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GENSTAR CHEM. LTD. v. ICC

May 30, 1980

GENSTAR CHEMICAL LIMITED, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FLANNERY

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Introduction

This is a petition for review of an order by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC or Commission) respecting the plaintiff's claim against some thirty railroads for approximately $ 200,000.00. The plaintiff, Genstar Chemical Ltd. (Genstar) seeks that amount in overcharges for shipments between the Eastern United States and Canada, and the ICC awarded it only a fraction of that amount at the administrative level. This case raises two basic issues: (1) does jurisdiction over this dispute reside in the district court or the court of appeals? and (2) is the plaintiff entitled to a complete or only partial refund of the admittedly excessive rate increase applied to its shipments in the period in question? Both sides have moved for summary judgment.

 The court is persuaded that it does have jurisdiction over this dispute and that Genstar is entitled to a refund of the entire increase for the period in question.

 Background

 The origins of this case go back to 1971, when the ICC approved a general rate increase for railroad shipments: 14% for domestic traffic and 12% for import-export traffic. Ex Parte No. 267. Pursuant to a tariff labelled X-267-B, the railroads immediately began charging 14% on shipments between Canada and the Eastern United States, and they continued doing so until 1977, when the Supreme Court ruled that the 12% limit on import-export traffic embraced these Canadian-U. S. shipments. Canadian National Railway Co. v. United States, 430 U.S. 961, 97 S. Ct. 1638, 52 L. Ed. 2d 352 (1977) (affirming per curiam 425 F. Supp. 290 (D.D.C.1976)). It is undisputed that Genstar is entitled to at least a 2% refund on shipments between September 13, 1974 and May 6, 1977, the period allowed by the applicable statute of limitations, 49 U.S.C. § 11706(b). Genstar argues, however, that for this 1974-77 period it is entitled to 100% of the difference between the rates in effect before 1971 and those in effect thereafter. That is, it seeks a refund of 14% rather than just 2% for the period in question. *fn1"

 Discussion

 I. Jurisdiction.

 Genstar seeks review in this court under 28 U.S.C. § 1336(a), which provides,

 
Except as otherwise provided by Act of Congress, the district courts shall have jurisdiction of any civil action to enforce, in whole or in part, any order of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and to enjoin or suspend, in whole or in part, any order of the Interstate Commerce Commission for the payment of money or the collection of fines, penalties, and forfeitures.

 (Emphasis supplied.) The railroads and the ICC contend that under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2321(a) and 2342, the ICC's order is reviewable only in a court of appeals. These sections provide as follows:

 
28 U.S.C. § 2321(a) Except as otherwise provided by an Act of Congress, a proceeding to enjoin or suspend, in whole or in part, a rule, regulation, or order of the Interstate Commerce Commission shall be brought in court of appeals as provided by and in the manner prescribed . . . .
 
28 U.S.C. § 2342 The court of appeals has exclusive jurisdiction to enjoin, set aside, suspend (in whole or in part), or to determine the validity of . . . all rules, regulations, or final orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission made reviewable by section 2321 of this title.

 Clearly, the issue turns on application of the emphasized language in section 1336(a), namely, whether this order is one "for the payment of money."

 In arguing for a narrow construction of this language, the ICC makes three points. First, it emphasizes that district court review is exceptional, i. e., that review is presumptively with the courts of appeals. This effort to place a burden of proof on the plaintiff lacks case law support, however, and in any event deserves minimal weight. Second, the ICC argues that because courts of appeals conduct de novo review of the administrative record when reviewing district court rulings in such cases, acceptance of jurisdiction by the district court creates a potential for needless duplication of effort. Although the premise of this argument is technically accurate, its conclusion is unconvincing. It assumes that district court review is gratuitous. Congress manifestly intended to provide the courts of appeals with the benefit of district court review in some cases, thereby easing the burden on the courts of appeals and providing the parties an opportunity to appeal short of going all the way to the Supreme Court. Although district courts should be wary of overstepping their jurisdiction, they should be equally wary of rejecting a burden that Congress intended to ...


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