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MISSISSIPPI VALLEY BARGE LINE CO. v. UNITED STATES ET AL.

decided: April 30, 1934.

MISSISSIPPI VALLEY BARGE LINE CO
v.
UNITED STATES ET AL.



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

Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo

Author: Cardozo

[ 292 U.S. Page 283]

 MR. JUSTICE CARDOZO delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellant, Mississippi Valley Barge Line Company, is a common carrier by water, operating towboats and barges on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. It derives a large part of its earnings from the transportation

[ 292 U.S. Page 284]

     of sugar, which it carries from New Orleans to Cincinnati and St. Louis and intermediate ports. It is in active competition with rail carriers serving the same ports and inland points beyond.

In 1932, the Illinois Central Railroad Company and other carriers by rail filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission proposed schedules of reduced rates on sugar from New Orleans to northern points, the rates to become effective October 1 of that year. The aim of the reduction was to meet the competition of the appellant and other carriers by water who had been able by reason of low and unregulated rates to divert to themselves a large part of the traffic in sugar that till then had moved by rail. The railway companies perceived that they were threatened with still heavier losses in the future unless something was done by a reduction of their own charges to recover the business that was slipping from their grasp. Indeed the change had gone so far that already they were hauling practically no sugar within the field of competition. In 1932 the barge movement amounted to over 500,000 tons, about ten times as much as moved all-rail from Louisiana to the north. Of the water-borne traffic, by far the greater part was carried by the Federal Barge Line, which has acquiesced in the new schedules, preferring to let the rail carriers fix the rate level. The residue has been carried, part of it by this appellant, part by the American Barge Company, and part by tramp or contract operators. During the year 1932, one railway company, the Illinois Central, lost about half a million dollars by traffic thus diverted. The new schedules that were filed in the attempt to retrieve these losses proposed two different sets of rates, one based upon a minimum weight of 60,000 pounds per car, and the other upon a minimum weight of 80,000 pounds per car. To illustrate their effect, the old rate between New Orleans and Chicago had

[ 292 U.S. Page 285]

     been 56 cents per 100 lbs.; the new one was 30 cents per 100 lbs. for the 80,000 minimum and 39 cents per 100 lbs. for the 60,000 minimum. Between New Orleans and St. Louis the old rate of 52 cents became 28 cents and 34 cents.

Protests against these changes having been filed by the appellant and others, the Interstate Commerce Commission proceeded to an investigation under § 15 (7) of the Interstate Commerce Act, and in the meantime ordered that the schedules be suspended. There were full hearings of the parties in interest, with testimony and argument. On July 3, 1933, the Commission found by its report that the respondents (the interveners in the court below) had justified the proposed rates with the 60,000 pound minimum. It found that they had not justified the proposed rates with the 80,000 pound minimum, but that they had justified rates four cents higher. "So far as the 80,000 pound minimum is concerned," the Commission said, "this means all-rail rates from New Orleans of 34 cents to Chicago and 32 cents to St. Louis." Sugar Cases of 1933, 195 I.C.C. 127. The rail carriers accepted this proposal, and an amended order of the Commission gave approval to the schedules so revised.

Under the Urgent Deficiencies Act (October 22, 1913, c. 32, 38 Stat. 208, 220; 28 U. S. C., §§ 47, 48), the Mississippi Valley Barge Line Company filed a bill to enjoin and set aside the order of the Commission, joining the United States and the Commission as defendants. A number of rail carriers who had been respondents in the proceeding were allowed to intervene. After the filing of answers, the suit was heard by a District Court of three judges in accordance with the statute. 28 U. S. C., § 47. None of the evidence received by the Commission was placed before the court. All that the court had, aside from the report and orders, was a group of affidavits by the complainant's officers, which were in substance to the

[ 292 U.S. Page 286]

     effect that the water carriers would be unable to compete with the carriers by rail if the schedules were to stand approved. These affidavits were received without objection as to their form, but subject to the objection that they were inadmissible in so far as they were inconsistent with what had been found in the report. The court dismissed the bill, holding that the findings of the report were conclusive as to the facts, and that they were sufficient on their ...


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