BACON V. RUTLAND R. CO., 232 U. S. 134 (1914)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bacon v. Rutland R. Co., 232 U.S. 134 (1914)

Bacon v. Rutland Railroad Company

No. 760

Argued January 9, 1914

Decided January 19, 1914

232 U.S. 134




Although the state statute may permit an appeal from an order of the state railroad Commission to the supreme court of the state, if legislative power have not been conferred upon that court, a railroad

Page 232 U. S. 135

corporation is not obliged to take such an appeal in order to obtain relief from an order that violates the federal Constitution. It may assert its rights at once in the federal courts.

The constitution of Vermont does not confer legislative powers on the court of that state, and the appeal given by §§ 4599 and 4600, Pub.Stat. of 1909, from orders of the state railroad Commission to the supreme court is a purely judicial remedy.

Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line, 211 U. S. 210, distinguished, as the Supreme Court of Virginia possesses legislative powers enabling it not only to review the state railroad Commission but to substitute such order as in its opinion the Commission should have made.

The facts, which involve the validity of an order concerning a passenger station made by the Public Service Commission of Vermont, are stated in the opinion.

Page 232 U. S. 136

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a bill in equity, brought by the appellee, the railroad company, to restrain the Public Service Commission of Vermont from enforcing an order concerning a passenger station of the company at Vergennes. The order is alleged to violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The Commission moved to dismiss the bill on the ground that, until the appellee had taken the appeal from the order to the supreme court of the state that is provided

Page 232 U. S. 137

for by Pub.Stat.Vt. 1906, §§ 4599, 4600, it ought not to be heard to complain elsewhere. The motion was overruled, and, the defendants not desiring to plead, an injunction was issued as prayed.

The defendants rely upon Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U. S. 210, 211 U. S. 229-230. The ground of that decision was that, by the state constitution, an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals from an order of the State Corporation Commission, fixing rates was granted, with power to the court to substitute such order as, in its opinion, the Commission should have made. The court was given legislative powers, and it was held that, in the circumstances, it was proper, before resorting to the circuit court of the United States, to make sure that the officials of the state would try to establish an unconstitutional rule. But it was laid down expressly that, at the judicial stage, the railroads had a right to resort to the courts of the United States at once. P. 211 U. S. 228. Therefore, before that case can apply, it must be established at least that legislative powers are conferred upon the Supreme Court of the State of Vermont.

The appeal in Vermont is given by statute, not by the Constitution, which separates legislative, executive, and judicial powers. Chap. 2, § 6. The material provisions are as follows:

"§ 4599. Any party to a cause who feels himself aggrieved by the final order, judgment, or decree of said . . . [Commission] shall have the right to take the cause to the supreme court by appeal, for the correction of any errors excepted to in its proceedings, or in the form or substance of its orders, judgments, and decrees, on the facts found and reported by said . . . [Commission]."

By § 4600, appeals are to be taken in the manner and under the laws and rules of procedure that govern appeals from the court of chancery.

"The supreme court shall have the same power therein as it has over appeals from such court. It may reverse or affirm the judgments, orders, or decrees of said . . . [Commission],

Page 232 U. S. 138

and may remand a cause to said . . . [Commission] with such mandates as law or equity shall require, and said . . . [Commission] shall enter judgment, order, or decree in accordance with such mandates."

Pub.Stat. 1906. It is apparent on the face of these sections that they do not attempt to confer legislative powers upon the court. They only provide an alternative and more expeditious way of doing what might be done by a bill in equity. Whether the alternative is exclusive or concurrent, whether it opens matters that would not be open upon a bill or not, if exceptions are taken (which does not appear in this case), is immaterial; the remedy, in any event, is purely judicial: to exonerate the appellant from an order that exceeds the law. This, we understand, is the view taken by the supreme court of the state (Bacon v. Boston & Maine R. Co., 83 Vt. 421, 457; Sabre v. Rutland R. Co., 86 Vt. 347, 368-369), and, this being so, by the rule laid down in Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., the railroad company was free to assert its rights in the district court of the United States.

Decree affirmed.

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