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decided: June 18, 1945.



Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge

Author: Rutledge

[ 326 U.S. Page 180]

 MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Interstate Commerce Commission denied appellant a permit to act as a contract water carrier under the Transportation Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 898, Part III of the Interstate Commerce Act. A three-judge District Court dismissed the complaint which sought review of that order. The appeal is from this judgment.

In May, 1941, appellant applied for a permit to carry general commodities, with exceptions not now material, between points on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The authority sought was to "continue an operation in existence January 1, 1940, and continuously thereafter," as a contract carrier of property over irregular routes, pursuant to "grandfather rights" claimed under § 309 (f) of Part III.*fn1 A year later, while the grandfather application was pending, appellant filed another application as a precautionary measure. This sought, in the alternative, leave to perform the same service as a new

[ 326 U.S. Page 181]

     operation "consistent with the public interest and the national transportation policy" under § 309 (g).*fn2

Protests were filed by other carriers and the two applications were heard together before an examiner in September, 1942. He concluded that the showing did not warrant granting of the grandfather application, but recommended granting of the permit under § 309 (g). Division IV however denied both applications, that under § 309 (f) for failure to make the required showing of actual operations on and after the crucial date, the one under § 309 (g) on the ground that appellant had "failed to show that it is proposing any new operation, or that a new operation by it would be consistent with the public interest or the national transportation policy, or that present or future public convenience and necessity require such operation." A petition for reconsideration by the full Commission was denied and the District Court adopted its findings and conclusions in a per curiam opinion.

The evidence consisted of exhibits and the testimony of appellant's president, Barrett. The story is of an old-style

[ 326 U.S. Page 182]

     family institution which, for four generations, has had part in life on the Mississippi and its tributaries. As told by Captain Barrett, the line not only pioneered in the great development of inland water transportation of the middle nineteenth century. Its history has been constantly, during this century, one of pioneering in various fields of water transportation. And thereby, the inference seems justified, hangs the reason for its survival in an age when water transportation, like so much else of industry, has been taken over largely by corporate or governmental enterprise. Now the vicissitudes of regulation have been added to those of competition, appellant urges, to threaten its continuance.

The concern, incorporated in 1926 as successor to individual and partnership forms of operation, remains small. At the time of the hearing it owned twenty-one barges and two towboats, with two derrick boats and other equipment. Cincinnati is the port of registration; Cairo, Illinois, the situs of the fleet by reason of its accessibility to conjunctions of many rivers.

Operations historically have been highly selective and varied in character. Since 1910, at any rate, they have been limited generally to bulk materials, the greater number of which may be subjected to exposure to weather without damage, such as scrap iron, pig iron, fabricated steel, piping, bauxite ore, coal, paving brick, and stone, excluding such items as furniture. At one time or another, however, automobiles, sulphur, powder, grains, salt and petroleum products have been carried. So far as appears, the line has not held itself out in this period as a common carrier and does not now seek to become one. Its business has been strictly by special contract, negotiated with reference to the season, the course of the river required for the operation, times of loading and unloading, and other special factors. It is, in other words, an irregular operator performing what it characterizes as "special and

[ 326 U.S. Page 183]

     sporadic services under special contracts and conditions." The sporadic as well as the special character of the service becomes important, as will appear, for appellant's position on the issues.

The nature of the service and the character of the equipment are correlated. The barges are of steel construction, designed to carry dry or liquid cargo, the latter by adding piping and fittings when required. At the time of the hearing, nine had been converted in this way and were used in petroleum traffic, three by appellant and six under charter to the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. Of those remaining, six were under charter, to be converted to petroleum carriers; two were being used in carriage of coal; and four were "available for such use as we put them to." Captain Barrett testified that if the movement of petroleum products should cease the tankers readily could be reconverted for hauling dry cargo.

The service includes freighting, either with appellant's own barges and power or by towing barges owned by others. In addition appellant engages in chartering, including the leasing or chartering of equipment, at times with crew, to others. The chartering, according to Captain Barrett, involves "wide ramifications," often with difficulty in determining "just who is the operator, whether it is the shipper who is responsible, and therefore, the operator, or whether it is the carrier, who furnishes the equipment."

To establish its right to a permit, whether "grandfather" or "new operation," appellant offered evidence consisting of an exhibit listing all of its operations from January 1, 1936, to August 11, 1942, with information concerning the name of the customer, origin and destination, and nature of the cargo. No effort was made to prove specific operations in similar detail prior to the former date. But a written "Statement of the History,

[ 326 U.S. Page 184]

     Type and Scope of Operations and Services of The Barrett Line, Inc.," substantiated by the testimony of Captain Barrett, described in a general way the character and scope of such movements.

The general effect of the historical evidence was to show the varied and sporadic character of the operations from about 1910. It appeared that the company might be without contracts or business for intervals of several months at a time. Much of its activity was in the nature of "pioneering trades." In brief this consisted in demonstrating the feasibility of water transportation for particular commodities. Generally, when the demonstration had been made, the result was for the shipper or another to take over the operation and appellant then would await or seek another similar opportunity.*fn3

The evidence, being general in character, was lacking to a large extent in dates concerning specific operations during the latter part of the period; so that for some ten or twelve years prior to January 1, 1936, it is difficult to gather what specific kinds of movements were being made, for whom, between what points and with reference to what materials. However, the general inference would seem justified that any suited to the equipment and the rather

[ 326 U.S. Page 185]

     indefinite criteria used for negotiating contracts were taken when opportunity offered; otherwise the fleet remained idle.

On the other hand, the evidence supplied by the exhibit concerning movements between January 1, 1936, and August 11, 1942, is much more definite. In all instances where the specific character of the cargo is mentioned, except one shipment of fabricated steel and piling in 1936, either stone or petroleum products, including gasoline and furnace oil, exempt commodities, are mentioned. A very considerable number of items designate "Miscellaneous Cargo" and there were some 44 instances noted simply as "charter," without reference to character of the cargo, including 23 in which equipment was leased or chartered to shippers not carriers subject to the Act. A few items specified vessel storage, "damaged barge," steamer aground, furnishing steam and like services to other carriers. In two instances "towing" was specified for "U.S. Engineers."

The "miscellaneous cargo" items largely involved towing loaded barges of other carriers, including the American Barge Line and the Mississippi Valley Barge Line. In some instances Barrett identified the specific cargoes, as, for example, a movement of the former company's barges loaded with scrap iron, sugar and molasses and some of the latter's bearing packaged freight. In such cases, however, since only motive power was furnished, and to another carrier, appellant disclaimed relying upon the movements "to establish that he [it] is a common carrier of general commodities," but put them in "to show the general sweep and character of the service performed" as a contract carrier. Barrett testified that appellant did not always know what was in such barges, that the charges were on a per diem basis and it therefore made no difference to appellant what was in the barges.

The difference, if any, between this towing and chartering when labelled as such is somewhat nebulous, if indeed

[ 326 U.S. Page 186]

     it is at all material. But concerning the latter the witness gave similar testimony: that appellant's charges, whether for motive power, barges or both, were on a per diem basis, except in one instance specifying a barrel rate; and that appellant was not concerned with the character of the cargo or where the boats ...

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