Search Supreme Court Cases


U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Delaware & Hudson Co., 213 U.S. 366 (1909)

United States v. Delaware & Hudson Company

Nos. 559-570

Argued January 19, 20, 1909

Decided May 3, 1909

213 U.S. 366


Although a limitation to its operation might be reasonable, and thus assuage the radical results of a prohibitory statute, if it is not expressed in the statute, to engraft such a limitation would be pure

Page 213 U. S. 367

judicial legislation. In construing the commodities clause of the Hepburn Act, the suggestion of the government to limit its application to commodities while in the hands of a carrier or its first vendee, and, as thus construed, extend the indirect interest prohibition to commodities belonging to corporations the stock whereof is owned in whole or in part by the carrier, or those which had been mined, manufactured or produced by the carrier prior to the transportation, cannot be accepted.

The duty of this Court in construing a statute which is reasonably susceptible of two constructions, one of which would render it unconstitutional and the other valid, to adopt that construction which save its constitutionality (Knights Templar Indemnity Co. v. Jarman, 187 U. S. 197) includes the duty of avoiding a construction which raises grave and doubtful constitutional questions if the statute can be reasonably construed so as to avoid such questions. Harriman v. Interstate Com. Comm'n, 211 U. S. 407.

This rule applied to the commodities clause of the Hepburn Act so as to avoid deciding the constitutional questions which would arise if the clause were construed so as to prohibit the carrying of commodities owned by corporations of which the carrier is a shareholder, or which it had mined, manufactured or produced at some time prior to the transportation.{1}

Page 213 U. S. 368

Where ambiguity exists, it is the duty of a court construing a statute to restrain the wider and doubtful provisions so as to make them accord with the narrow and more reasonable provisions, and thus harmonize the statute.

A prohibition in an act of Congress will not be extended to include a subject where the extension raises grave constitutional questions as to the power of Congress, where one branch of that body rejected an amendment specifically including such subject within the prohibition.

In the construction of a statute, the power of the lawmaking body to enact it, and not the consequences resulting from the enactment, is the criterion of constitutionality.

The provision contained in the Hepburn Act approved June 29, 1906, c. 3591, 34 Stat. 584, commonly called the commodities clause, does not prohibit a railway company from moving commodities in interstate commerce because the company has manufactured, mined or produced them, or owned them in whole or in part or has had an interest direct or indirect in them, wholly irrespective of the relation or connection of the carrier with the commodities at the time of transportation.

The provision of the commodities clause relating to interest, direct or indirect, does not embrace an interest which a carrier may have in a producing corporation as the result of the ownership by the carrier of stock in such corporation provided the corporation has been organized in good faith.

Rejecting the construction placed by the government upon the commodities clause, it is decided that that clause, when all its provisions are harmoniously construed, has solely for its object to prevent carriers engaged in interstate commerce from being associated in

Page 213 U. S. 369

interest at the time of transportation with the commodities transported, and it therefore only prohibits railroad companies engaged in interstate commerce from transporting in such commerce commodities under the following circumstances and conditions:

a. When the commodity has been manufactured, mined or produced by a railway company or under its authority and at the time of transportation the railway company has not in good faith before the act of transportation parted with its interest in such commodity;

b. When the railway company owns the commodity to be transported in whole or in part;

c. When the railway company at the time of transportation has an interest direct or indirect in a legal sense in the commodity, which last prohibition does not apply to commodities manufactured, mined, produced, owned, etc., by a corporation because a railway company is a stockholder in such corporation. Such ownership of stock in a producing company by a railway company does not cause it as owner of the stock to have a legal interest in the commodity manufactured, etc., by the producing corporation.

As thus construed the commodities clause is a regulation of commerce inherently within the power of Congress to enact. New Haven Railroad v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 200 U. S. 361. The contention that the clause, if applied to preexisting rights, will operate to take property of railroad companies, and therefore violate the due process provision of the Fifth Amendment, having been based upon the assumption that the clause prohibited and restricted in accordance with the construction which the government gave that clause, is not tenable as to the act as now construed, which merely enforces a regulation of commerce by which carriers are compelled to dissociate themselves from the products which they carry, and does not prohibit where the carrier is not associated with the commodity carried.

The constitutional power of Congress to make regulations for interstate commerce is not limited by any requirement that the regulations should apply to all commodities alike, nor does an exception of one commodity from a general regulation of interstate commerce necessarily render a statute unconstitutional as discriminating between carriers, and the exception of timber in the commodities clause of the Hepburn Act does not render the act unconstitutional, nor can the question of the expediency of such an exception affect the question of power.

Where, as in this instance, the provision for penalties is separable from the provisions for regulations, the court will not consider the question of the constitutionality of the penalty provisions in a suit brought

Page 213 U. S. 370

by the government to enjoin carriers from violating the regulations and in which no penalties are sought to be recovered.

As the construction now given the act differs widely from the construction which the government gave to the act and which it was the purpose of these suits to enforce, it is not necessary, in reversing and remanding, to direct the character of decrees which shall be entered, but simply to reverse and remand the case with directions to enforce and apply the statute as it is now construed.

Although the Delaware and Hudson Company may originally have been chartered principally for mining purposes, as it is now engaged as a common carrier by rail in the transportation of coal in the channels of interstate commerce, it is a railroad company within the purview of the commodities clause, and is subject to the provisions of that clause as they are now construed.

164 F. 215 reversed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality and construction of the commodities clause of the Hepburn Act, § 1, c. 3591, Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 584, are stated in the opinion.{2}

Page 213 U. S. 392

Powered by Justia US Supreme Court Center: UNITED STATES V. DELAWARE & HUDSON CO., 213 U. S. 366 (1909)

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.