Interstate Commerce Commission v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

PETITIONER: Interstate Commerce Commission
RESPONDENT: American Trucking Associations, Inc.
LOCATION: Environmental Protection Agency

DOCKET NO.: 82-1643
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 467 US 354 (1984)
ARGUED: Jan 10, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 05, 1984

ADVOCATES:
Carter G. Phillips - on behalf of the Petitioners
Patrick Mc Eligot - on behalf of the Respondents
Patrick McEligot - for respondents

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Interstate Commerce Commission v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 10, 1984 in Interstate Commerce Commission v. American Trucking Associations, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Interstate Commerce Commission against American Trucking Associations.

Mr. Phillips, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Carter G. Phillips:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

At issue in this case is the validity of a rule adopted by the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1980 that provides the Commission with authority to reject at any time tariffs filed by a motor carrier if those tariffs were adopted or published under procedures that are found to be in significant violation of a rate bureau agreement.

The importance of the rate bureau agreement is that it serves as the basis for the motor carriers' immunity from antitrust liability for jointly setting and publishing their rates.

This suit is an attack on the rule as adopted and not as applied, and accordingly the facts are rather sparse.

The rule was adopted in the aftermath of the enactment of Congress in 1980 of the Motor Carrier Act.

The primary purpose of that Act was to increase competition among motor carriers, and one of the significant means for achieving that particular purpose was Congress' attempt to restructure the operations of rate bureaus.

Rate bureaus had been created after 1948 when Congress adopted the Reed-Bulwinkle Act which conferred the initial antitrust immunity on rate carriers so that they could avoid the destructive competition that Congress had found to have existed in the past so that they could set their rates jointly in a way that would otherwise violate section 1 of the Sherman Act because the immunity was perfectly permissible.

During the 32 years that the Reed-Bulwinkle Act had been in effect both the Commission and Congress had become concerned about possible abuses in the rate bureau process, and some members of both Congress and the Commission began to doubt whether any antitrust immunity was appropriate at all.

In 1980 Congress comprised on the issue and retained a certain amount of antitrust immunity for rate carriers but did so only in return on the condition that the rate bureaus themselves operate under very strict requirements so that they would be more open to the public and provide greater opportunity for competition among the motor carriers.

For instance, Congress required that bureau meetings be open, that the name of the proponent of any rate increase be disclosable, and that members of the bureau not discuss various aspects with published rates.

With regard to enforcement under the Interstate Commerce Commission Act, however, Congress did not modify the Commission's preexisting powers.

In its notice of proposed rule making the Commission explained that most of the requirements of the Act were self-fulfilling, but nonetheless adopted several substantive provisions designed to provide very clear guidance to the motor carriers with regard to precisely how they should operate in order to assure the continuance of their antitrust immunity.

The only one of those rules that is at issue in this case is the Commission's decision to adopt rejection, as it is called, of the carrier's tariff filing as a potential sanction in cases where the Commission finds after a hearing and the possibility ultimately of judicial review that the tariff is the product of a significant violation of a rate bureau agreement.

The Commission thereby asserted its authority in appropriate cases to declare the filed tariff to be invalid ab initio and thereby to subject the carrier to overcharged liability under section 11705(b)(1).

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Under that, Mr. Phillips, was the usual remedy retroactive, cancel it out all the way?

Carter G. Phillips:

The usual remedy in what context?

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

You just said that they exercise their discretion under that rule?

Carter G. Phillips:

Yes.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Cancel the filed tariff.

Carter G. Phillips:

In cases of significant rate bureau violations.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But that was the only thing the Commission would do?

Carter G. Phillips:

No.

The Commission retained the option of exercising any of its other enforcement powers.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Such as?

Carter G. Phillips:

It could bring a civil proceeding for a penalty, could decide to declare the rate invalid and prescribe a rate for the future, the traditional remedies it had always used.

Warren E. Burger:

And require adjustments.

Carter G. Phillips:

Could require adjustments.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, could it cancel it out only for the future?