[252 U.S. 178, 179] Messrs. Louis Marshall, of New York City, Samuel W. Moore, of Kansas City, Mo., and Frank W. Swacker, of Washington, D. C., for plaintiff in error.
Mr. Patrick J. Farrell, of Washington, D. C., for defendant in error.
Mr. Chief Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Act of Congress of March 1, 1913 (37 Stat. 701), amending the 'Act to Regulate Commerce,' imposed the duty upon the Interstate Commerce Commission (section 19a [Comp. St. 8591]) to 'investigate, ascertain, and report the value of all the property owned or used by every common carrier subject to the provisions of this act.' Specifying the steps to be taken in the performance of the general duties thus imposed, the same section commanded as follows:
Pursuant to these requirements the Commission proceeded to investigate and report the value of the property of the Kansas City Southern Railway Company. Upon completing a tentative valuation, the Commission gave the notice required by the statute to the railway company, which thereupon filed a protest against such valuation on the ground that in making it the Commission had failed to consider and include the 'present cost of condemnation and damages or of purchase in excess of such original cost or present value.' Upon the subject of the protest, the railway company took a large amount of testimony and much was also taken by the Commission, both parties having incurred considerable expense in the matter.
Pending this situation, in order that the excessive expense of taking each individual parcel and showing what it would cost to acquire it or a right of way over it by purchase or condemnation might be avoided, an agreement [252 U.S. 178, 184] was entered into between the Director of the Bureau of Valuation of the Commission, C. A. Prouty, and the railway company, that in the event the Commission should decide that evidence upon the cost of acquiring land by purchase or condemnation would be received by it, the Bureau of Valuation would recommend to the Commission the percentage or multiplier of the naked value of the land, to be used for the purpose of reaching the railway cost of acquiring the same.
At that time there was also pending a protest concerning a tentative valuation made by the Commission as to the property of the Texas Midland Railroad Company, raising the same question as to error committed in failing to carry out the provisions of the statute concerning the present cost of condemnation, etc., in which case the Commission overruled the protest, holding that the provision of the statute in question was not susceptible of being enforced or acted upon for reasons stated by the Commission in part as follows (I. C. C. Val. Rep. 1, p. 54 et seq.):
Applying the ruling thus made to the protest which was pending in this case, the Commission gave notice to the railway that the agreement made with the Director of the Bureau of Valuation concerning the method of proof would be treated as not further operative; and thereafter when an offer was made by the railway before an examiner [252 U.S. 178, 186] of the Commission of further testimony concerning the subject in hand, it was excluded because in conflict with the ruling announced in the Midland Case. The Commission sustained this action of the examiner on the ground that that officer had rightly held that the ruling in the Midland Case was controlling; and the Commission therefore decided that no further testimony on the particular subject would be heard in this case, and that it would make no report concerning that subject.
This suit was then brought to obtain a mandamus to compel the Commission to hear the proof and act upon it under the statute. The amended petition, after reciting the facts as we have outlined them and making the appropriate formal averments to justify resort to mandamus, alleged:
It was further averred, with considerable elaboration, that the petitioner stood ready to produce proof to meet the requirements of the statute which was neither speculative nor impossible to be acted upon, since it would conform to the character of proof usually received in judicial proceedings involving the exercise of eminent domain.
The Commission in its answer, either stating or conceding [252 U.S. 178, 187] the history of the case as we have recited it, and summarily reiterating the grounds for the refusal by the Commission to receive the proof or report concerning it, challenged the right to the relief sought. A demurrer to the answer as stating no defense was overruled by the trial court, which denied relief without opinion. In the Court of Appeals, two judges sitting, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed by a divided court, also without opinion, and the case is here on writ of error to review that judgment.
It is obvious from the statement we have made, as well as from the character of the remedy invoked, mandamus, that we are required to decide, not a controversy growing out of duty performed under the statute, but one solely involving an alleged refusal to discharge duties which the statute exacts. Admonishing, as this does, that the issue before us is confined to a consideration of the face of the statute and the nonaction of the Commission in a matter purely ministerial, it serves also to furnish a ready solution of the question to be decided, since it brings out in bold contrast the direct and express command of the statute to the Commission to act concerning the subject in hand, and the Commission's unequivocal refusal to obey such command.
It is true that the Commission held that its nonaction was caused by the fact that the command of the statute involved a consideration by it of matters 'beyond the possibility of rational determination,' and called for 'inadmissible assumptions,' and the indulging in 'impossible hypotheses' as to subjects 'incapable of rational ascertainment,' and that such conclusions were the necessary consequence of the Minnesota Rate Cases, 230 U.S. 352 , 33 Sup. Ct. 729, 48 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1151, Ann. Cas. 1916A, 18.
We are of opinion, however, that, considering the face of the statute and the reasoning of the Commission, it results that the conclusion of the Commission was erroneous, an error which was exclusively caused by a mistaken [252 U.S. 178, 188] conception by the Commission of its relation to the subject, resulting in an unconscious disregard on its part of the power of Congress and an unwitting assumption by the Commission of authority which it did not possess. And the significance which the Commission attibuted to the ruling in the Minnesota Rate Cases, even upon the assumption that its view of the ruling in those cases was not a mistaken one, but illustrates in a different form the disregard of the power of Congress which we have just pointed out, since, as Congress indisputably had the authority to impose upon the Commission the duty in question, it is impossible to conceive how the Minnesota Rate ruling could furnish ground for refusing to carry out the commands of Congress, the cogency of which consideration is none the less manifest, though it be borne in mind that the Minnesota Rate Cases were decided after the passage of the act in question.
Finally, even if it be further conceded that the subject-matter of the valuations in question which the act of Congress expressly directed to be made necessarily opened a wide range of proof and called for the exercise of close scrutiny and of scrupulous analysis in its consideration and application, such assumption, we are of opinion, affords no basis for refusing to enforce the act of Congress, or what is equivalent thereto, of exerting the general power which the act of Congress gave, and at the same time disregarding the essential conditions imposed by Congress upon its exercise.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore reversed, with directions to reverse that of the Supreme Court, and direct the Supreme Court to grant a writ of mandamus in conformity with this opinion.