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decided: March 16, 1942.



Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Byrnes, Jackson

Author: Byrnes

[ 315 U.S. Page 632]

 MR. JUSTICE BYRNES delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri respondents brought this suit to recover certain freight charges from petitioners. The case was tried without a jury and judgment rendered in favor of respondents in the sum of $2,263.47. On appeal, the judgment was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. 121 F.2d 645.

We brought the case here because of the claim that the courts below sustained the jurisdiction of the District Court although the matter concerned called for the exercise of the administrative discretion of the Interstate Commerce Commission, under the established rule first announced in Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co., 204 U.S. 426, as explained in Great Northern Ry. Co. v. Merchants Elevator Co., 259 U.S. 285.

The shipments, amounting to seven carloads, moved from points in several states, the cars being billed by petitioners to themselves at St. Louis, Missouri. The petitioners billed the contents of the cars as scrap iron and paid the tariff charge applicable to that classification. When the cars arrived at St. Louis, the respondents caused the Western Weighing and Inspection Bureau to inspect their contents. As a result of that inspection, respondents claimed that the articles were actually "pipe thread protecting rings" and that they belonged in the classification of "pipe fittings." The tariff rates on pipe fittings being higher than the rate on scrap iron, demand was made upon petitioners for the difference in freight charges. The demand was refused and this suit followed.

The trial court found that the articles in question were governed by the tariff for "pipe fittings" and not by that for "scrap iron." The Circuit Court of Appeals sustained this finding. In the light of certain proceedings

[ 315 U.S. Page 633]

     before the Interstate Commerce Commission, affecting the articles in question and their relation to the tariffs in controversy, we hold that the lower courts were right.

The only questions of any moment presented by this case arise in connection with these proceedings before the Interstate Commerce Commission. In 1937, petitioners filed with the Commission a complaint against a number of railroads, in which they asserted that certain shipments of iron or steel pipe thread protecting rings should have been classified under the freight tariffs as scrap iron or steel and not as pipe fittings. They also urged, as an alternative contention, that even though the shipments were classed as pipe fittings rather than scrap, the rate was unreasonably high. On August 6, 1937, the Commission dismissed the complaint, holding both that the pipe thread protecting rings fell within the classification of pipe fittings and that the rates so imposed were not unreasonable. Crancer & Fleischman v. Abilene and Southern Ry. Co., 223 I. C. C. 375.

In their answer and in a motion to stay proceedings filed in the District Court in the present case, petitioners asserted that, on or about March 16, 1939 (the date on which respondents brought this suit), they had instituted a second action before the Commission. In their complaint in this 1939 action, petitioners alleged that the freight charges demanded by the respondents on the shipments involved in the suit now before us were "unjust and unreasonable . . . to the extent that they exceeded or exceed rates applicable on scrap iron and scrap steel." It is not clear from this language whether petitioners intended to raise anew the question of classification, or whether they were simply requesting the Commission to pass again on the reasonableness of the rate. But in its opinion dated February 18, 1941, the Commission stated: "While complainants

[ 315 U.S. Page 634]

     admit for the purpose of this proceeding that the rates on scrap iron are not applicable, they contend that reasonable rates on thread protectors should bear some definite relation to the scrap-iron rates." Valley Steel Products Co. v. Atchison, T. & S. F. Ry. Co., 243 I. C. C. 509, 512. We conclude that the classification question is not involved in the 1939 I. C. C. proceeding. This proceeding is still pending. The effective date of the February 18, 1941 opinion and ...

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