Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company v. Wichita Board of Trade

PETITIONER: Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company
RESPONDENT: Wichita Board of Trade
LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 72-214
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 412 US 800 (1973)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1973
DECIDED: Jun 18, 1973

Betty Jo Christian - for I.C.C
Daniel J. Sweeney - for Wichita Board of Trade and others
Earl E. Pollock - for Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Co. and others
William A. Imhof - for Secretary of Agriculture

Facts of the case


Media for Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company v. Wichita Board of Trade

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1973 in Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company v. Wichita Board of Trade

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in 72-214, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway against the Wichita Board of Trade, and 72-433, Interstate Commerce Commission against the Wichita Board of Trade.

Mr. Pollock, you may proceed.

Earl E. Pollock:

May it please the Court.

Within the past year, this is the third case to come before the Court, arising out of efforts to release the critical shortage of freight cars on the nation's railroads.

The other two cases Allegheny-Ludlum and Florida East Coast involve rules and rates intended to discourage delay in returning cars.

This case involves railroad charges intended to discourage the in-transit inspection of grain and in that way reduce the wasteful use of cars.

The new tariffs were published by the railroads almost exactly three years ago to become effective on March 28, 1970, but before the effective date, the Interstate Commerce Commission, acting under Section 15(7) of the Act suspended the charges for the maximum seven month period provided by the statute.

The suspension was voluntarily extended by the affected railroads for an additional six months.

The charges were finally put into effect in May 1971.

After extensive hearings, the Commission found that the charges were just and reasonable and also found that the charges would make a substantial contribution to the improvement of the national freight car supply.

The District Court, the court below, set aside the Commission's order, in addition without any request by the plaintiffs to grant such relief, without any discussion of its authority to grant such relief, without any finding of irreplaceable injury, and indeed without any injunction findings whatsoever.

The District Court suspended the charges which are then been in effect for over a year.

Thereafter, this Court entered and ordered which stayed the judgment below and which permitted the rates to go back into effect.

My co-counsel, Mrs. Christian, Associate General Counsel of the Commission will present the position of the appellants and the United States on the District Court's suspension of the charges, while my argument will deal with the District Court's decision on the merits of the Commission's order.

These tariffs imposed charges for interrupting grain shipments for the purpose of in-transit inspection.

This service involves stopping a car loaded with grain while it is already en-route, switching the car to a separate track at a few locations in the country, where the car is held for sampling and grading of the contents, waiting for disposition orders from the shipper or his consignee after he receives the results of the inspection, and then eventually switching the car back into the regular line-haul movement.

The car delay resulting from this practice amounts on the average to more than three days for each and every inspection.

Now this delay can readily be avoided by having the inspection, if an inspection is desired, made either at the point of origin or at the point of destination after delivery, or by omitting the inspection altogether as it's frequently done.

Historically, the nation's railroads have made separate charges for providing in-transit inspection service, but in the western district, unlike the east which has been doing this since 1963, these charges previously applied, although with a number of various substantial exceptions, only to the second and subsequent inspections on any one grain shipment.

The first inspection in other words, was in the western district provided without additional charge.

This extraordinary practice grew out of a legal requirement which no longer exists.

Until five years ago, the inspection of interstate grain shipments was required by Federal Law, but in 1968, Congress repealed this requirement.

At the same time, the Congress authorized inspection on the basis of so called submitted samples.

The result of these changes in the law is that under the law at present, any shipping point in the country can also be an inspection point.

The --

Potter Stewart:

Under the former requirement that the inspection have to take place while the grain was in in-transit?

Earl E. Pollock:

No, Mr. Justice Stewart, it did not have to be done while it was in transit, but as the Commission pointed out because of prior practice and because of convenience, the practice of in-transit inspection of grain continued.

Potter Stewart:

So it wasn't a requirement?

Earl E. Pollock:

It was not required and in fact, one of the principal reasons for the Commission's decision in this case is to stimulate the grain trade so as to depart from this practice in the light of the Commission's findings that in-transit inspection is by no means essential.

Potter Stewart:

but it wasn't essential, as you just told me, under the old law?