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decided: January 10, 1910.



Author: White

[ 215 U.S. Page 459]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

Whether a duty rested upon the Illinois Central Railroad Company to obey an order made by the Interstate Commerce Commission is the question here to be decided.

On the ground that preferences were created and discriminations engendered by regulations established by the railroad company concerning the daily distribution of coal cars to mines along its line in periods when the supply of such cars was inadequate to meet the demand upon it for the movement of coal, the order in question commanded the railroad company to desist from enforcing the regulations found to be preferential, and for a future period of two years to deliver

[ 215 U.S. Page 460]

     cars to mines along its line in conformity with the rule announced by the commission.

A clearer perception of the questions to be considered will be afforded by giving a brief statement of the cause of car shortage referred to, accompanied with a mere outline of the steps generally taken by carriers to deal with the subject and the particular method applied by the Illinois Central Railroad Company prior to the date when the complaint was made against it, concerning which the order previously referred to was entered.

It is conceded in argument that bituminous coal mines, which are the character of mines here involved, must dispose of their product as soon as the coal is delivered at the surface, as it is not practicable for an operator to store such coal, and the amount that a mine will produce is therefore directly dependent upon the quantity that can be taken away day by day. As a result of this situation it is also conceded that railroads upon whose lines coal mines are situated pursue a system by which daily deliveries of cars, based upon requisitions of the respective mines, are made to such mines to permit of the removal of their available output for that day.

Notwithstanding full performance by railway carriers of the duty to have a legally sufficient supply of coal cars, it is conceded that unforeseen periods arise when a shortage of such cars to meet the demand for the transportation of coal takes place, because, among other things, a, of the wide fluctuation between the demands for the transportation of bituminous coal at different and uncertain periods; b, the large number of loaded coal cars delivered by a carrier beyond its own line for transportation over other roads consequent upon the fact that the coal produced at a particular point is normally distributed for consumption over an extensive area; and, c, because the cars thus parted with are subject to longer detentions than usually obtain in the case of shipments of other articles, owing to the fact that bituminous coal is often shipped by mining operators to distant points to be sold after

[ 215 U.S. Page 461]

     arrival, and is hence held at the terminal points awaiting sale, or because, owing to the cost of handling coal, and the difficulty of storing such coal, the car in which it is shipped is often used by the shipper or purchaser at the terminal points as a convenient means of storage or as an instrument for delivery, without the expense of breaking bulk, to other and distant points.

It is disclosed that the railroads of the United States generally, at various times, put in force regulations for the distribution of coal cars. Generally speaking, these regulations provide for fixing the capacity of coal mines in order to determine the number of cars to which each might normally be entitled to daily move its output of coal. And these regulations also provide for a method of determining the pro rata share of the cars daily allotted for distribution in times of car shortage. Neither the method by which capacity was to be ascertained nor the regulation for daily distribution upon the basis of such capacity in case of shortage was identical among the various railroad systems of the United States. The divergence, and even conflict, between those systems is illustrated by the cases of Logan Coal Co. v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 154 Fed. Rep. 497; United States ex rel. Pitcairn Coal Co. v. B. & O.R.R. Co., 165 Fed. Rep. 113; cases cited at pages 503 and 504 of the report of the Logan Coal Co. case, and the case of Majestic Coal & Coke Co. v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 162 Fed. Rep. 810.

In a general sense, however, all the regulations of the various railroads, either for ascertaining the capacity of coal mines or in order to determine the pro rata share for daily distribution of cars to the respective mines in case of shortage dealt with four classes of cars: 1, system cars, that is, cars owned by the carrier and in use for the transportation of coal; 2, company fuel cars, that is, cars belonging to the company and used by it when necessary for the movement of coal from the mines on its own line, and which coal had been bought by the carrier and was used solely for its own fuel purposes; 3, private cars, that is, cars either owned by coal mining companies or shippers or

[ 215 U.S. Page 462]

     consumers, and used for the benefit of their owners in conveying coal from the mines to designated points of delivery; 4, foreign railway fuel cars, that is, cars owned by other railroad companies and which were by them delivered to the carriers on whose lines mines were situated, for the purpose of enabling the cars to be loaded with coal and returned to the company by whom the cars had been furnished, the coal being intended for use as fuel by such foreign railroad companies.

The various regulations, irrespective of minor differences between them, fell upon one or the other side of this broad line of division. One system took into account class 2, the fuel cars of the carrier, class 3, the private cars, and class 4, the cars of foreign railroads, and deducted from the rated capacity of the mine the sum of coal delivered by that mine in such cars, and upon the basis thus resulting apportioned ratably in case of shortage the system cars, that is, those embraced in class 1. On the other hand the other class of regulation not only took no account of the cars in classes 2, 3 and 4, as a means of rating the capacity of the mine, but moreover did not charge against any mine, for the purpose of ascertaining the daily pro rata of the cars to which such mine was entitled, any car whatever furnished such mine on such day embraced within classes 2, 3 and 4, that is, any company fuel car, foreign railway fuel car or private car. By this system, therefore, where a mine was entitled daily to a given pro rata of the cars subject to general distribution it received its full share of such cars, and in addition on that day also received such of the company fuel cars, foreign railway fuel cars and private cars as might have been sent to it for loading on that day. This absolute disregard in the allotment of the company fuel cars, foreign railway fuel cars and private cars was not in all respects common to all the systems which took no account of such cars in fixing capacity, since in some of the regulations one or the other of the classes was taken into account in fixing the pro rata for distribution.

Previous to 1907 the Railroad Commission of the State of Ohio filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission two

[ 215 U.S. Page 463]

     complaints against the Hocking Valley and another railroad company. These complaints were based upon the ground that the failure of the railroads in times of car shortage to include in the pro rata of cars for distribution foreign railway fuel cars and private cars, and to charge the mines which had received such cars with the same as part of their distributive share, created an undue preference and worked unjust discrimination in violation of the act to regulate commerce. On July 11, 1907, the report and opinion of the commission was announced in the cases referred to. R.R. Comm. of Ohio v. Hocking Val. Ry. Co., 12 I.C.C. Rep. 398. It was declared that the complaints were well founded, and the relief prayed was awarded. Nine days afterwards -- presumptively in ignorance of the finding of the commission just referred to -- the Illinois Central Railroad Company promulgated rules governing the distribution of cars to coal mines. Although by these rules foreign fuel cars, private cars and company fuel cars were not taken into account in ascertaining the capacity of a mine or mines, such cars were expressly directed not to be counted for the purpose of the daily distribution of cars among the respective mines. On August 15 following, however, presumably to cause the regulations to conform to the interpretation of the Interstate Commerce Act adopted by the commission in the Hocking Valley case, a circular was issued by the Illinois Central Railroad Company, to go into effect September 1, 1907, canceling the circular of July 20, 1907, and directing that account should be taken in the distribution of cars to a particular mine or mines of both foreign railway fuel and private cars. Before the date fixed for the going into effect of this last-named circular the Majestic Coal and Coke Company, a West Virginia corporation, filed a suit against the Illinois Central Railroad Company in the United States Circuit Court for the Northern District of Illinois, complaining that to charge against its distributive share of coal cars, in the event of a car shortage, the fuel cars and private cars furnished it would violate its legal rights. After hearing, a temporary injunction, preventing the

[ 215 U.S. Page 464]

     going into effect of the regulations in the particulars mentioned, was issued. The distribution of coal cars thereafter continued to ...

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