PANAMA CANAL CO. V. GRACE LINE, INC., 356 U. S. 309 (1958)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Panama Canal Co. v. Grace Line, Inc., 356 U.S. 309 (1958)

Panama Canal Co. v. Grace Line, Inc.

No. 251

Argued April 2-3, 1958

Decided April 28, 1958*

356 U.S. 309


Certain American shipping companies using the Panama Canal sued in a Federal District Court to compel the Panama Canal Company to prescribe lower tolls for the use of the Canal and to refund tolls alleged to have been collected illegally in the past. That Company is an agency of the United States wholly owned by the United States and created by Congress for the purpose of operating and maintaining the Canal and conducting business operations incidental thereto. It is authorized, subject to the approval of the President, to fix and to change from time to time the toll charged for the use of the Canal, but such toll are required to be fixed in accordance with a formula stated in the Act. In a report to Congress, based partly on his interpretation of the Act and partly on his views as to proper cost accounting methods, the Comptroller General expressed the opinion that the tolls being charged were too high under existing law, and that opinion was the basis of this suit.

Held: the controversy at present is not one appropriate for judicial action. Pp. 356 U. S. 310-319.

(a) The mere fact that the Company may sue and be sued in its corporate name does not necessarily mean that this suit can be maintained. P. 356 U. S. 317.

(b) The initiation of a proceeding for readjustment of the tolls of the Canal is not a ministerial act, but is a matter that Congress has left to the discretion of the Company, and such matters are excluded from the categories of cases subject to judicial review under § 10 of the Administrative Procedure Act. Pp. 356 U. S. 317-318.

(c) The question whether the Company, as the creature of Congress and agent of the President, should now fix new tolls turns on doubtful or highly debatable inferences from large or loose statutory terms, and on problems of cost accounting involving questions

Page 356 U. S. 310

of expert judgment requiring close analysis and nice choices, and it is so wide open and at large as to be left at this stage to agency discretion. Pp. 356 U. S. 318-319.

243 F.2d 44, reversed.

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