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Trans-Missouri Freight Association, and the several railway companies composing the said association, for the purpose of having declared illegal and void a certain agreement entered into between the said railway companies for mutual protection, and to establish and maintain rates, rules and regulations on all freight traffic included within a defined territory. The United States asked that the said association of the railways be dissolved and a perpetual injunction be granted against any similar combination and association in the future of such constituent railways. The basis of the government's contention was that the agreement in question was contrary to the Sherman Anti-Trust Law,* as being in restraint of trade among the States. The lower court dismissed the government's suit. The case was carried on appeal to the Supreme Court. Sections of the agreement are in part as follows:
That "a committee shall be appointed to establish rates, rules and regulations on the traffic subject of this association, and to consider changes therein, and make rules for meeting the competition of outside lines. Their conclusions, when unanimous, shall be made effective when they so order, but if they differ the question at issue shall be referred to the managers of the lines parties hereto; and if they disagree it shall be arbitrated in the manner provided in article 7."
That "at least five days' written notice prior to each monthly meeting shall be given the chairman of any proposed reduction in rates or change in any rule or regulation governing freight traffic; eight days in so far as applicable to the traffic of Colorado or Utah." * * * *
At each monthly meeting, the association shall consider and vote upon all changes proposed, of which due notice has been given, and all parties shall be bound by the decisions of the association, as expressed, unless then and there the parties shall give the association definite written notice that in ten days thereafter, they shall make such modification notwithstanding the vote of the association: Provided, That if the member giving notice of change shall fail to be represented at the meeting, no action shall be taken on its notice, and the same shall be considered withdrawn. Should any member insist upon a reduction of rate against the views of the majority, or if the majority favors the same, and if, in the judgment of such majority the rate so made effects seriously the rates upon other traffic, then the association may, by a majority vote, upon such other traffic put into effect corresponding rates to take effect on the same day. By unanimous consent, any rate, rule or regulation relating to freight traffic may be modified at any meeting of the association without previous notice.
It shall be the duty of the chairman to investigate all apparent violations of the agreement, and to report his findings to the man
*Note. For the provisions of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act see Appendix.
agers, who shall determine by a majority vote (the member against whom complaint is made to have no vote) what, if any, penalty shall be assessed, the amount of each fine not to exceed $100, to be paid to the association. If any line party hereto agrees with a shipper, or anyone else, to secure a reduction or change in rates, or change in the rules and regulations, and it is shown upon investigation by the chairman that such an arrangement was effected and traffic thereby secured, such action shall be reported to the managers, who shall determine as above provided, what, if any, penalty shall be necessary.
MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM delivered the opinion of the court:
Coming to the merits of the suit there are two important questions which demand our examination. They are, first, whether the above cited Act of Congress (called herein the Trust Act) applies to and covers common carriers by railroad; and if so, second, Does the agreement set forth in the bill violate any provision of that Act?
As to the first question.
The language of the act includes every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy in the restraint of trade or commerce among the several States or with foreign nations. So far as the very terms of the statute go, they apply to any contract of the nature described. A contract therefore that is in restraint of trade or commerce is by the strict language of the act prohibited even though such contract is entered into between competing common carriers by railroad, and only for the purposes of thereby effecting traffic rates for the transportation of persons and property. If such an agreement restrain trade or commerce, it is prohibited by the statute, unless it can be said that an agreement, no matter what its terms, relating only to transportation, cannot restrain trade or commerce. We see no escape from the conclusion that if any agreement of such a nature does restrain it, the agreement is condemned by this act. It cannot be denied that those who are engaged in the transportation of persons or property from one State to another are engaged in interstate commerce, and it would seem to follow that if such persons enter into agreements between themselves in regard to the compensation to be secured from the owners of the articles transported, such agreement would at least relate to the business of commerce and might more or less restrain it. The point urged on the defendants' part is that the statute was not really intended to reach that kind of an agreement relating only to traffic rates entered into by competing common carriers by railroad; that it was intended to reach only those who were engaged in the manufacture or sale of articles of commerce, and who by means of trusts, combinations and conspiracies were engaged in effecting the supply or the price or the place of manufacture of such articles. The terms
of the act do not bear out such construction. Railroad companies are instruments of commerce, and their business is commerce itself. Philadelphia & R. R. Co. v. Pennsylvania ("State Freight Tax"), 15 Wall. 232; Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Texas, 105 U. S. 460.
An act which prohibits the making of every contract, etc., in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, would seem to cover by such language a contract between competing railroads, and relating to traffic rates for the transportation of articles of commerce between the States, provided such contract by its direct effect produces a restraint of trade or commerce. What amounts to a restraint within the meaning of the act if thus construed need not now be discussed.
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It is said that Congress had very different matters in view and very different objects to accomplish in the passage of the act in question; that a number of combinations in the form of trusts and conspiracies in restraint of trade were to be found throughout the country, and that it was impossible for the State governments to successfully cope with them because of their commercial character and of their business extension through the different States of the Union. Among these trusts it was said in Congress were the Beef Trust, the Standard Oil Trust, the Steel Trust, the Barbed Fence Wire Trust, the Sugar Trust, the Cordage Trust, the Cotton Seed Oil Trust, the Whiskey Trust, and many others, and these trusts it was stated had assumed an importance and had acquired a power which were dangerous to the whole country, and that their existence was directly antagonistic to its peace and prosperity. To combinations and conspiracies of this kind it is contended that the act in question was directed and not to the combinations of competing railroads to keep up their prices to a reasonable sum for the transportation of persons and property. It is true that many and various trusts were in existence at the time of the passage of the act, and it was probably sought to cover them by the provisions of the act. Many of them had rendered themselves offensive by the manner in which they exercised the great power that combined capital gave them. But a further investigation of "the history of the times" shows also that those trusts were not the only associations controlling a great combination of capital which had caused complaint at the manner in which their business was conducted. There were many and loud complaints from some portions of the public regarding the railroads and the prices they were charging for the service they rendered, and it was alleged that the prices for the transportation of persons and articles of commerce were unduly and improperly enhanced by combinations among the different roads. Whether these complaints were well or ill founded we do not presume at this time and under these circumstances to determine or to discuss. It is simply for the purpose of answering the statement that it was only to trusts of the nature as above set forth
that this legislation was directed, that the subject of the opinions of the people in regard to the actions of the railroad companies in this particular is referred. A reference to this history of the times does not, as we think, furnish us with any strong reason for believing that it was only trusts that were in the minds of the members of Congress, and that railroads and their manner of doing business were wholly excluded therefrom. * * * *
The next question to be discussed is to what is the true construction of the statute, assuming that it applies to common carriers by railroad. What is the meaning of the language as used in the statute that "every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise or conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states or with foreign nations is hereby declared to be illegal?" Is it confined to a contract or combination which is only in unreasonable restraint of trade or commerce, or does it include what the language of the act plainly and in terms coversall contracts of that nature? * * * * It is to the statute itself that resort must be had to learn the meaning thereof, though a resort to the title here creates no doubt about the meaning of and does not alter the plain language contained in its text.
It is now with much amplification of argument urged that the statute in declaring illegal every combination in the form of trust. or otherwise, or conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce, does not mean what the language used therein plainly imports, but that it only means to declare illegal any such contract which is in unreasonable restraint of trade, while leaving all others unaffected by the provisions of the act; that the common law meaning of the term "contract in restraint of trade" includes only such contracts as are in unreasonable restraint of trade and when that term is used in the Federal statute it is not intended to include all contracts in restraint of trade thereof.
The term is not of such limited signification. Contracts in restraint of trade have been known and spoken of for hundreds of years both in England and this country and the term includes all kinds of those contracts which in fact restrain or may restrain trade. Some of such contracts have been held void and unenforceable in the courts by reason of their restraint being unreasonable, while others have been held valid because they were not of that nature. A contract may be in restraint of trade and still be valid at common law. Although valid, it is nevertheless a contract in restraint of trade and would be so described either at common law or elsewhere. By the simple use of the term "contract in restraint of trade," all contracts of that nature whether valid or otherwise would be included, and not alone that kind of contract which was invalid and unenforceable as being in unreasonable restraint of trade. When, therefore, the body of an act pronounces as illegal every contract or combination in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states, etc., the plain and ordinary meaning
of such language is not limited to that kind of contract alone which is in unreasonable restraint of trade, but all contracts are included in such language and no exception or limitation can be added without placing in the act that which has been omitted by Congress.
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The great stress of the argument for the defendants on this branch of the case has been to show, if possible, some reason in the attendant circumstances, or some fact existing in the nature of railroad property and business upon which to found the claim that although by the language of the statute agreements or combinations in restraint of trade or commerce are included, the statute really means to declare illegal only those contracts, etc., which are in unreasonable restraint of trade. In order to do this the defendants call attention to many facts which they have already referred to in their argument, upon the point that railroads were not included at all in the statute. They again call attention to the fact of the peculiar nature of railroad property. When a railroad is once built, it is said it must be kept in operation; it must transport property, when necessary in order to keep its business at the smallest price and for the narrowest profit, or even for no profit, provided running expenses can be paid, rather than not do the work; that railroad property cannot be altered for use for any other purpose, at least without such loss as may fairly be called destructive; that competition, while, perhaps, right and proper in other business, simply leads in railroad business to financial ruin and insolvency, and to the operation of the road by receivers in the interest of its creditors instead of in that of its owners and the public. * * * *
To the question why competition should necessarily be conducted to such an extent as to result in this relentless and continued war, to eventuate only in the financial ruin of one or all of the companies indulging in it, the answer is made that if competing railroad companies be left subject to the sway of free and unrestricted competition the results above foreshadowed necessarily happen from the nature of the case; that competition being the rule, each com pany will seek business to the extent of its power, and will underbid its rival in order to get the business, and such underbidding will act and react upon each company until the prices are so reduced as to make it impossible to prosper or live under them; that it is too much to ask of human nature for one company to insist upon charges sufficiently high to afford a reasonable compensation, and while doing so to see its patrons leave for rival roads who are obtaining its business by offering less rates for doing it than can be afforded and a fair profit obtained therefrom. Sooner than experience ruin from mere inanition efforts will be made in the direction of meeting the underbidding of its rival until both shall end in ruin. The only refuge, it it said, from this wretched end lies in the power of competing roads agreeing among themselves to keep up prices for transportation to such sums as shall be rea