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Noerr Motor Freight Inc. v. Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference

filed: December 10, 1959.


Before BIGGS, Chief Judge, and McLAUGHLIN and STALEY, Circuit Judges.

Opinion of the Court

Per Curiam: In this antitrust action for an injunction and treble damages,*fn1 forty-one long distance trucking companies and their trade association, Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, sued twenty-four major eastern railroads, Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference and Carl Byoir Associates, Inc. a New York corporation, the public relations agency for the Conference.

Plaintiffs charged in their complaint (filed April 30, 1953) inter alia, that in or about May, 1949, the defendant Railroads embarked upon an illegal conspiracy, in violation of the civil and criminal provisions of the antitrust laws of the United States, aimed at destroying the plaintiffs and those similarly situated as competitors in the field of the hauling of freight, and at carving out exclusive, monopolistic spheres of operation in the freight transportation business of the United States, so that the railroads would have a monopoly on freight hauling in interstate commerce; that the defendant Railroads worked for those ends through the defendant Conference; that the latter retained defendant Byoir as publicity agent to carry said conspiracy into effect; that thereafter the Conference, its committees, members thereof, the defendant Railroads, their presidents and trustees and other individual defendants and Byoir, with divers other persons unknown to plaintiffs, have acted in combination and concert to obtain the objectives of the conspiracy. The means used are detailed in the complaint; a continuing conspiracy to the date of the complaint is alleged; damage to each of the plaintiffs is asserted, irreparable, continuing injury stated and an injunction asked. Defendants denied the charges of the complaint. In 1956, after the case had been assigned a trial date, October 1, 1956, after the case had been assigned a trial date, October 1, 1956, and while discovery procedures were pending, some of the Railroads and the Conference sought permission to and were allowed to file a counterclaim against the plaintiffs. This claimed that plaintiffs were engaged in an illegal conspiracy to obtain a monopoly of the long haul freight industry in the same part of the United States as set out in the complaint and to force the Railroads out of that part of the transportation business in that area.

The case went to trial before Judge Clary on October 1, 1956 and lasted almost four months. There were many witnesses and 968 exhibits. On October 10, 1957, the court in an exhaustive opinion (it covers 73 pages in 155 F.Supp. 768-841) found in favor of the plaintiffs against all the defendants on plaintiffs' cause of action and against the defendant counterclaimants and in favor of the plaintiffs on the counterclaim.

Soundly based on substantial evidence, the trial court found that the Railroads and Byoir, as contended, had conspired in unreasonable restraint of trade to injure the truckers in their competitive position in the long haul freight industry in the northeastern part of the United States; that their immediate purpose was to create public resentment to the truckers, not only in the minds of the general public but in the minds of those who utilized the services of the trucks and in such a manner as to interfere with business relations between shippers and truckers; that instead of meeting the truckers competition in the long haul freight field, the Railroads and Byoir combined to injure and/or destroy the truckers and thereby force the shippers to their detriment to continue to use the Railroads; that they adopted and carried out a full program to obtain that objective; that serious private injury to the truckers was accomplished, definitely a loss of good will to the trucking industry and in some instances that loss of good will being extreme; that their actions destroyed to a large extent the public confidence which the truckers had fairly earned and which might have been increased in the light of the innumerable beneficial accomplishments of the truckers in long haul transportation.

The court found on overwhelming evidence that it was no series of individual conspiracies in the various states involved but one large ever-growing conspiracy as charged having as its goal to injure and/or destroy the long haul trucking industry and that the main means used to attain such end was primarily a campaign designed to destroy the good will of the truckers and to instigate and foster government restrictions by creating public hostility to the truckers, bringing this to the attention of the various legislatures, then proposing legislation crippling to the trucking industry and favored by the Railroads, all under the guise of public spirited organizations and with the defendants' interest concealed.*fn2

The record shows the defendants' anti-trust conspiracy completely established against all the defendants named in the decree.*fn3 It shows both legal and illegal methods to obtain the illegal objective of injuring and/or destroying the long haul trucking industry. It shows injury to the plaintiffs and to the public. It justifies the injunctive relief against continuing illegal activities of the defendants. It justifies the compensatory damages (trebled by statute) allowed plaintiff Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, together with costs and counsel fees. It justifies the holding of the district court that the other plaintiffs, by reason of the stipulation which is very clear and is part of the record, are only entitled to nominal damages. It justifies the dismissal of the counter-claim, which action is not disputed by the Railroads except in line with their argument that the counterclaim is similar in content to the plaintiffs' claim.

Though we think it plain from what we have said, it might be well to expressly note that the suggestion that the Railroads' entire activity, spearheaded by Byoir, was merely a perfectly legitimate public relations campaign for legislation is fanciful in view of the impressive documentation in the record of the finding of the trial court

"* * * that the entire campaign and its objectives did not constitute a mere appeal to the legislature; nor was it a large scale lobbying campaign. True, one phase of the activities was of a legislative nature - but a rather new approach to legislation, to say the least. The other phase, and the more important one of the campaign, was one of vilification designed to destroy the good will of the long-haul trucking industry.Hence, the Court has rejected the contention of the defendants that their combination was entirely legislative. I have further determined that the railroads were not acting as the guardian of the public welfare, as they have so earnestly asserted ."

Judge Clary's opinion is soundly predicated on the facts and law of this litigation. We are in accord with it. The decree and orders of the district court of July 22, 1958 and July 31, 1958 will be affirmed.

BIGGS, Chief Judge, dissenting.

The case at bar merits the attention of the reviewing Court. The record demonstrates that no cognizable offense has been proved under Section 1 or Section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1 and 2, and that therefore relief cannot be granted to the plaintiffs under Sections 4 and 16 of the Clayton Act. 15 U.S.C.A.§§ 15 and 26. Moreover, the reach of the decision of the court below is disastrous for it applies the Sherman Act to governmental restraints imposed by statutes enacted by state legislatures and to private activity in procuring such legislation. If the interpretation of the court below and of this court be correct the reach of the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of petition will be unduly limited and to an extent at least, destroyed. Rights guaranteed to the States and to the people by the Tenth Amendment will be endamaged. Heavy sanctions, criminal as well as civil, can be imposed on persons who seek the enactment of laws by Congress or by the legislatures of the States. I shall endeavor to deal first with what can perhaps be properly described as "conventional" antitrust law in relation to the case at bar and at a later point in this opinion will discuss the application of the constitutional guarantees referred to.

What the record proves is the following. Certain interstate trucking companies*fn1 were engaged in hot economic competition with twenty-four major eastern railroads*fn2 in the interstate transportation of long-haul freight. The Railroads and the Truckers as groups were avidly desirous of increasing their own respective interstate freight haulage and profits and decreasing those of the competing group. Both Railroads and Truckers hired public relations agencies to aid them. The ERPC engaged Byoir. PMTA engaged Allied Public Relations Associates. The methods employed by the public relations agencies of both the Railroads and the Truckers left much to be desired in respect to moral consciousness. Sources of propaganda were concealed by both sides by the use of the so-called "third-party" technique.

Both Railroads and Truckers and their agencies desired to influence public opinion in order to increase their own good will and to damage that of each other and thereby to procure legislation favorable to themselves and unfavorable to the competing group.*fn3 There was no difference in substance between the methods employed by Byoir for the Railroads and those employed by Allied Public Relations Associates for the Truckers except that Byoir was more vigorous, more vocal, and more effective. It was a no-holds-barred fight by both sides. The methods employed might well cause justifiable fear to those concerned with the viability of our representative form of government.

Conventional Principles of Law Hitherto Deemed Applicable to Section 1 and Section 2 of Sherman Act Suits

As has been said, the action is based on Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.*fn4 It is necessary to discuss the applicability of both sections and it is more convenient to proceed first with a discussion of Section 2. The Truckers ' case is deficient when viewed in the light of Section 2, the "Monopoly" section, of the Sherman Act. Section 2 provides: "Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor. . . ." The offense of monopolizing means ". . . to combine or conspire to acquire or maintain the power to exclude competitors from any part of the trade or commerce among the several states or with foreign nations, provided they also have such a power that they are able, as a group, to exclude actual or potential competition from the field and provided that they have the intent and purpose to exercise that power."*fn5 American Tobacco Co. v. U.S ., 328 U.S. 781, 809 (1946). Since the Railroads have not effected a monopoly on long-haul freight traffic or ...

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