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U.S. Supreme Court

Brown Lumber Co. v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 299 U.S. 393 (1937)

W. P. Brown & Sons Brown Lumber Co. v.

Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co.

No. 100

Argued December 8, 1936

Decided January 4, 1937

299 U.S. 393


1. Where the language of a railroad freight tariff is nontechnical, clear and unambiguous, its construction presents a question of law not differing in character from that presented when the construction of any other document is in dispute. P. 299 U. S. 397.

2. The so-called "combination rule" in railroad freight tariffs provides that, "where no published through rates are in effect from point of origin to destination" on certain commodities in carload lots, and two or more commodity rate factors are used in arriving at the through rate for a continuous rail shipment thereof, such through rate will be arrived at by a formula therein prescribed. Held inapplicable where there was available some through route from point of origin to destination for which joint through rates had been published, although there was no joint through rate from point of origin to destination over the route used. P. 299 U. S. 397.

3. A contrary construction given to the rule by the Interstate Commerce Commission is not conclusive. P. 299 U. S. 397.

4. Shippers whose claim of reparation for alleged overcharges depends solely upon the nontechnical unambiguous language of a tariff may sue at law without first applying to the Commission for a reparation order. P. 299 U. S. 398.

5. The fact that the carriers, in an earlier proceeding before the Commission, sought unsuccessfully to have the rule modified so as to overcome the interpretation given it by the Commission, and were thus left remediless by administrative action, does not estop them from insisting in the courts upon the construction for which they had contended. P. 299 U. S. 399.

6. The fact that the Commission has long construed the combination rule as it did in the case at bar, and that that construction was acquiesced in by many carriers, is not controlling, it appearing that other carriers had protested vigorously and persistently. P. 299 U. S. 399.

7. That many existing routes may be commercially closed if application of the combination rule is denied, because the combination chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 299 U. S. 394

rates unaffected by the rule would be prohibitively high, held irrelevant to the question for decision in this case. P. 299 U. S. 400.

82 F.2d 94 affirmed.

Certiorari to review a judgment which affirmed a judgment, 7 F.Supp. 593, dismissing upon demurrer a suit against numerous railroad companies upon an award of reparation of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

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