United States v. Western Pacific Railroad Company

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Western Pacific Railroad Company
LOCATION: Quality Photo Shop

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1956-1957)

CITATION: 352 US 59 (1956)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1956
DECIDED: Dec 03, 1956

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Western Pacific Railroad Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1956 in United States v. Western Pacific Railroad Company

Earl Warren:

Number 18, on calendar, the United States, Petitioner, versus The Western Pacific Railroad Company.

Mr. Hollander.

Morton Hollander:

May it please the Court.

This case, Number 18 is here on certiorari to the United States Court of Claims.

Petitioner is the United States.

Respondents are three rail carriers, the Western Pacific, Bangor and Aroostook and Seaboard.

These three carriers instituted this litigation by filing suits against the United States in the Court of Claims contending that they had been underpaid for certain shipments transported by the Government over the lines of these carriers during World War II and the Korean conflict.

The next case which will be called on the calendar, Number 19, United States against Chesapeake and Ohio emerges out of a somewhat similar factual background in the sense that that case too represents a carrier claim for underpayment against the United States.

That case came out of the District Court and is here on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Both of these cases present this basic question as to the effect to be given Section 16 (3), the Section of the Interstate Commerce Act which prescribes a two-year period of limitation.

We believe that the Court of Claims, Number 18 and that the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Number 19, applied this statute in a fashion which was unjust and discriminatory as far as the United States, as a shipper is concerned.

Now, let me give you the factual background in Number 18, the Western Pacific case.

In 1944, in 1948 and in 1950, the Government shipped over the lines of these three carriers about 200 shipments of steel bomb body cases filled with napalm gel.

I'd like to explain exactly what these shipments consisted of because the -- the makeup and the ingredients of these particular shipments account -- accounted for the original filing of these suits against the United States in the Court of Claims.

The shipment says, I have said consisted of steel bomb body cases filled with napalm gel.

Napalm gel is ordinary liquid gasoline that has been solidified or thickened by the addition of a soap powder known in the trade as napalm.

The addition of the soap powder to the gasoline does not work any chemical change in the net product; the thickened gasoline, it simply changes its physical state by converting it from a liquid to a solid, thickened and adhesive form.

The addition of this napalm to the gasoline in no way makes the gasoline any more hazardous certainly than it was before.

In fact, the addition of the napalm that thickened it to the gasoline by solidifying the liquid gasoline makes these shipments relatively far safer from a transportation as they point their view because there is eliminated any possibility of leakage.

There is eliminated any possibility of spillage and of course there isn't anywhere as near as much vaporization from the thickened, solidified gel as there is from the liquid gasoline.

Our basic position with respect to the appropriate classification rate at which these shipments are eligible to travel is that the shipments should not -- the shipments were eligible for transportation at a rate denominated in the freight tariffs as a fifth-class rate.

We base our position on the fact that steel bomb body cases themselves are regularly carried at the fifth-class rate, gasoline has always been carried at the fifth-class rate and the napalm itself is aluminum soap powder which is used as the thickener has always been carried at the fifth-class rate.

Since all of these items were eligible for carriage at the fifth-class rate, our position has been that when the gel is added or poured into the steel bomb body cases, the transportation rate should be no higher than fifth-class.

Especially, since the addition of the thickener to the gasoline as I have pointed out actually makes the shipment far safer from the transportation point of view.


Morton Hollander:

Oh, no, Your Honor.

No -- no, there is -- it's -- it's not in dispute in this case that the only items shipped in these cases, the only ingredients shipped in these cases were the empty steel shell and into which was poured this thickened gasoline.

There were no fuses.

There were no bursters.

A completed incendiary bomb in order for it to function effectively on the field must have the fuse and must in addition have a burster which includes both an incendiary agent as well as an explosive, TNT.