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LOUISVILLE & NASHVILLE RAILROAD CO. v. SLOSS-SHEFFIELD STEEL & IRON COMPANY

decided: November 23, 1925.

LOUISVILLE & NASHVILLE RAILROAD CO
v.
SLOSS-SHEFFIELD STEEL & IRON COMPANY



ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.

Taft, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, Stone.

Author: Brandeis

[ 269 U.S. Page 222]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit, under § 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, February 4, 1887, c. 104, 24 Stat. 379, 384, was brought against the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in the federal district court for northern Alabama. By it the Sloss-Sheffield Company sought to recover $63,982.80 with interest, being the amount of a reparation order entered by the Interstate Commerce Commission for excessive freight charges exacted in violation of § 1 of the Act. 60 I. C. C. 595; 62 I. C. C. 646. The charges here in question were paid between April 17, 1910 and September 15, 1915, on shipments of pig iron from the company's furnaces in Alabama, over lines of the Louisville & Nashville as initial carrier, to purchasers at Ohio River crossings and points beyond in central freight association territory.*fn1 The reparation directed was an incident of proceedings commenced April 16, 1912, to secure a reduction of the tariff rates. On June 1, 1914, an order was entered reducing rates for the future 35 cents a ton. Later, a finding was made that to this extent the existing tariff rates had exceeded what was reasonable throughout the whole period, commencing two years prior to the filing of the original complaint before the Commission. The order sued on, which was entered July 12, 1921, accompanied

[ 269 U.S. Page 223]

     what is known as the Seventh Supplemental Report. See 30 I. C. C. 597; 35 I. C. C. 460; 40 I. C. C. 738; 46 I. C. C. 558; 51 I. C. C. 635; 52 I. C. C. 576.

The District Court, which heard the case without a jury, entered judgment in accordance with the Commission's order, except that it disallowed damages for the period between April 16, 1912 and July 22, 1913. Writs of error from the Circuit Court of Appeals were sued out by both the plaintiff and the defendant. That court entered judgment for $103,367.47, being the full amount awarded by the Commission with interest; and thus affirmed as modified the judgment of the District Court. 295 Fed. 53. The carrier then sued out a writ of error from this Court. It also filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, consideration of which was postponed to the hearing on the writ of error. Compare Southern Pacific Co. v. Darnell-Taenzer Lumber Co., 245 U.S. 531, 535. As the case is properly here on writ of error, the petition for certiorari is denied. Seventy-seven errors are formally assigned. Only seven distinct contentions require separate consideration. Some of these relate to matters of procedure, others to substantive rights. Some assert that complete defenses to the suit were erroneously overruled, others that the amount of the recovery should have been reduced. Those which deal with matters of procedure will be considered first.

First. It is claimed that the order of reparation dated July 12, 1921, on which the suit rests, is void, because entered without notice to the Louisville & Nashville or opportunity to be heard thereon in violation both of the rules of the Commission and of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The essential facts are these: The order sued on differed from an earlier one entered March 8, 1921, accompanying the so-called Sixth Supplemental Report, only in this. It reduced the amount payable from

[ 269 U.S. Page 224]

     $68,728.80 to $63,982.80. It deferred the final date for payment from June 1, 1921, as prescribed by the earlier order, to September 1, 1921. And it declared in terms that the order of "March 8, 1921, be, and the same is hereby, vacated and set aside." These modifications were made in response to a petition filed by the Sloss-Sheffield Company on June 30, 1921, which recited, among other things, that certain items of excess charges had been inadvertently included in earlier computations and prayed that the order theretofore entered be modified by making the reduction stated. The Louisville & Nashville had no notice of this application, but it had had notice and opportunity to be heard, and was fully heard, on all proceedings leading up to the entry of the Sixth Supplemental Report and accompanying order. Neither of the two reports, and neither of the accompanying orders, recited the items of excess charges of which the sums named therein were the aggregates. The District Court found that, by the order of July 12, 1921, the Commission merely corrected its Sixth Supplemental Report and award through striking out and deducting a certain part of the amount theretofore awarded; that the substituted order did not award the Sloss-Sheffield Company reparation on any shipment that was not included and allowed for in its order of March 8, 1921; that the award of July 12, 1921, was based entirely upon evidence furnished the Commission prior to entering the March 8 order; and that the company did not, in connection with its petition of June 30, 1921, submit to the Commission any new or additional evidence. The Louisville & Nashville did not, after learning of the entry of the substitute order, take any proceedings before the Commission to have it set aside or corrected; nor was other objection made thereto until it raised the point in this suit.

The Louisville & Nashville concedes that this claim of invalidity is unfounded if the order of July 12, 1921 did

[ 269 U.S. Page 225]

     nothing except reduce the amount required to be paid. The contention is that the Commission did more than reduce the amount payable; that the order not only eliminated certain items of excess charges inadvertently included, but added certain items inadvertently omitted; that this fact is established by recitals in the petition of June 30, 1921, by a passage in the Seventh Supplemental Report, and by evidence introduced by the carrier in the District Court; that the evidence to the contrary introduced by the shipper and on which that court relied was incompetent, was duly objected to, and should have been excluded; and that the finding made thereon is in direct conflict with matter of record in the Commission.

The Commission, like a court, may, upon its own motion or upon request, correct any order still under its control without notice to a party who cannot possibly suffer by the modification made. Compare Pennsylvania R. R. Co. v. United States, 288 Fed. 88. This power of the Commission is, in adversary proceedings, narrowly circumscribed; and its exercise is not to be encouraged. Whether in this instance these narrow limits were transcended by the Commission, we have no occasion to enquire. The original order was sufficient to sustain the findings and the judgments of the District Court as modified and affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. A copy of it was annexed to the petition in the District Court, and was introduced in evidence there. If lack of notice to the Louisville & Nashville rendered the later order void, the original order remained in full force. Compare Chicago, M. & St. P. Ry. Co. v. Hormel & Co., 240 Fed. 381, 383-384. The petition of the Sloss-Sheffield Company of June 30 for a modification may be treated as a remittitur by that company of a part of the amount originally awarded, Pacific Postal Telegraph Cable Co. v. O'Connor, 128 U.S. 394; the order of July 12 operates as the entry of the remittitur; and appropriate amendments

[ 269 U.S. Page 226]

     in the pleadings may be deemed to have been made here. The insistence of the Louisville & Nashville that the order of July 12 should be deemed valid and of full force and effect in so far as it sets aside, vacates and annuls the prior order of March 8, but void in so far as it directs a payment to be made, is without support in reason or authority. Thus, the alleged errors in ruling on the admissibility of evidence do not appear to have affected the substantial rights of the parties. Act of February 26, 1919, c. 48, 40 Stat. 1181.

Second. It is claimed that the order of reparation sued on is void to the extent that it includes damages on account of shipments made between April 17, 1910 and April 16, 1912, because the cause of action for this period was barred by the special two-year statute of limitations contained in § 16 of the Interstate Commerce Act. In the original petition filed April 16, 1912, reparation for this period was specifically prayed for in these words:

"That the rates and charges herein complained of be found and declared to have been unjust, unreasonable and discriminatory for a period of at least two years preceding the filing of this complaint; and that the complainants . . . may have reparation to the extent of the difference between the rates and charges actually paid by them severally and the rates and charges that may herein be found and declared the just and reasonable maximum rates to be charged in the future."

This claim rests primarily upon the assertion that the prayer is so general as to be, under §§ 13 and 16 of the Act and the rules of the Commission, insufficient to invoke its jurisdiction to award reparation.*fn2 The argument is

[ 269 U.S. Page 227]

     that a petition before the Commission for reparation must give not only the names of the parties complainant and of the carrier against which the claim is asserted, but also a detailed description of the specific claims arising out of the several shipments involved; that this detail is indispensable, because under § 13 the carrier has, after the presentation of the claim to the Commission, a locus penitentiae in which to determine whether he will satisfy the claim or contest it; and that a later specification of the claim is of no avail, because the filing of such a definite description of the claim with the Commission within the two years is a jurisdictional requirement. It is true that the two-year requirement is jurisdictional. United States ex rel. Louisville Cement Co. v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 246 U.S. 638. But no statute or rule imposes upon the Commission procedure so exacting as to make fatal mere failure to present within the period of limitation the detail of a statement which under the procedure prevailing in courts of law may ordinarily be supplied by amendment or a bill of particulars. As was clearly shown by Judge Knapp in Arcadia Mills v. Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio Ry. Co., 293 Fed. 639, the contention of the Louisville & Nashville would involve the adoption of procedure contrary to the long established practice of the Commission and would defeat the convenient and effective administration of the Act.*fn3

[ 269 U.S. Page 228]

     The Louisville & Nashville also contends that the order, in so far as it awards reparation for the two-year period, is void upon another ground. The main contention is that, if the Commission acquired jurisdiction, it was later lost, because the order of June 1, 1914 denied reparation, and not having been suspended, became irrevocable at the expiration of one year thereafter, although the main proceeding was then being actively prosecuted and a petition for rehearing of the application for reparation was later filed.*fn4 The earliest order fixing the amount of the reparation was that entered March 8, 1921. The argument is that, although the rules of the Commission then in force fixed no time for filing petitions for rehearing, a one-year limit must be ...


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