ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA
White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds, Brandeis, Clarke
MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the court.
These three cases were heard together. In each of them the plaintiff below sought to recover from the Northern Pacific Railway Company, in a state district court of Minnesota, an amount equal to that by which the freight collected for coal carried on an interstate route from Duluth to some other city in the State, exceeded the rate prescribed by the Minnesota law for carriage between those points on another route, wholly within the State. In each case judgment was entered in the trial court for the plaintiff for such amount; and the judgments were affirmed by the Supreme Court of Minnesota. Each case comes here on writ of error.
Carlton is situated on the Northern Pacific Railway, west of Duluth. Between these Minnesota cities that company operates two lines of railroad, each mainly single track. The northerly line, about 20.9 miles in length, lies wholly within Minnesota; the southerly line, 27.5 miles in length, extends for 11.7 miles through Wisconsin. The southerly is the original Northern Pacific line which was built in 1885. It has relatively light grades. The northerly line was built by the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad Company and came under the management of the Northern Pacific in 1900. It has a heavy upgrade from Duluth to Carlton. Since 1900 both lines have been operated continuously by the Northern
Pacific. Because of these grades, the northerly route has been used almost exclusively for such Duluth shipments as are inbound and the southerly route has been used for such as are outbound. Until June, 1907, the rates were the same over the two routes. They were duly filed with the Minnesota Railroad and Warehouse Commission and with the Interstate Commerce Commission.
In 1907 the legislature of Minnesota fixed for intrastate carriage of coal, maximum rates which were lower than the published rates theretofore charged. The rates so fixed were to take effect June 1, 1907; but before that date their enforcement was enjoined by the proceedings which were reviewed in The Minnesota Rate Cases, 230 U.S. 352. This injunction remained in effect until July, 1913, when it was dissolved pursuant to that decision. Until then the Northern Pacific continued to charge the published rates (and therefore the same rates) on all shipments of coal from Duluth to Minnesota points, whether moving via the interstate route or the intrastate route. After dissolution of the injunction, the company refunded on the few shipments which had moved over the intrastate route, the amount by which the charges actually collected exceeded the charges which would have been collected had the rates fixed by the legislature been observed. It refused, however, to make refunds on shipments made over the interstate route, on the ground that the state statute did not affect them.
Among such shipments were those involved in these cases, from Duluth by the interstate route to three Minnesota points, Hitterdal, Battle Lake, and Haweley, cities on the Northern Pacific lying west of Carlton. The shipment in each case was delivered to the Railway without any instruction as to how it should be routed; but the plaintiffs contended that, in the absence of instructions, it was the duty of the carrier to select that
route which was for the interest of the shipper, namely the intrastate route; because it would prove to be the cheaper, if the rates prescribed by the State were upheld. The several shippers claimed that they were entitled to the same refunds which would have been made if the coal had been carried on the intrastate route; and the suits were brought to recover these amounts.
The Railway answered in the first two cases, that, at the time of the shipments, the rates published were (because of the injunction in effect) identical on the two routes; that "in the ordinary and proper and economical operation of its property, it was necessary to move, and this defendant in general did and does now, move all out-bound shipments from Duluth via the interstate line and all in-bound shipments into Duluth via the intrastate line, and that to have carried the shipments referred to in the complaint to their destination . . . via said intrastate line instead of via the interstate line, over which they were actually carried, would have entailed great additional expense upon this defendant"; and that these rates were just and reasonable for the service performed and were collected pursuant to the tariffs published and filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission. In the third case the answer alleged in addition, that, on December 24, 1915, and prior to the commencement of that action, the Interstate Commerce Commission had, in Holmes & Hallowell Co. v. Great Northern Ry. Co., 37 I. C. C. 627, decided that the practice of defendant in routing its westbound shipments from Duluth over its interstate line was a proper and reasonable practice and had denied the application for reparation on shipments of coal made over that route.
The judgments entered were upon demurrers to the answers. That in number 205 was entered May 28, 1916; that in number 206 on May 23, 1916; that in number 526 on May 2, ...