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Crawford v. Duluth St. Ry. Co.

Circuit Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
Jun 30, 1932
60 F.2d 212 (7th Cir. 1932)


In Crawford v. Duluth St. Ry. Co., 7 Cir., 60 F.2d 212, the question was of certain branch lines — part of the "street railway division" — which ran at such a loss as to absorb any earnings of the remainder of the division.

Summary of this case from Murray v. Roberts


No. 4618.

June 30, 1932.

Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Wisconsin; George T. Page, Judge.

Action by Raymond A. Crawford against the Duluth Street Railway Company, in which Oscar Mitchell was appointed receiver for defendant, he filed a petition for authority to abandon operations on certain branch lines, and the City of Superior, Wis., and the state of Wisconsin intervened. From an order authorizing abandonment of operations on the branch lines, the city and state appeal.


The city of Superior and the state of Wisconsin appeal from an order authorizing the receiver for the Duluth Street Railway Company, appointed May 6, 1930, to abandon street railway operations on certain branch lines in Superior, Wis.

The petition, filed February 16, 1931, upon which the order was made alleges that prior to December 18, 1918, the street railway division, of which the branch lines in question are part, operated under a franchise granted by the city in 1889; that subsequent to December 18, 1918, the division operated under an indeterminate permit from the state; that since the appointment of the receiver, and for a number of years prior thereto, the earnings of the branch lines have not paid the actual operating expenses of those lines; that the net income from the remaining portion of the division has been insufficient to absorb the loss on the branch lines, so that the entire division is being operated at an actual loss; that, due to the use of automobiles, the loss on the branch lines will increase, and that the entire division cannot be operated without dissipation of the property in the hands of the receiver; that on November 5, 1930, the receiver presented to the mayor and council his petition for permission to discontinue operations on the branch lines, with a showing of the loss resulting from such operation; that no action has been taken on the receiver's petition; that the mayor and council do not intend to act on the petition either by granting or refusing it; and that the effect of the refusal is that the receiver must continue to operate the whole Superior division at a loss, unless relieved by the court.

The following table shows the earnings and operating expenses for 1930.

The prayer of the petition is that the receiver be authorized to abandon operations on the branch lines; or, if that is refused, to discontinue all operations in Superior.

The city appeared and answered the petition, and the state of Wisconsin, through the Attorney General, intervened. There was a hearing which resulted in the entry of the order authorizing the abandonment of the branch lines, and requiring the receiver, as a condition to such abandonment, to provide motor bus service over the abandoned streets at the present regular street car fare with transfer privileges to the other portion of the street car system, the same as those provided for the branches to be abandoned. It was proved at the hearing and the court found that the receiver continued to operate the division at a loss in 1931, and that the net loss for the first three months of 1931 was $18,600.57.

Appellants do not dispute the facts averred in the petition. They seek a reversal solely on the ground that, upon the admitted facts, the District Court was without authority to authorize the abandonment of the branches. They concede the power of the court to abandon the entire Superior division. They deny the power of the court to authorize the abandonment of the branches, even though, as here, there is an operating loss on the branches and on the division as a whole, and the abandonment of the branches will still not give the utility a fair return upon the value of the property used and useful in the public service.

The right to use the streets in Superior was granted by an ordinance of July 9, 1889, enacted pursuant to a statute (Sanborn Berryman's Ann. Stat. 1889, §§ 1862, 1863) which empowered the municipality to make the grant upon such terms as it might prescribe. The grant was for a term of thirty years. The grant was on condition that the company should construct lines on designated streets and thereafter maintain and operate the same continuously; and that new lines built under the ordinance should be maintained and operated by the railway company. The ordinance further provided: "It shall be the duty of the company to furnish and run a sufficient number of cars to accommodate the travelling public on all streets which the company shall use and occupy for railroad purposes."

Section 193.11 of the laws of Wisconsin, enacted in 1897 (Stat. 1929, p. 1579), provided that a street railway company "shall not * * * abandon or discontinue any part of such railway on a public street or highway [within any town, village or city] without the consent of the proper town or village board or city council."

By act of 1911, c. 528 (Wis. Stat. 1929, p. 1579, § 193.08), it is provided: "When any street railway company shall fail, for a period of five years, to operate its cars for regular passenger service over any street in any city, village or town, upon which a franchise or permit shall have been granted it, the common council or the village or town board may, by a two-thirds vote, declare such franchise or permit forfeited as to the street or portion thereof so neglected."

By section 1797t — 3, Wis. Stat. 1917 (repealed in 1929), it was provided that any street railway company operating under an existing franchise should, upon filing with the clerk of the municipality which granted the franchise, and with the state commission, receive by operation of law, in lieu thereof, an indeterminate permit, and should hold such permit under all the terms, conditions, and limitations of the sections of the statute relating to such permits. The sections in question define an indeterminate permit as a grant from the state of the right to own and operate a street railway, which shall continue in force until such time as the municipality shall exercise its option to purchase or until it shall be otherwise terminated according to law. It is further provided that, by accepting an indeterminate franchise, the company consents to the purchase of its property by the municipality for the compensation and upon the terms and conditions fixed by the state commission.

The Duluth Company surrendered its city franchise in 1917, two years before its expiration, and received, by operation of law, in lieu thereof, an indeterminate permit from the state.

===================================================================================== South Sixth Remainder of Total Superior Broadway Street Superior Superior Line Line Line Division Division ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Annual Car Miles Operated 147,923 71,469 23,390 708,430 978,212 Annual Operating Expenses and Taxes .............. $47,412 $19,425 $6,354 $192,408 $265,599 Annual Revenue Passengers 459,368 117,113 41,191 2,536,810 3,154,482 Annual Revenue .......... $36,268 $9,329 $3,252 $201,015 $249,774 Annual Operating Loss ... $11,144 $10,186 $3,102 $8,607 $15,825 ---------------------------------------------------------- Operating Expenses and Taxes per Car Mile ..... 27.16c 27.16c 27.16c 27.16c 27.16c Revenue Received per Car Mile ............... 20.75c 12.93c 13.90c 28.40c 25.45c % 1930 1929 Decrease Decrease Revenue Passengers ..................... 3,154,482 4,107,315 952,833 23.30

L.R. McPherson, of Superior, Wis., for appellant City of Superior.

John W. Reynolds, Atty. Gen., and Samuel Bryan, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellant State of Wisconsin.

W.P. Crawford and Crawford Crawford, all of Superior, Wis., and Mitchell, Gillette Carmichael, of Duluth, Minn., for appellee.

Before ALSCHULER and SPARKS, Circuit Judges, and WILKERSON, District Judge.

The receiver in custody of the street railway property applied to the court for authority to abandon service on certain branch lines and to substitute bus service therefor. His showing, which is conceded on this appeal, is that the actual operating expenses of those branch lines exceeded their earnings; and that, under existing circumstances, it is impossible to operate them so as to cover expenses. He further showed that, if operations are continued on the branches, the whole system will be operated at a loss. It is not possible, without depleting the property in the custody of the receiver (even if money could be raised in that way), to continue the service. The receiver must either abandon the branches or shut down operation on the whole system.

Appellants assert that the District Court was without jurisdiction to hear the petition and grant relief thereon. With this we cannot agree. The property had been drawn into the custody and control of the court. The receiver was entitled to the instructions of the court as to its operation. The city and the state having intervened, it was proper for the court to determine the questions of confiscation presented. The controversy had relation to the property in the custody of the court, and, in justice to the parties before the court, ought to be determined in the principal proceeding. Central Union Trust Co. v. Anderson County et al., 268 U.S. 93, 96, 45 S. Ct. 427, 69 L.Ed. 862; Hoffman v. McClelland, 264 U.S. 552, 558, 44 S. Ct. 407, 68 L. Ed. 845. The court, of course, in giving instructions to the receiver, is bound by the federal statute which requires the receiver to manage and operate the property according to the valid laws of the state in which such property is situated, in the same manner that the owner would be bound to do if in possession thereof. 24 Stat. 554, § 2, Jud. Code § 65 (U.S. Code Ann., title 28, § 124).

Counsel for the receiver argues that the indeterminate franchise law operated to extinguish the provisions of the ordinance as to continuous operation. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has drawn a distinction between a surrender of a street car franchise and that of other utilities. City of Oshkosh v. Eastern Wis. E. Co., 172 Wis. 85, 90, 178 N.W. 308; Calumet Service Co. v. Chilton, 148 Wis. 334, 354, 135 N.W. 131; La Crosse v. La Crosse Gas Electric Co., 145 Wis. 408, 423, 130 N.W. 530. When it becomes necessary in a federal court to consider whether a state is depriving or attempting to deprive a litigant of property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the question turns on the existence and terms of an asserted contract, that court determines for itself whether there is a contract, and its terms. Railroad Comm. of Texas v. Eastern Texas Railroad Co. et al., 264 U.S. 79, 86, 44 S. Ct. 247, 68 L. Ed. 569. While the position of the receiver is not to be put aside lightly, the decision of the case, in our opinion, does not turn upon it, and we shall dispose of the case on the theory that the provisions of the ordinance as to continuous operation have not been affected by the surrender.

The provision of the ordinance applicable to the branch lines provides that "such new lines after being constructed and placed in operation shall be maintained and operated by said railroad company." The provisions of this ordinance do not operate to create a contract which requires the company to operate when operation means confiscation. In the absence in the ordinance of an express prohibition against abandonment, it was stated in State of Texas v. Eastern Texas R. Co. (D.C.) 283 F. 584, 593: "The law reads into the contract a proviso, which says: `The railroad may terminate this contract, and withdraw its property from public use, unless compensated, or there is a reasonable future prospect thereof.'" The right to abandon a railway system when the operation results in a loss and amounts to confiscation has been repeatedly upheld. Railroad Comm. of Texas v. Eastern Texas Railroad, supra; Bullock v. Florida ex rel. Railroad Comm. of Florida, 254 U.S. 513, 520, 41 S. Ct. 193, 65 L. Ed. 380; Brooks-Scanlon Co. v. Railroad Comm., 251 U.S. 396, 40 S. Ct. 183, 64 L. Ed. 323. And the same principle has been applied to a branch of a system when the entire system is being operated at a loss. Brooks-Scanlon Co. v. Railroad Comm., supra.

Conceding the force of the above decisions and admitting the right of the receiver to abandon the entire system, appellants invoke the Wisconsin statute which forbids the abandonment of any part of a street railway without the consent of the city. Reliance is placed upon Fort Smith Light T. Co. v. Bourland, 267 U.S. 330, 45 S. Ct. 249, 69 L. Ed. 631, in which the court upheld an order of a city commission refusing the request of a street railway company to abandon a part of its system. Arkansas, in which the railway operated, has a statute similar to that of Wisconsin. The railway earned more than enough to pay operating expenses of the whole system, and sought to abandon the branch on the sole ground that its operation was unremunerative. The court said: "The order complained of does not deal with rates. Nor does it involve the question of the reasonableness of service over a particular line. * * * It merely requires continued operation. We cannot say that it is inherently arbitrary. A public utility cannot, because of loss, escape obligations voluntarily assumed. * * * Nor does the expected deficit from operation affect its validity. A railway may be compelled to continue the service of a branch or part of a line, although the operation involves a loss. * * * This is true even where the system as a whole fails to earn a fair return upon the value of the property. So far as appears, this company is at liberty to surrender its franchise and discontinue operations throughout the city. It cannot, in the absence of contract, be compelled to continue to operate its system at a loss. Brooks-Scanlon Co. v. Railroad Commission of Louisiana, 251 U.S. 396 [ 40 S. Ct. 183, 64 L. Ed. 323]. But the Constitution does not confer upon the company the right to continue to enjoy the franchise or indeterminate permit and escape from the burdens incident to its use."

Was the action of the city council of Superior in withholding consent to the abandonment of the branch lines arbitrary and unreasonable? And does the enforcement of the Wisconsin statute amount to confiscation of the property in the hands of the receiver? The regulatory power conferred on the city council by the statute is subject to the limitation that the order must not be unreasonable. The showing of the receiver is that the entire system has been operated at a loss for more than ten years. The loss has increased year by year, caused by a steady decrease in revenue passengers and in passenger revenue. This is accounted for by the large and steadily increasing use of private automobiles. In the opinion of experts in street railway operation a reduction of service would not remove the loss. Various increases in fare rate over a number of years have not increased but have lessened passenger revenue. The loss was traced to the three branch lines. By discontinuing that service it is possible to operate the remainder. If the branches are not abandoned the whole system is lost.

We think that the case does not fall within the rule of Fort Smith Light T. Co. v. Bourland, supra; and that upon the facts averred and proved the action of the city council, particularly in view of the requirement that adequate bus service shall be maintained, must be held to be unreasonable, and the enforcement of the regulatory statute in the circumstances found to amount to a deprivation of rights protected by the Constitution. As stated in State of Iowa v. Old Colony Trust Co. (C.C.A.) 215 F. 307, 313, L.R.A. 1915A, 549, "They cannot force a railroad company to do the impossible."

Nor does Broad R.P. Co. v. South Carolina ex rel. Daniel, 281 U.S. 537, 50 S. Ct. 401, 74 L. Ed. 1023; Id., 282 U.S. 187, 51 S. Ct. 94, 75 L. Ed. 287, apply. That case is clearly distinguishable by reason of the provisions in the franchise of the corporation and the facts found by the state court as the basis for its decision.

Appellants urge that the receiver did not apply to the Wisconsin railroad commission for permission to abandon. As appellants have limited themselves to the sufficiency of the petition and the jurisdiction of the court, we might pass over this objection. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin, however, has ruled the point against the appellants, and held that the railroad commission has no authority to authorize the abandonment. City of Madison v. Railroad Comm., 199 Wis. 571, 572, 227 N.W. 10.

The order of the District Court is affirmed.

Summaries of

Crawford v. Duluth St. Ry. Co.

Circuit Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
Jun 30, 1932
60 F.2d 212 (7th Cir. 1932)

In Crawford v. Duluth St. Ry. Co., 7 Cir., 60 F.2d 212, the question was of certain branch lines — part of the "street railway division" — which ran at such a loss as to absorb any earnings of the remainder of the division.

Summary of this case from Murray v. Roberts
Case details for

Crawford v. Duluth St. Ry. Co.

Case Details


Court:Circuit Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

Date published: Jun 30, 1932


60 F.2d 212 (7th Cir. 1932)

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