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UNITED STATES ET AL. v. L. A. TUCKER TRUCK LINES

decided: November 10, 1952.

UNITED STATES ET AL
v.
L. A. TUCKER TRUCK LINES, INC.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI.

Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton

Author: Jackson

[ 344 U.S. Page 34]

 MR. JUSTICE JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

One Cunningham applied to the Interstate Commerce Commission for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to authorize extension of his existing motor carrier route.*fn1 A railroad and eleven motor carriers, including appellee, intervened to oppose. The issues were referred to an examiner who after hearing recommended that, with exceptions not material here, a certificate be granted. Appellee excepted, whereupon Division 5 of the Commission, in substance, approved the recommendation. Appellee requested reconsideration by the full Commission, which was denied, and then petitioned for "extraordinary relief," which also was refused. The Commission thereupon issued a certificate to Cunningham. Appellee, upon the ground that the evidence did not show need for the additional transportation service, petitioned the District Court to set aside the certificate and order. The Commission and the United States answered and a three-judge court was convened.

[ 344 U.S. Page 35]

     On the day appointed for hearing, appellee moved for leave to amend its petition to raise, for the first time, a contention that the Commission's action was invalid for want of jurisdiction because the examiner had not been appointed pursuant to § 11 of the Administrative Procedure Act.*fn2 The District Court allowed amendment and, upon proof that the appointment had not been in accordance with that Act, invalidated the order and certificate without going into the merits of the issue tendered in the original complaint.*fn3 This appeal by the United States and the Interstate Commerce Commission raises but a single question -- whether such an objection, first made at that stage of the proceedings, was not erroneously entertained. We hold that it was.

Appellee did not offer nor did the court require any excuse for its failure to raise the objection upon at least one of its many opportunities during the administrative proceeding. Appellee does not claim to have been misled or in any way hampered in ascertaining the facts about the examiner's appointment. It did not bestir itself to learn the facts until long after the administrative proceeding was closed and months after the case was at issue in the District Court, at which time the Commission promptly supplied the facts upon which the contention was based and sustained.

The apparent reason for complacency was that it was not actually prejudiced by the conduct or manner of appointment of the examiner. There is no suggestion that he exhibited bias, favoritism or unfairness. Nor is there ground for assuming it from the relationships in the proceeding. He did not act and was not expected to act both as prosecutor and judge. The Commission, which appointed him, did not institute or become a party in

[ 344 U.S. Page 36]

     interest to the proceeding. Neither it nor its examiner had any function except to decide justly between contestants in an adversary proceeding. The issue is clearly an afterthought, brought forward at the last possible moment to undo the administrative proceedings without consideration of the merits and can prevail only from technical compulsion irrespective of considerations of practical justice.

In Riss & Co. v. United States, 341 U.S. 907, this Court held that officers hearing applications for certificates of convenience and necessity under § 207 (a) of the Interstate Commerce Act are subject to the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act.*fn4 But timeliness of the objection was not before us, because in that case the examiner's appointment had been twice challenged in the administrative proceedings, once, as it should have been, before the examiner at the hearings and again before the Commission on a petition for rehearing. That decision established only that a litigant in such a case as this who does make such demand at the time of hearing is entitled to an examiner chosen as the Act prescribes.

We have recognized in more than a few decisions,*fn5 and Congress has recognized in more ...


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