APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA.
Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo; Butler took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Interstate Commerce Commission issued an order pursuant to § 20*fn1 of the Interstate Commerce Act, as amended, requiring the Norfolk & Western Railway Company to carry certain coal mining properties in its accounts as not used in the service of transportation. The railway filed a petition in the District Court to enjoin the enforcement of the order, and from a decree of dismissal by a District Court, of three judges, this appeal was taken.
During the period between 1917 and 1920 the railway experienced difficulty in obtaining an adequate supply of coal of satisfactory quality for use in its locomotives. In an effort to meet this situation and to reduce costs of operation three coal mines, adjacent to the right of way, were acquired, the terms of purchase being that they should be used solely for the supply of locomotive fuel. The investment was, as of September 30, 1928, after debits
for depreciation and depletion, $2,650,467.28. The estimate is that the coal in the three mines will be exhausted in seventeen years, thirty-three years, and thirty-five years respectively. The entire output, except for a trifling amount furnished to mine employees, is consumed in carrier activities. The collieries furnish approximately forty-eight per cent. of the railway's requirements.
A general order of the Commission, in force long prior to the company's purchase of the mines, required such assets to be shown under Account 705, "Miscellaneous Physical Property," which included investments in physical property not used in transportation. Since acquisition of the first of the mines the railway has carried the investment in this account. In 1927 the company addressed a letter to the Commission requesting permission to transfer the investment from Account 705 to Account 701, which comprises investment in road and equipment. Thereupon an ex parte order was made directing that, as theretofore, the cost of the collieries should appear in Account 705. On petition a hearing was afforded, after which the Commission entered the order now under attack, prescribing that the investment be carried under Account 705, and providing further that the charges to Account 716, "Material and Supplies," for coal produced for consumption in appellant's transportation operations, be upon the basis of the average monthly cost per ton of producing coal; adding that if necessity should appear the proceeding would be reopened for the purpose of considering and further regulating the accounting under which the costs per ton are ascertained.
First. The Commission's order is challenged as in excess of the statutory grant of power. The concession is made that § 20 of the Act grants a discretion to prescribe a uniform system of accounts, the manner in which they shall be kept, and the forms thereof. The appellant,
however, asserts that this discretion is limited by the purposes and ends for which such accounts are to be kept, as exhibited in other sections of the Act. Reference is made to the valuation section (19a),*fn2 which calls upon the Commission to report "the value of all the property owned or used by every common carrier," and specifies in subparagraph (b) that as part of the investigation the Commission shall "ascertain and report in detail as to each piece of property, other than land, owned or used by said common carrier for its purposes as a common carrier . . ." Stress is laid upon the fact that final valuations made by the Commission are to be prima facie evidence of the value of the property in all administrative and judicial proceedings under the Act. So also the appellant seeks support for this contention in the fair return and recapture section (15a),*fn3 which assures to the carrier "a fair return upon the aggregate value of the railway property of such carriers held for and used in the service of transportation," and for recapture of income in excess of a return of six per centum upon the value of such railway property. The phrases employed in these sections, -- "in the service of transportation," and "for purposes of a common carrier," -- are said to mark the limits of the statutory power of the Commission in classifying capital assets for accounting purposes.
In view of the uncontradicted fact that the mines in question were purchased for and dedicated to the use of fuel supply and may not be used for any other purpose, the appellant deems it necessarily to follow that these assets were acquired for carrier purposes and are used in the service of transportation, and serve no other purpose or use whatsoever. The conclusion sought to be drawn is ...