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ATWOOD'S TRANSP. LINES, INC. v. UNITED STATES

October 11, 1962

ATWOOD'S TRANSPORT LINES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
The UNITED STATES of America and The Interstate Commerce Commission,Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

This is an action against the United States and the Interstate Commerce Commission, brought under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1336 and 2325, by the plaintiff Atwood's Transport Lines, Inc., a corporation engaged in bus transportation between Washington, D.C., and certain points in Maryland, to set aside an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission which directed the plaintiff to cease and desist from conducting transportation of passengers from Alexandria and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to various unspecified points and places in the United States. The facts are not in dispute.

The plaintiff has been operating buses under certificates of public convenience and necessity issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission between Washington, D.C. and Point Lookout, Maryland, and between Washington, D.C. and the site of the United States Atomic Energy Commission near Germantown, Maryland. The plaintiff is also authorized to run buses between Jarboesville, Maryland and Piney Point, Maryland, and to carry passengers in charter operations between Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, Arlington National Cemetery and Mount Vernon, Virginia. In addition, the plaintiff has been transporting passengers in charter operations from Alexandria and Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to various unspecified points and places in the United States. It is the last mentioned activity that is challenged in this action.

 The pertinent statutory provision is found in the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. § 308(c), and reads as follows:

 '(c) Any common carrier by motor vehicle transporting passengers under a certificate issued under this chapter may transport in interstate or foreign commerce to any place special or chartered parties under such rules and regulations as the Commission shall have prescribed.'

 In 1941 the Interstate Commerce Commission implemented this statutory authority by adopting a series of regulations governing service to special or chartered parties. *fn1" Rule III of these regulations reads as follows:

 'Origin territory. Any common carrier of passengers by motor vehicle subject to these rules may transport special or chartered parties (1) which originate at any point or points on the regular route or routes or at any off-route point or points, authorized to be served by such carrier, or (2) which originate at any point or points within the territory served by its regular route or routes.' *fn2"

 The present controversy was initiated by a complaint filed before the Interstate Commerce Commission by the Alexandria, Barcroft and Washington Transit Company, which has been permitted to intervene in this action. The complaint charged that charter operations undertaken by the plaintiff, from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, were illegal and unauthorized. The proceeding before the Commission terminated in a final decision that Fort Belvoir and Alexandria charter operations were not within plaintiff's incidental authority. An order was issued directing the plaintiff to cease and desist from these operations. The plaintiff then brought this suit to set aside the order of the Commission and this three-judge court was convened in accordance with the statutory requirement. The facts having been admitted in the pleadings, the matter is before he court as though each side had moved for judgment on the pleadings.

 It is contended by the plaintiff that Rule III, quoted above, is invalid as lacking sufficient definiteness in that the phrase, 'the territory served by its regular route or routes' is too vague. It is argued that what constitutes such territory may be a matter of opinion. At the outset there is a question whether this line of argument is not a non sequitur. If it should be held that the regulations adopted by the Commission to implement 49 U.S.C. 308(c) are invalid, the result would be the same as though no regulations had been promulgated. The statute, however, authorizes transportation of special or chartered parties under such rules and regulations as the Commission shall have prescribed. If the Commission fails to prescribe valid rules and regulations, a serious doubt would arise whether any such operation may be conducted. It is not necessary, however, to pursue this aspect of the matter. This Court holds that the regulation is valid.

 Rules and regulations promulgated by Governmental establishments pursuant to statutory authority have the force and effect of law, and concededly are subject to the same tests as statutes. It is argued that since a knowing and wilful violation of the statute involved in this action or of any rule and regulation thereunder, is a criminal offense, 49 U.S.C. § 322, the regulation in question is subject to the same requirement of definiteness as a penal statute. While a statute must be sufficiently specific to apprize persons affected by it of its requirements and of the elements constituting any criminal offense, nevertheless, the law does not require the impossible or even the impracticable. Absolute detailed certainty with the precision of a mathematical formula, is not exacted. Some leeway may be left to the discretion of the courts and administrative agencies in interpreting and enforcing a statute or regulation, even if it has a criminal aspect. It is sufficient if members of the public are placed on notice as to what is required or prohibited, and what would be deemed a criminal violation.

 In this instance the Commission explained the reasons why the words 'the territory served by its regular route or routes' were not limited further. It stated:

 'Any general rule defining the origin territory which will fit the exact conditions peculiar to all carriers operating under varied conditions, involving such factors as density of traffic, ability of competitors to furnish suitable equipment, and proximity of garages to particular origin points, is difficult of formulation. The carriers generally concede that they should be permitted to originate chartered parties within a territory beyond the route or routes actually served in regular service. In defining origin territory, certainly a reasonable flexibility should be permitted in order that adequate service may be available to communities located in sparsely settled areas such as exist in the western portion of the United States, as compared with available service in the more densely settled areas in the East. While a limitation of origin territory to places within a 10-mile radius of the regular routes appears reasonable in the latter instance, it would be too restrictive in the former.' *fn3"

 The Court is of the opinion that the Commission acted reasonably in not defining or restricting the words in question any more precisely or exactly than it did. Consequently the regulation is not subject to objection on the score of vagueness. This conclusion is amply supported by the authorities.

 One of the leading cases on this point is Nash v. United States, 229 U.S. 373, 377, 33 S. Ct. 780, 781, 57 L. Ed. 1232, in which the validity of the Sherman Antitrust Act was attacked because of an alleged lack of definiteness in failure to define the phrase, 'contracts in restraint of trade'. It was argued that since the court had recently construed the Act as being applicable only to such contracts in restraint of trade as prejudiced the public interest, the crime defined by the statute contained an element of degree as to which there might be differences of opinion. This contention was overruled and the constitutionality of the Act was sustained in an opinion written by Mr. Justice Holmes, in which he summarized the applicable principle as follows:

 '* * * the law is full of instances where a man's fate depends on his estimating rightly, that is, as the jury subsequently estimates it, some matter of degree. If his judgment is wrong, not only may he incur a fine or a short ...


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