H. K. Porter Company, Inc. v. Central Vermont Railway, Inc.

PETITIONER: H. K. Porter Company, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Central Vermont Railway, Inc.
LOCATION: Mapp's Residence

DOCKET NO.: 257
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 366 US 272 (1961)
ARGUED: Apr 20, 1961
DECIDED: May 22, 1961

Facts of the case

Question

Media for H. K. Porter Company, Inc. v. Central Vermont Railway, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 1961 (Part 1) in H. K. Porter Company, Inc. v. Central Vermont Railway, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 1961 (Part 2) in H. K. Porter Company, Inc. v. Central Vermont Railway, Inc.

Richard A. Solomon:

-- Chief Justice, members of the Court.

Before the recess, I had outlined the facts of this case.

Now, these facts are not disputed and upon the basis of these facts, the Commission made a determination which is also not disputed and that is that there was in fact undue preference to the -- people in official territory and in fact undue prejudice to the people in southern territory.

This conclusion led to an order directing them to do away with the undue discrimination and this has been attacked solely on the grounds of jurisdiction, the jurisdictional issues of course being whether the Commission had any jurisdiction in this situation since both -- both of the rates were international rates.

Now, briefly, on the jurisdictional question with respect to why we don't believe the unreasonableness part of this case is properly before the Court.

The Commission's decision discusses the unreasonableness of the rate and its report, starting on page 61 and ending on page 79, reaches the conclusion that the rate was unreasonable and also that it would form the basis of a reparations order.

But if you look at the order of the Commission on page 81 of the record, you will see that this order is directed solely to the question of ordering the carriers to do away with the prejudicial rate structure.

There is no order directing the establishment of any reasonable rate.

There is no reparations order.

This is not unusual.

What the Commission did was, as far as the reasonableness and reparations point, it issued a preliminary determination here and said, “Filed necessary information pursuing to Rule 1.101 and subsequently, will get around to making reparations order.”

Therefore, the only final action of the Commission which was before the District Court was the action of the Court on page 81 directing these carriers to end the prejudicial rate structure.

The reasonableness was not before the Court and as a matter of fact, if a final reparations order had been issued, it still couldn't have come before this Court because it's established by United States against I.C.C. and other cases cited in our brief that final reparations orders do not go to a three-judge District Courts of the type that we had below here, they go to single-judge District Courts.

In other words, to the extent that the District Court, the three-judge District Court here, purported to discuss to -- and find improper the Commission's reasonableness finding, they were without jurisdiction because there was no final order on the subject and because there -- that Court would not have jurisdiction if there had been a final order.

John M. Harlan II:

(Inaudible)

Richard A. Solomon:

The order of the Commission, Your Honor, directs them to eliminate the prejudicial rate.

This Court has held in the Texas and Pacific case as you're aware that where a Commission order of that nature is issued, there must be an alternative available to the railroads.

There is such an alternative here.

This order doesn't say which they should take, but they may eliminate this discrepancy in one of two manners.

They can withdraw their concurrence to the joint rates now in existence to official territory which would mean they would file reasonable and non-discriminatory domestic rates from the border to official territory points and eliminate the discrepancy in that way or if they don't choose to do that and this is their option, they can undo the discrimination by lowering their domestic rates now in effect from the border to southern territory.

But they have under this Commission order and this is made perfectly clear in the supplemental opinion that the Commission issued later on, they have this option of eliminating this discrepancy in either way they wish.

John M. Harlan II:

(Inaudible) see that factual situation now to all states.

Richard A. Solomon:

Oh yes, that's right.

Now, if as we suggest you vacate the order on reasonableness, that order of the District Court would not exist.

Presumably what would happen would be that the Commission, while on the proper filings, would issue a reparations order and if the carriers didn't choose to comply with it under the ordinary procedures, the shippers would sue and then that issue would be before the Court in a proper manner.

Now, let me get to the merits of my jurisdictional argument with respect to the undue prejudice business.

The problem here, to the extent there's a problem, comes from the fact that the Interstate Commerce Act, and I suggest primarily is a matter of constitutional requirements, provides that the I.C.C. does have authority over international railroad transportation but only has authority, “but only insofar if such transportation takes place within the Unites States.”

In other words, it has authority over international railroad transportation insofar as it takes place within the United States.

Now, there have been a series of decisions in this Court of which you will hear more of later.

The News Syndicate case at volume 273, the Lewis-Simas-Jones case at volume 283, the Great Northern versus Sullivan case at volume 294 in which this Court has passed upon what is the authority of the Commission to determine and hold liable American carriers for the unreasonableness of an international rate.