Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company v. Railway Labor Executives' Association

PETITIONER: Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company
RESPONDENT: Railway Labor Executives' Association
LOCATION: Checker Gasoline Station

DOCKET NO.: 87-1589
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 491 US 490 (1989)
ARGUED: Mar 29, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 21, 1989

ADVOCATES:
John B. O'Clarke, Jr. - on behalf of Respondents
Jeffrey P. Minear - as amicus curiae
Richard L. Wyatt, Jr. - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company v. Railway Labor Executives' Association

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 29, 1989 in Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company v. Railway Labor Executives' Association

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 87-1589, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company v. Railway Labor Executives' Association, and No. 87-1888, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Company v. Railway Labor Executives' Association.

Richard L. Wyatt, Jr.:

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

Seventeen months ago the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad decided to go out of the railroad business.

The simple undeniable fact in this case is that after years of losses and a fruitless search for a buyer, it finally found a buyer willing to buy its assets.

Deciding to exercise its fundamental right to go out of business, it entered into an agreement to sell certain of its assets to Railco.

Now, 17 months later, much against its will, the railroad is still in business and it's still losing enormous amounts of money, Over one--

Excuse me.

Richard L. Wyatt, Jr.:

--million dollars each month.

Antonin Scalia:

How fundamental is that right not to go out of business?

Can the Interstate Commerce Commission prevent a railroad from going... it can certainly prevent a railroad that stays in business from abandoning certain parts of its operations.

Can the Interstate Commerce Commission compel a railroad to continue to serve if it really wants to go entirely out of business?

Richard L. Wyatt, Jr.:

Your Honor, they cannot require them to serve indefinitely, as we indicate in the Fifth Amendment cases.

I believe the Brooks-Scanlon case was a railroad case where the Interstate Commerce Commission tried to prolong the railroad from going out of business.

There is a point at which a losing railroad has a right, even as against the ICC, to go completely out of business.

But Mr. Justice Scalia is correct, the ICC does have the authority to require that railroad to delay its exit from the industry.

And that is exclusively the ICC's authority.

Antonin Scalia:

And that's theoretically all we're talking about here.

A delay of exit, I suppose.

Richard L. Wyatt, Jr.:

Well, at this point we are now talking about a 17-month delay in exit, which appears to stretch on endlessly.

We are now talking about an interminable delay and we're talking about a specific ICC order in this case, Mr. Justice Scalia, which said the immediate consummation of that transaction to Railco was in the public interest and it should have been done immediately.

Instead, what we have in this case now are two companion rulings from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that hold that the company, while it was free to decide to go out of business, it could not do so until it completed the bargaining processes of the Act.

And it also held that RLEA's strike, launched, as the district court said, to deliberately frustrate the terms of the ICC-approved sale, and for that purpose alone, that that strike could not be enjoined as a violation of the Interstate Commerce Act.

But, really, we believe three issues critical to the resolution of the issues this Court granted certiorari on.

Those three issues are, first, the Interstate Commerce Act, the nature and scope of the Interstate Commerce Commission's exclusive and plenary jurisdiction in these transactions.

The second is the nature and scope of the Railway Labor Act's bargaining command, and it's command... and its prohibition on unilateral action.

Do those bargaining commands and do those prohibitions apply to ICC-regulated transactions?

We think there's a third critical issue.

Depending on the resolution of the Interstate Commerce Act issue and the Railway Labor Act issue, it may not be necessary to reach it.

But the third issue would be the accommodation issue.

And that is if these two conflicting laws do... if these two laws do apply in a way where there is a conflict, what is the appropriate accommodation of the two laws.