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GEORGIA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION ET AL. v. UNITED STATES ET AL.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: June 1, 1931.

GEORGIA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION ET AL
v.
UNITED STATES ET AL.

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA.

Hughes, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts

Author: Brandeis

[ 283 U.S. Page 767]

 MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Rates on Chert, Clay, Sand, and Gravel Within State of Georgia, 122 I. C. C. 133, was a proceeding under § 13, paragraphs (3) and (4), of the Interstate Commerce Act in which the Commission was petitioned to determine whether certain intrastate carload rates on these products, prescribed by the Georgia Public Service Commission, were unduly prejudicial to persons or localities engaged in interstate commerce. Several related cases, arising out of complaints concerning interstate rates on like products between points in the southern territory, were heard on the same record and dealt with in the same report.*fn1 Therein, the Interstate Commerce Commission prescribed certain distance scales as a maximum reasonable for interstate single-line and joint-line rates between points in Georgia and points in other States; and found that there was no transportation reason for the maintenance of a different basis of intrastate carload rates for these commodities within the State of Georgia. It did not then enter an order in respect to the intrastate rates, because it

[ 283 U.S. Page 768]

     believed "that the Georgia commission will cooperate in authorizing such revisions as might be necessary to bring their rates into harmony with the interstate adjustment herein approved." 122 I. C. C. 169-170.*fn2

Thereafter the carriers applied to the Georgia Public Service Commission for leave to establish the same distance scales for intrastate traffic. The state Commission refused the application and directed them to establish a scale differing from that applicable to interstate traffic. With that direction the carriers complied; but they petitioned the federal Commission to re-open its proceedings and to determine whether the prescribed intrastate rates result, and will result, in undue prejudice to persons or localities in interstate commerce and in unjust discrimination against such commerce. The petition to re-open the case was granted; the state authorities were again given due notice; and various parties intervened to oppose or support the contested intrastate rates. Upon the supplemental hearing, the Interstate Commerce Commission found that such prejudice and discrimination had resulted, and will result, from the rates prescribed by the Georgia Commission; and ordered the carriers to establish intrastate rates "which shall not be

[ 283 U.S. Page 769]

     lower, distance considered, than the rates contemporaneously applicable" to the interstate commerce. 160 I. C. C. 309, 326.

To enjoin and set aside that order of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and to restrain the carriers from establishing intrastate rates pursuant thereto, two suits (now consolidated) were brought, under the Urgent Deficiencies Act, October 22, 1913, c. 32, 38 Stat. 208, 219, in the federal court for northern Georgia. The plaintiffs are the Public Service Commission and the State Highway Board of Georgia; the defendants, the United States and the Interstate Commerce Commission. Carriers operating in Georgia and shippers intervened as defendants. The cases were heard by the District Court on an application for an interlocutory injunction, the bills and answers alone being introduced. The injunction was denied. Georgia Public Service Comm. v. United States, 39 F.2d 167. After final hearing on the full record of the proceedings before the Interstate Commerce Commission, the consolidated bill was dismissed. 42 F.2d 467. This appeal is from the final decree.

First. Appellants contend that the order of the Interstate Commerce Commission is void, because it was entered without the full hearing prescribed by § 13 (4). The argument is this. Paragraph 4 prescribes that "Whenever . . . the Commission, after full hearing, finds" a state rate to be unlawful because it causes undue prejudice or unjust discrimination, "it shall prescribe the rate, fare or charge, or the maximum or minimum, or maximum and minimum, thereafter to be charged." Act of February 28, 1920, c. 91, § 416, 41 Stat. 456, 484, amending Act of February 4, 1887, c. 104, § 13, 24 Stat. 379, 383. The claim is that there was no "full hearing" before entry of the challenged order, because the Commission limited the supplemental hearing to the question of prejudice and discrimination, and refused to consider anew

[ 283 U.S. Page 770]

     the question of the reasonableness of the interstate scales. It is true that when state rates are assailed on the ground that they result in undue prejudice to interstate shippers or discriminate against interstate commerce, the Commission must determine whether the existing interstate rates are reasonable, as it may not require intrastate rates to be raised above a reasonable level. State Corporation Comm. v. Aberdeen & Rockfish R. Co., 136 I. C. C. 173, 180. But the reasonableness of the interstate rates had already been found when they were established in the earlier stage of the proceedings; and at those hearings the Georgia Commission and the Highway Board were represented. Nearly eighteen months had elapsed since the original order,*fn3 but no evidence was offered at the supplemental hearing to show that conditions had so changed since the interstate rates were prescribed as to require reconsideration of the issue. The appellants' objection to the procedure is unfounded.*fn4

Second. Appellants contend that while the order prescribes a minimum and a maximum basis for intrastate rates, the minimum basis is so vague and uncertain as to

[ 283 U.S. Page 771]

     render the entire order void. The order requires the carriers to establish intrastate rates "which shall not be lower, distance considered, than those contemporaneously applicable to interstate transportation of the same commodities, in straight or mixed carloads, between points in the State of Georgia, and from points in other States in southern territory, except Florida, to points in the State of Georgia, not exceeding the rates set forth in the Appendix to this report and heretofore found and prescribed as reasonable in No. 17517 for the interstate transportation of said commodities in straight or mixed carloads." The claim is that this language leaves it doubtful whether the word "contemporaneously" refers only to rates in force at the time of the effective date of the original order, or also to such rates as may be made by the carriers from time to time thereafter, thereby raising or lowering future intrastate rates without the full hearing provided for by § 13 (4). We think it clear from the terms of the order that the interstate rates referred to are those now applicable and maintained. Compare Shreveport Case, 234 U.S. 342, 346-347; Alabama v. United States, 279 U.S. 229. When the order is read, as must be done, in the light of the report, American Express Co. v. Caldwell, 244 U.S. 617, 627, this and other alleged uncertainties are removed.*fn5

[ 283 U.S. Page 772]

     The order here challenged is state-wide in operation; and it governs a vast multitude of rates. Because of divergent conditions, a doubt may well arise in applying the rule prescribed to some particular situation. But possible uncertainty of application in isolated instances is not a sufficient ground for setting aside in its entirety, by judicial process, a carefully drawn order, otherwise valid and practicable of operation over a wide territory. The appropriate remedy under such circumstances is an application to the Commission requesting it to suspend the operation of the order in so far as it may affect the isolated cases; and, if necessary, to enter an independent order dealing specifically with them. American Express Co. v. Caldwell, 244 U.S. 617, 627. Such specific order, if appropriate for review under the Urgent Deficiencies Act, could be dealt with by the courts without interfering with the operation of the order as a whole or with the flexible administrative processes by which it may from time to time be modified. Compare Railroad Commission v. Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co., 257 U.S. 563, 591; Interstate Commerce Commission Rules of Practice, Rule XV (c); and the practice in State Corporation Comm. v. Aberdeen & Rockfish R. Co., 136 I. C. C. 173; 161 I. C. C. 273, 286; 165 I. C. C. 31; 169 I. C. C. 728; Southern Class-Rate Investigation, 100 I. C. C. 513; 109 I. C. C. 300; 113 I. C. C. 200; 128 I. C. C. 567; Eastern Class-Rate Investigation, 164 I. C. C. 314; 171 I. C. C. 481. It is true that the Georgia Public Service Commission petitioned the federal Commission for an interpretation of the order now challenged. But its petition, which occupies fourteen pages of the printed record, was in effect a petition for rehearing of the state-wide order.*fn6 Compare New England Divisions Case, 261 U.S. 184, 204.

[ 283 U.S. Page 773]

     the Commission's allowance of higher rates for joint-line hauls is inconsistent with uniform scales established by it in other decisions.*fn10 The argument is, in effect, an appeal to this Court to review the exercise of administrative discretion. It is not our province to enquire into the soundness of the Commission's reasoning, the wisdom of its decisions, or the consistency of its conclusion with those reached in similar cases. Western Paper Makers' Chemical Co. v. United States, 271 U.S. 268, 271. The facts to which our attention is called furnish no support for the charge of arbitrariness or of invasion of the sovereign rights of the State. Compare Shreveport Case, 234 U.S. 342, 354; American Express Co. v. Caldwell, 244 U.S. 617, 625.

Affirmed.

Disposition

42 F.2d 467, affirmed.


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