be imposed for the unloading of fruits and vegetables,
while not imposing similar charges on other commodities unloaded at
these points, violates §§ 2 and 3 of the Interstate Commerce Act,
the Commission, on remand, should also make more explicit findings
as to the differences and similarities in the treatment accorded
other commodities unloaded at these same points. Pp. 347 U. S.
Page 347 U. S. 646
(c) The Commission should also be more explicit in stating the
reasons that led it to assimilate, so far as these unloading
charges are concerned, the situation at Philadelphia to that at New
York. P. 347 U. S.
114 F. Supp. 420, judgment vacated and cases remanded.
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
Five railroads which transport fruits and vegetables into New
York and Philadelphia filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission
schedules of charges for unloading services performed by them at
these points. Various shippers and shipper organizations, State
Commissions, and other interested parties protested the
Page 347 U. S. 647
charges. The Secretary of Agriculture, acting on behalf of the
affected agricultural interests, intervened. [Footnote 1
] The Commission in due course approved
the charges, 272 I.C.C. 648. On further consideration, the approved
charges were cut roughly in half, 286 I.C.C. 119. Complaints
against even these reduced charges were then filed with the
Commission, but these were dismissed by it on the basis of its
prior decision, and this litigation to enjoin and set aside the
Commission's order followed. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1336, 2325. Numerous
parties again intervened -- the shipper and consumer interests on
the side of the protestants, and the carriers involved on the side
of the Commission. The three-judge district court, with Judge De
Vane dissenting, upheld the Commission, 114 F. Supp. 420. Direct
appeals under 28 U.S.C. § 1253 brought the cases here. 347 U.S.
The general rule is that it is the responsibility of the
carrier, as part of the transportation service covered by the
line-haul rate, to "deliver" the goods by placing them in such a
position as to make them accessible to the consignee. Normally,
unloading is not a part of the delivery and is performed by the
consignee. In accordance with these principles, the railroad spots
the car on the team track in its yards in the destination city, and
the consignee is given appropriate free time in which to unload. In
the case of private sidings, the railroad's job ends when it has
placed the car on the consignee's siding.
These are not inflexible rules. The law recognizes and reflects
the practicalities of transportation by rail and the diversities to
which they give rise. Prior to 1925, the railroads, in order to
meet the demands of competitive transportation industries,
performed the unloading
Page 347 U. S. 648
without additional charge at specified points. In the case of
Loading and Unloading Carload Freight,
101 I.C.C. 394, the
Commission approved tariffs by the railroads abolishing free
unloading at most of these points, and authorized the carriers to
make an additional charge thereafter for performing the unloading
at the consignee's request. By the time the present proceeding was
instituted, Philadelphia and New York were the only points where
the carriers were still performing unloading without any charge in
addition to the line-haul rate.
The exception of these two cities was no aberration. It is the
result of special conditions which exist in New York and
Philadelphia. The significance of these special conditions is at
the heart of this controversy.
No railroads carrying fruits or vegetables into New York, except
the New York Central, has a direct line into Manhattan. The roads
transporting the bulk of the produce into New York, the
Pennsylvania and Erie Railroads, terminate their lines on the
Jersey side of the Hudson River. There, the cars are put on barges
and floated across the river, either to be switched onto the
carriers' Manhattan team tracks or to be unloaded directly at the
Duane Street piers. [Footnote
] These pier terminals are leased by the City of New York to
the various carriers and are strategically located adjacent to
Washington Market, New York's largest fruit and vegetable market.
At the team tracks, according to the usual practice, the consignees
do their own unloading. However, because of the inadequacy of these
facilities and because of the more advantageous location of the
pier terminals, approximately 75% of the fruits and vegetables
coming into New York are directed to the pier stations.
Page 347 U. S. 649
The procedure at the pier stations is as follows. When the
floats are docked at the appropriate pier -- this usually happens
at night -- work crews of the railroad begin to unload the cars and
place the contents on the pier floor. [Footnote 3
] The consignees are notified in advance of the
arrival of their goods, and, at specified times, their trucks can
come onto the pier floor to pick up their merchandise. Sales and
auction facilities are also provided by the railroads, and some of
the produce is immediately disposed of in this manner. In no event
are the consignees allowed to unload the cars themselves; indeed,
the Commission has found that this would be "impracticable."
At Philadelphia, the situation is somewhat different. Here,
there is no problem of water transportation, and the team track
facilities where consignees can do their own unloading are not
shown to be inadequate. However, in 1927, the Pennsylvania and the
Baltimore & Ohio built competitive produce terminals, [Footnote 5
] and, because of the special
facilities available there, 95% of the fruits and vegetables
consigned to Philadelphia are now received at these stations. Each
of these terminals has two platforms, one for produce intended for
private sale, one for produce intended for auction sale. The
unloading operations here are considerably simpler and cheaper than
Page 347 U. S. 650
New York piers; but, as in New York, all the unloading here is
performed by the carriers. [Footnote 6
It was in the light of this background that the carriers, faced
by the sharply rising costs of the unloading operation, sought the
Commission's approval for special unloading charges at these two
cities. Such charges, the carriers urged, would serve to bring New
York and Philadelphia into line with the generally prevailing
practice -- that consignees must either do their own unloading or,
if they want the carrier to do it for them, they must be prepared
to pay for it.
The protestants, appellants here, do not challenge these general
principles. It is their contention, rather, that, at these
particular points, the unloading is an essential part of delivery
in that, without it, the goods are not accessible to the
consignees; that therefore the line-haul rate encompasses the
unloading; and, finally, that a service covered by the line-haul
rate cannot be separately compensated unless the carriers show that
the line-haul rate is inadequate to cover it.
These are claims that must be met, and the real question before
us is whether the Commission has met them with an adequacy that
satisfies the requirements of judicial review, limited though its
scope may be. With respect to New York, the Commission's findings
clearly show that, since the consignees were not permitted to
Page 347 U. S. 651
their own unloading, the goods were not accessible to them until
unloaded by the carriers. [Footnote
] Cf. United States v. United States Smelting, Refining
& Mining Co., 339 U. S. 186
Moreover, prior cases of the Commission dealing with the New York
terminal have indicated that the unloading cost there is an
integral part of the through rate. See Fruits and Vegetables to
Duane St., N.Y.,
66 I.C.C. 135, 139; Erie R. Co. v.
Alabama & V. R.Co.,
98 I.C.C. 268, 272, 280-281. Yet the
court below attributed to the Commission findings that "the line
haul service terminated when the cars reached the pier station,"
and that "unloading is an additional service, wholly distinct from
delivery." 114 F. Supp. at 424. But the findings of the Commission,
taken as a whole, do not support these statements.
Prior cases where the Commission had sustained the imposition of
unloading charges do not serve as useful precedents here. E.g.,
Loading and Unloading Carload Freight, supra.
In those cases,
there was an absence of circumstances to justify deviation from the
normal rule that unloading is not part of delivery, and therefore
the Commission was warranted in concluding that the carrier might
impose a separate charge for the unloading where the consignee
requested it. Here, however, because of the peculiar conditions
prevailing at the New York piers,
Page 347 U. S. 652
the unloading is an essential part of the delivery, and hence is
necessarily encompassed in the line haul. Instead of treating this
situation on its own merits, the Commission appears to have relied
too much on prior decisions dealing with the problem of unloading
charges in different contexts.
While the normal course for the Commission in dealing with a
situation like the present would have been to reexamine the
sufficiency of the line-haul rate, or to initiate a new division of
the existing line-haul rate, [Footnote 8
] the Commission was not precluded from
following a procedure fairly adapted to the unique circumstances of
this case. The Commission may, not unnaturally, have felt that it
would be undesirable to revise the line-haul rate, with its
inevitable effect on the entire tariff structure, in order to deal
appropriately with the special, localized situation presented at
the New York piers. Or the Commission might well have thought that
a redivision of the line-haul rate would not be appropriate for the
substantial additional cost here involved.
It is not necessary now to consider the Commission's power,
under appropriate findings, to approve such unloading charges
without pursuing one of these courses. In dealing with technical
and complex matters like these, the Commission must necessarily
have wide discretion in formulating appropriate solutions. But we
do say that, while the Commission has adumbrated the reasons
Page 347 U. S. 653
that commended these charges to its approval, [Footnote 9
] the Commission has not adequately
explained its departure from prior norms, and has not sufficiently
spelled out the legal basis of its decision. We do not know whether
the Commission has disregarded its own findings that the unloading
here is a prerequisite to delivery of the goods, or whether, in
order to meet an unusual situation, the Commission has modified the
normal doctrine that delivery is the responsibility of the carrier,
see New England
Page 347 U. S. 654
Coal & Coke Co. v. Norfolk & W. R. Co.,
I.C.C. 276, or whether the Commission, for a reason not made
explicit, has here deemed irrelevant the prevailing rule of its
prior cases that a service necessarily encompassed by the line-haul
rate cannot be separately restated with examining the sufficiency
of the line-haul rate to cover it. See, e.g., Terminal Charges
at Pacific Coast Ports,
255 I.C.C. 673; Unloading Lumber
to New York Harbor,
256 I.C.C. 463. In short, the Commission
has not explained its decision
"with the simplicity and clearness through which a halting
impression ripens into reasonable certitude. In the end, we are
left to spell out, to argue, to choose between conflicting
inferences. Something more precise is requisite in the
-jurisdictional findings of an administrative agency.
Beaumont, S.L. & W. Ry. Co. v. United States,
282 U. S.
, 282 U. S. 86
; Florida v.
United States, 282 U. S. 194
, 282 U. S.
. We must know what a decision means before the duty
becomes ours to say whether it is right or wrong."
United States v. Chicago, M., St. P. & P. R. Co.,
294 U. S. 499
294 U. S.
Appellants also contend that to permit separate charges to be
imposed for the unloading of fruits and vegetables, while not
imposing similar charges on other commodities unloaded at these
points, violates §§ 2 and 3 of the Interstate Commerce Act.
] Since we have
already concluded that the case should be remanded to the
Commission, the Commission on remand should also make
Page 347 U. S. 655
more explicit findings as to the differences and similarities in
the treatment accorded other commodities unloaded at these same
points. If such commodities are unloaded "under substantially
similar circumstances," the Act requires that the charges imposed
be the same. If, on the other hand, there are important differences
in treatment justifying the imposition of different unloading
charges or of no unloading charges at all, the Commission ought to
find no difficulty in defining the differences. [Footnote 11
Similarly, we deed it desirable that, upon reconsideration of
this controversy, the Commission should also be more explicit in
stating the reasons that led it to assimilate, so far as these
unloading charges are concerned, the situation at Philadelphia to
that at New York.
The judgment is vacated, and the cases are ordered to be
remanded to the Commission for further proceedings not inconsistent
with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
The CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE BLACK, and MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS
would hold the Commission's order invalid and enjoin its
enforcement on the ground that the Commission failed to determine
the reasonableness of the railroads' line-haul rates on the basis
of increased unloading rates allowed by the Commission.
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON too no part in the consideration or decision
of these cases.
* Together with No. 481, Florida Citrus Commission et al. v.
United State et al.,
also on appeal from the same court.
Under 7 U.S.C. § 1291, the Secretary of Agriculture is
authorized to make complaint to the Commission as well as to
intervene before the Commission and resort to original and
appellate judicial remedies in cases affecting the transportation
of farm products.
The New York Central and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroads also
perform such floatage.
The unloading practices vary somewhat from carrier to carrier.
For example, the Erie has a special contractor do its unloading;
the Pennsylvania used automatic equipment instead of manual
272 I.C.C. at 655. In its later report, the Commission also made
the somewhat inconsistent finding that, "at the original hearing,
the railroads offered to permit consignees to unload their freight
from the car float." 286 I.C.C. at 125. But when the California
Fruit Growers Exchange, after the Commission's initial decision,
requested the railroads to "permit the consignees, as a whole, to
perform the unloading at the piers," the railroads refused.
The B. & O. terminal is used jointly by it and the Reading
At Philadelphia, too, the consignees requested the carriers to
be permitted to do their own unloading, or to let the auction
company which was selling the fruit on their account do the
unloading. The Pennsylvania refused, on the ground that the
"terminal was a public facility, and that the granting of such
permission might give rise to a dual method of unloading, one to be
conducted by the fruit and vegetable trade and the other by the
railroad for the general public."
286 I.C.C. at 137. In this connection, it should be noted that
the Commission made no findings that it would be "impracticable"
for the consignees to do the unloading at the Philadelphia produce
272 I.C.C. 648, 654-655: "Delivery to the consignee is not
effected until after the cars are unloaded and the lading placed at
a convenient location on the pier floor." 286 I.C.C. 119, 125: "The
pier floor is the first place where, after the freight has been
unloaded, delivery can be taken." 286 I.C.C. 119, 127: "After the
vegetables are placed on the pier platform, they are accessible to
the consignee. . . ." 286 I.C.C. 119, 129: The proposed charge, in
addition to the line-haul rate, is "for making delivery at New York
The relation between the unloading charges and the line haul was
also adverted to in the Commission's earlier report, 272 I.C.C. at
662, but not with sufficient clarity.
Under 49 U.S.C. § 15(6), the Commission may authorize a new
division of the rate among the participating carriers if it finds
the present division "unjust, unreasonable, [or] inequitable." In
such a proceeding, special terminal costs can be taken into account
prior to allocating the rate among the line-haul carriers. See
Erie R. Co. v. Alabama & V. R. Co.,
98 I.C.C. 268, 280;
Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Arcade & A. R. Co.,
I.C.C. 729, 745-747; Official -- Southern Divisions,
I.C.C. 497, 538-543. Official -- Southwestern Divisions,
287 I.C.C. 553, 584-593.
As the Commission stated:
"An unusual situation, arising primarily from the topography of
the area, exists on lower Manhattan as a result of which the
present method of handling shipments through the pier stations is
of benefit to both shippers (including consignees) and carriers. It
is also helpful in the avoidance of traffic congestion. The
acquisition of land in that area for additional track facilities
would be impracticable, if not impossible. . . . Physical
conditions in and around New York which limit available space for
the establishment and operation of railroad terminal facilities is
a general community problem, and obviously there should be some
sharing between the carriers and their patrons of the burden of
overcoming the existing difficulties if this congested area is to
be served by railroad transportation."
286 I.C.C. 139-140.
The Commission also made reference to figures introduced by the
carriers showing the considerable disparity between the cost per
car of making team track delivery and cost per car of making
terminal delivery, including unloading (286 I.C.C. at 131):
Team Tracks Terminals
Erie . . . . . . . 45.44 83.87
Pennsylvania . . . 73.57 122.73
B. & O. . . . . . 70.46 119.86
Team Tracks Terminals
Pennsylvania. . . . 39.64 109.36
B. & O. . . . . . . 27.66 75.94
49 U.S.C. § 2, prohibits a carrier from charging or
"a greater or less compensation for any service rendered . . .
than it charges . . . any other person . . . [for] a like and
contemporaneous service in the transportation of a like kind of
traffic under substantially similar circumstances. . . ."
Section 3(1) makes it unlawful for any carrier to subject "any
particular description of traffic to any undue or unreasonable
prejudice or disadvantage in any respect whatsoever. . . ."
In its latest report, the Commission stated that,
"as regards the movement of freight, other than fruits and
vegetables . . . the operation is identical with the manner in
which fruits and vegetables are car-floated and unloaded."
286 I.C.C. at 123. Without more, the Commission then concluded
"the record does not warrant a finding of undue preference and
prejudice or unjust discrimination in violation of sections 2 or 3
of the act."
286 I.C.C. at 142.