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U.S. Supreme Court

Norwegian Nitrogen Products Co. v. United States, 288 U.S. 294 (1933)

Norwegian Nitrogen Products Co. v. United States

No. 272

Argued January 10, 11, 1933

Decided February 6, 1933

288 U.S. 294


The Tariff Act of 1922 empowers the President to change rates of duty in order to equalize differences in costs of production in this country and abroad, but provides -- § 315(c) -- that, before he acts, there shall have been an investigation of such differences by the

Page 288 U. S. 295

Tariff Commission, in the making of which the Commission shall give reasonable public notice of its hearings, and shall give "reasonable opportunity to parties interested to be present, to produce evidence, and to be heard." The Commission is authorized "to adopt such reasonable procedure, rules, and regulations as it may deem necessary."


1. The right of hearing, in the case of a foreign producer which refused to reveal its cost of production although its domestic competitor offered to reveal its own costs if the disclosure were mutual, did not include the right to examine the statement of costs which the domestic producer furnished the Commission in confidence, or the right to inspect data, gathered confidentially by the Commission, upon which it was obliged to base its estimate of the foreign costs, or the right to elicit such information by examination of the domestic producer's officers and the Commission's agents, such confidential information being withheld in accordance with the practice of the Commission in like cases. Pp. 288 U. S. 303 et seq.

2. Generally speaking, the kind of hearing assured by the statute to parties interested is one of the same order as has customarily, but optionally, been allowed by congressional committees in the tariff-making process. Pp. 288 U. S. 305, 288 U. S. 319.

3. That the "hearing" assured does not include a privilege to ransack the records of the Commission and to subject its confidential agents to an examination of all that they have learned is demonstrated by the tariff-making practice of Congress, the history of the passing of this statute, the history of the Commission's predecessors, and of the Commission itself, and its practice under the statute with the implied approval of both the President and Congress, and also by the contrast between the generality of § 315(c) and the explicit provision for cross-examination and for inspection of papers, found in § 381, relating to matters of appraisal before the Board of General Appraisers. Pp. 288 U. S. 303-319.

4. The word "hearing," applied to administrative proceedings, may have one meaning or another according to the context and subject matter. An administrative hearing that may result in an order impinging on legal rights, such as those affecting the rates and conduct of public service corporations, is very different from a hearing before the Tariff Commission, which merely reports and recommends. P. 288 U. S. 317.

5. No one has a legal right to the maintenance of an existing tariff rate. P. 288 U. S. 318.

Page 288 U. S. 296

6. An applicant for increase of duty is not required by the statute or by the Commission's rules to include a statement of his costs of production in his application. P. 288 U. S. 320.

7. The Commission, in conducting an investigation, is free to act on its own motion, and the function of an application, when filed, is not that of a pleading in a lawsuit. P. 288 U. S. 319.

8. The function of the Commission is that of an adviser of the President or Congress, not that of an arbiter between adverse litigants. P. 288 U. S. 321.

9. If the Commission is under any duty to make disclosure of costs, the origin and measure of the duty are to be found in the implied duty to do whatever may be necessary to make the hearing fair. P. 288 U. S. 321.

10. Refusal to make such disclosure is an exercise of discretionary power, and could not be impeached if not shown to be arbitrary. P. 288 U. S. 321.

11. Such a refusal was not arbitrary when actuated by the Commission's settled policy of withholding the confidential information when its publication might work hardship or injustice or hamper the work of the Commission in the case of an importer who insisted that all the confidential data be disclosed without defining or seeking anything less, and who was unwilling to use reasonable effort to make disclosure of the costs of his principal abroad. Pp. 288 U. S. 321-323.

12. The Commission has power to interpret its own rules by administrative practice. P. 288 U. S. 325.

13. That part of its rules which excepts from examination by the parties before it such portions of its records as relate to "trade secrets and processes" has been interpreted by the Commission as keeping costs secret for the protection of producers, both foreign and domestic, unless disclosure is so cloaked that the identity of the producers will be effectively disguised. P. 288 U. S. 324.

20 C.C.P.A. (Cust.) 27; T.D. 45,674, affirmed.

Certiorari, 287 U.S. 586, to review the affirmance of a judgment of the United States Customs Court sustaining certain duties over the protests of the importer. For earlier phases of the same dispute, see 274 U. S. 106.

Page 288 U. S. 297

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