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MEEKER V. LEHIGH VALLEY R. CO., 236 U. S. 412 (1915)

U.S. Supreme Court

Meeker v. Lehigh Valley R. Co., 236 U.S. 412 (1915)

Meeker v. Lehigh Valley Railroad Company

No. 434

Argued October 13 and 14, 1914

Decided February 23, 1915

236 U.S. 412


The limitations in Rev.Stat., § 1047, on suits for penalties accruing under the laws of the United States relate to punitive penalties for infractions of public law, and not to liabilities imposed for redressing a private injury, even though the wrongful act be a public offense and punishable as such. It does not relate to a liability accruing

Page 236 U. S. 413

under §§ 8, 9, 14 and 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, which is not punitive, but strictly remedial.

While Congress did not intend, in amending § 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce by the Act of July 29, 1906, to reserve claims already barred by local statutes, it did intend to take all other claims out of the operation of the varying state laws and subject them to limitations of its own creation operating alike in all the states.

The effect of the amendment to § 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce by the Act of July 29, 1906, was to extend the time for invoking action by the Commission upon complaints for damages to two years from the accrual of the claim, but until one year after the passage of the act as to all claims which had accrued before its passage.

The purpose of the joint resolution of June 30, 1906, postponing the effective date of the Act of June 29, 1906, amending the Act to Regulate Commerce, was to cause the act to speak and operate at the end of the postponed period as if that were the time of its passage, and when the extended period expired, it gave a full year for presenting accrued claims.

Objections to portions of the reports of the Interstate Commerce Commission awarding reparation for which the action is brought on the ground that they contain statements which are not findings of fact, and not definitely identified in the record, are waived by failure to direct the court to the subject when charging the jury.

Under § 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, as amended by the Act of June 29, 1906, the report of the Commission awarding reparation need not necessarily state the evidential facts, but must contain findings of the ultimate facts, and, as so stated, they are to be taken as prima facie true.

In this case, held that the facts stated, although interwoven with other matter and not expressed in terms generally employed by courts in special findings of fact, if taken as prima facie true, sustain an award against the carrier made by the Commission to shippers, as damages for unjust discrimination resulting from giving rebates to other shippers.

Where there are two reports of the Interstate Commerce Commission in the same proceeding, and the later affirmatively shows that it was supplemental to the original report, they should be read together.

The measure of damages to a shipper is the pecuniary loss inflicted upon him as the result of giving rebates to other shippers and requiring him to pay the higher rate. Such loss must be proved in order to be recovered. Where the findings show that the amount awarded was the actual loss and recite that they are based on evidence,

Page 236 U. S. 414

it must be presumed, in the absence of the contrary being shown, that they are justified by the evidence.

A statute making findings and reparation order of a body, such as the Interstate Commerce Commission, prima facie evidence of facts therein stated, but only establishing, as in the case of § 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, a rebuttable presumption, cutting off no defense and taking no question of fact from the court or the jury, is merely a rule of evidence, and is not unconstitutional as abridging the right of trial by jury or denying due process of law.

Quaere whether the mere amount of an allowance for counsel fees under § 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, made by the court below, can be reexamined in this Court, but held that, where the record shows that it was predicated upon a transcript of proceedings, and on statements in open court, and no evidence appears to have been offered or objections made by defendant as to amount, defendant cannot claim in this Court that the allowance is excessive.

Although this Court may not review the amount of such an allowance, it may determine whether, as matter of law, it is objectionable altogether.

Under §§ 8 and 16 of the Act to Regulate Commerce, the allowance for attorney's fee to be added as costs to the judgment recovered by a shipper on an unpaid award for reparation is for services of the attorney in the action on the award, and not for services in the proceeding before the Commission, and such part of an allowance for attorney's fees as is specially given for services in that proceeding should be eliminated from the judgment.

211 F. 785 reversed.

The facts, which involve the construction of §§ 1 and 2 of the Act to Regulate Commerce and questions of discrimination by the carrier against shippers of coal over its line, are stated in the opinion.

Page 236 U. S. 417

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