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U.S. Supreme Court

Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States, 221 U.S. 1 (1910)

Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States

Argued March 14, 15, 16, 1910

Restored to docket for reargument April 11, 1910

Reargued January 12, 13, 16, 17, 1911

Decided May 15, 1911

221 U.S. 1


The Anti-Trust Act of July 2, 1890, c. 647, 26 Stat. 209, should be construed in the light of reason; and, as so construed, it prohibits all contracts and combination which amount to an unreasonable or undue restraint of trade in interstate commerce.

The combination of the defendants in this case is an unreasonable and undue restraint of trade in petroleum and its products moving in interstate commerce, and falls within the prohibitions of the act as so construed.

Where one of the defendants in a suit, brought by the Government in a Circuit Court of the United States under the authority of § 4 of the Anti-Trust Act of July 2, 1890, is within the district, the court, under the authority of § 5 of that act, can take jurisdiction and order notice to be served upon the nonresident defendants.

Allegations as to facts occurring prior to the passage of the Anti-Trust Act may be considered solely to throw light on acts done after the passage of the act.

Page 221 U. S. 2

The debates in Congress on the Anti-Trust Act of 1890 show that one of the influences leading to the enactment of the statute was doubt as to whether there is a common law of the United States governing the making of contracts in restraint of trade and the creation and maintenance of monopolies in the absence of legislation.

While debates of the body enacting it may not be used as means for interpreting a statute, they may be resorted to as a means of ascertaining the conditions under which it was enacted.

The terms "restraint of trade," and "attempts to monopolize," as used in the Anti-Trust Act, took their origin in the common law, and were familiar in the law of this country prior to and at the time of the adoption of the act, and their meaning should be sought from the conceptions of both English and American law prior to the passage of the act.

The original doctrine that all contracts in restraint of trade were illegal was long since so modified in the interest of freedom of individuals to contract that the contract was valid if the resulting restraint was only partial in its operation, and was otherwise reasonable.

The early struggle in England against the power to create monopolies resulted in establishing that those institutions were incompatible with the English Constitution.

At common law, monopolies were unlawful because of their restriction upon individual freedom of contract and their injury to the public and at common law, and contracts creating the same evils were brought within the prohibition as impeding the due course of, or being in restraint of, trade.

At the time of the passage of the Anti-Trust Act, the English rule was that the individual was free to contract and to abstain from contracting and to exercise every reasonable right in regard thereto, except only as he was restricted from voluntarily and unreasonably or for wrongful purposes restraining his right to carry on his trade. Mogul Steamship Co. v. McGregor, 1892, A.C. 25.

A decision of the House of Lords, although announced after an event, may serve reflexly to show the state of the law in England at the time of such event.

This country has followed the line of development of the law of England, and the public policy has been to prohibit, or treat as illegal, contracts, or acts entered into with intent to wrong the public and which unreasonably restrict competitive conditions, limit the right of individuals, restrain the free flow of commerce, or bring about public evils such as the enhancement of prices.

Page 221 U. S. 3

The Anti-Trust Act of 1890 was enacted in the light of the then existing practical conception of the law against restraint of trade, and the intent of Congress was not to restrain the right to make and enforce contracts, whether resulting from combinations or otherwise, which do not unduly restrain interstate or foreign commerce, but to protect that commerce from contracts or combinations by methods, whether old or new, which would constitute an interference with, or an undue restraint upon, it.

The Anti-Trust Act contemplated and required a standard of interpretation, and it was intended that the standard of reason which had been applied at the common law should be applied in determining whether particular acts were within its prohibitions.

The word "person" in § 2 of the Anti-Trust Act, as construed by reference to § 8 thereof, implies a corporation as well as an individual.

The commerce referred to by the words "any part" in § 2 of the Antitrust Act, as construed in the light of the manifest purpose of that act, includes geographically any part of the United States and also any of the classes of things forming a part of interstate or foreign commerce.

The words "to monopolize" and "monopolize" as used in § 2 of the Anti-Trust Act reach every act bringing about the prohibited result.

Freedom to contract is the essence of freedom from undue restraint on the right to contract.

In prior cases where general language has been used, to the effect that reason could not be resorted to in determining whether a particular case was within the prohibitions of the Anti-Trust Act, the unreasonableness of the acts under consideration was pointed out, and those cases are only authoritative by the certitude that the rule of reason was applied; United States v. Trans-Missouri Freight Association, 166 U. S. 290, and United States v. Joint Traffic Association, 171 U. S. 505, limited and qualified so far as they conflict with the construction now given to the Anti-Trust Act of 1890.

The application of the Anti-Trust Act to combinations involving the production of commodities within the States does not so extend the power of Congress to subjects dehors its authority as to render the statute unconstitutional. United States v. E. C. Knight Co., 156 U. S. 1, distinguished.

The Anti-Trust Act generically enumerates the character of the acts prohibited and the wrongs which it intends to prevent, and is susceptible of being enforced without any judicial exertion of legislative power.

The unification of power and control over a commodity such as petroleum

Page 221 U. S. 4

and its products by combining in one corporation the stocks of many other corporations aggregating a vast capital gives rise, of itself, to the prima facie presumption of an intent and purpose to dominate the industry connected with, and gain perpetual control of the movement of, that commodity and its products in the channels of interstate commerce in violation of the Anti-Trust Act of 1890, and that presumption is made conclusive by proof of specific acts such as those in the record of this case.

The fact that a combination over the products of a commodity such as petroleum does not include the crude article itself does not take the combination outside of the Anti-Trust Act when it appears that the monopolization of the manufactured products necessarily controls the crude article.

Penalties which are not authorized by the law cannot be inflicted by judicial authority.

The remedy to be administered in case of a combination violating the Anti-Trust Act is two-fold: first, to forbid the continuance of the prohibited act, and second, to so dissolve the combination as to neutralize the force of the unlawful power.

The constituents of an unlawful combination under the Anti-Trust Act should not be deprived of power to make normal and lawful contracts, but should be restrained from continuing or recreating the unlawful combination by any means whatever, and a dissolution of the offending combination should not deprive the constituents of the right to live under the law, but should compel them to obey it.

In determining the remedy against an unlawful combination, the court must consider the result, and not inflict serious injury on the public by causing a cessation of interstate commerce in a necessary commodity.

173 Fed. Rep. 177, modified and affirmed.

The facts, which involve the construction of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of July 2, 1890, and whether defendants had violated its provisions, are stated in the opinion.

Page 221 U. S. 30

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