Secretary of Agriculture v. United States

PETITIONER: Secretary of Agriculture
RESPONDENT: United States

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)

ARGUED: Oct 12, 1955
DECIDED: Jan 09, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for Secretary of Agriculture v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 12, 1955 (Part 2) in Secretary of Agriculture v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 12, 1955 (Part 1) in Secretary of Agriculture v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 6, Number 7, Number 11 and Number 12 on the docket.

Secretary of Agriculture versus the United States of America, Interstate Commerce Commission, et al.

Mr. Frankel.

Marvin E. Frankel:

May it please the Court.

These are direct appeals from a decision of a three-judge Court for the District of Utah, which by a divided vote sustained an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission approving certain tariff regulations to the nation's railroads.

Under the Commission's order, which I shall describe more fully in a while, the railroads all over the country are free in all circumstances for specified percentages of damage in egg shipments delivered by them.

A number of protestants appeared before the Interstate Commerce Commission and opposed these regulations.

The protestants included egg shippers all over the country, the Secretary of Agriculture in his role as statutory representative of the agriculture community, the Department of the Army on behalf of the national military establishment, which buy the lot of eggs.

The United States with the statutory defendant as it is in all such cases in the court below.

However, it aligned itself with the Secretary of Agriculture in urging that the Commission's order and the regulations, the Commission approved were invalid and the United States is here again aligned with the secretary in urging reversal.

Now, I'm here to argue on behalf of the secretary and the United States.

We filed a joint brief.

Three other appellants, egg shippers have filed a separate brief also urging reversal, are substantially, on the grounds we pressed with differences, of course, in the answers and detail.

Now, these other appellants have relinquished their time for oral argument and I shall present as fully as I can, the grounds on which we commonly urge reversal.

Now, the regulations have approved, issued with the Commission's approval by the railroad appear at --at pages 52 through 54 of Volume 1 of the record.

And we are concerned here particularly with section 6 and 7 of these regulations, which are at pages 53 and 54 of the record.

These regulations if you can see provide that, “On eggs placed in packages at rail point of origin of the shipment, the railroads are in no case to be liable for damage, where the damage does not exceed 3% of the contents of the packages containing damaged eggs.”

Section 7 provides that where the eggs are placed in packages at points elsewhere than a the rail point of origin, the limitations, well, I shouldn't say limitation, that's our issue.

The percentage for which the railroads are not to be liable is 5%.

In both cases, the 3% and 5% regulations, if carrier liability is shown, that liability is not to be for anything except the excess over the 3% and 5%.

So that in all cases, the railroads are not liable for either 3% or 5%.

Now, both of these sections contained a -- an exception.

And that exception provides that where the shipper has obtained a federal or a state grading certificate showing the amount of damage in the eggs at the rail point of origin the percentage for which the railroad is not to be liable is to be that amount plus 1%.

Now, we argued below on a number of grounds that these regulations were unreasonable and unlawful under the Interstate Commerce Act.

But our main argument was then and my main argument here will be that these are limitations of liability forbidden by Section 20 (11) of the Interstate Commerce Act, which is it is set out and printed in part at pages 20 and 21 of the Government's brief.

In a word, our position has been that regulations, which declare as this do, that no claim shall be allowed for specified percentages of the damage, our position has been that this is clear and unmistakable limitation of liability forbidden, admittedly, limitations of liability are forbidden by Section 20 (11).

We have a segment that the --

Harold Burton:

Did you say that at least, absolutely forbidden as to half a percent or 1% or any other percent and it -- it doesn't turn on the 3 and the 5?

Marvin E. Frankel:

It doesn't turn on the 3 or the 5, Your Honor.

Now, I -- I should say we have a second point, less important, but also in itself an independent ground for reversal which is, that the findings of the Commission do not sustain its order approving these regulations in this case.