Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

ILLINOIS CENT. GULF R. CO. v. TABOR GRAIN CO.

February 4, 1980

ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TABOR GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. COOK INDUSTRIES, INC., DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. ILLINOIS GRAIN CORPORATION, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. PILLSBURY GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. GARNAC GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. BUNGE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. CARGILL, INC., DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. LOUIS DREYFUS GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. CONTINENTAL GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. FARMERS CO-OP GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. FISHER FARMERS GRAIN AND COAL COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. DELAND FARMERS CO-OP GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. ASHKUM GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. CISCO CO-OP GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. WELDON GRAIN & CO-OP COMPANY, DEFENDANT. ILLINOIS CENTRAL GULF RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF, V. ANCHOR GRAIN COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aspen, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In January, 1979, Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Company ("ICG") filed this action against Tabor Grain Company to collect outstanding tariff charges accrued against grain shipments which were made under the terms of ICG Tariff 604-A, ICG 92. ("Tariff 604").*fn1 ICG has brought fifteen similar suits, seven transferred from the Central District of Illinois, alleging that other grain companies failed to pay appropriate freight charges pursuant to Tariff 604.*fn2 There are no factual disputes and the parties have stipulated to the pertinent issues. The defendants in these consolidated cases have moved for summary judgment under Rule 56, Fed.R.Civ.P.

From 1972 to 1978, ICG maintained multiple-car export grain tariffs. One of these, Tariff 604, provided for high-volume shipping at a reduced rate for 100-car unit train shipments of grain for export. To be eligible for these lower rates, a grain shipment was required to weigh a minimum of 9,800 tons and to be shipped in no more than 100 covered hopper cars. In addition, a minimum of ten such train shipments was required during a 12-month period. This requirement could be met by two sets of five consecutive train trips.*fn3 The key provision of Tariff 604 for the purpose of this litigation is Item 25(c). In short, Item 25(c) states that the lower rates will not apply whenever the ICG is required to switch more than four cuts of empty cars to, or more than four cuts of loaded cars from, the shipper's facility.*fn4 If any of the above conditions are not met, the higher export rates for four-car shipments required by a different tariff would apply.

Most of the defendants are in the business of buying grain for export resale.*fn5 In order to transport the grain to seaports for export, these defendant-shippers have arranged with the ICG to operate unit grain trains under Tariff 604. The grain handled by the defendants has been shipped from their own and a number of other elevators located throughout Illinois and Indiana.*fn6 The defendants shippers have been loading grain into 100 car trains for a number of years and have received the lower rate under Tariff 604. Plaintiff, however, now alleges that the defendants failed to comply with the four-cut requirement in some or all shipments involving certain trains operating from the nine loading origins in Illinois from 1976 through 1978.*fn7

There is no dispute that at each of the nine loading origins more than four switches often were executed on the movement and loading of the 100 car trains. The dispute centers around whether these extra cuts were violative of the tariff and/or whether the layout of the elevators themselves rendered the 604 rates inapplicable.*fn8 Each of the sixteen complaints involve the loading of grain at one or more of the nine elevator origins located at Ashkum, Cisco, Cropsey, Dalton City, Deland, Dewey, Macon, Sullivan, and Weldon.*fn9 Personnel of the ICG had attended and observed the loading procedures at these elevator origins as to the shipments in question, but never had expressed the view that the operations did not fall within the terms of Tariff 604. Moreover, the ICG never advised the shippers that rental of ICG equipment for additional movements of cars was to be counted toward the four cuts permitted by 604 or that 100 car trains would be disqualified by such movements. In fact, a number of the affiants on several occasions have submitted letters from the ICG indicating that the elevator layouts complied with 604 requirements and that shipment of grain from these locations would be eligible for the lower rates permitted under Tariff 604.*fn10

The scope of the issues has been considerably narrowed. The parties have stipulated that if the shipments in question complied with all the terms and conditions of Tariff 604, only the rates in that tariff would be applicable. To the extent that these shipments allegedly did not comply with the requirements, the parties have agreed that noncompliance was due solely to failure to meet the terms and conditions of Item 25(c) of Tariff 604, the four-cut requirement.*fn11 Thus, there remain for resolution three legal issues presented by defendants' motion for summary judgment. First, there is the question of whether certain shipments of grains from the nine above-mentioned loading locations complied with the four-cut requirement of Tariff 604. Second, there is the issue of whether cuts made beyond the four-cut requirement by use of rented ICG equipment and crews constitute a violation of Tariff 604's four-cut rule. Defendants argue that the historical application of Tariff 804 permits such rentals. Plaintiff, on the other hand, stresses that the language of Tariff 804 permits no such rentals. Moreover, plaintiff contends that even if Tariff 804 could be so construed, it in no way modifies the 604 requirement of four or less cuts of cars. Finally, plaintiff argues that defendants are estopped from asserting that plaintiff has waived his right to collect legally owned freight charges.

I. TARIFF 604 — THE FOUR-CUT REQUIREMENT

Item 25(c) of Tariff 604, entitled "Terminal or Transit Privileges or Services," describes the four-cut requirement:

    Rates named herein will not apply when due to
  shipper's disability assembly of trains at origin
  requires Illinois Central Gulf Railroad to switch
  more than four cuts of empty cars to shipper's
  facility or more than four cuts of loaded cars
  from shipper's facility or when due to
  consignee's disability distribution of train at
  destination requires Illinois Central Gulf
  Railroad to switch more than four cuts of loaded
  cars to consignee's facility or more than four
  cuts of empty cars from consignee's facility.

Plaintiff argues that Tariff 604 provides that the tariff will not apply when the ICG is required to switch more than four empty cars to or more than four loaded cars from the shipper's facility.*fn12 In addition, plaintiff asserts that the four-cut language implicitly contains a trackage requirement; i.e., that an elevator can comply with the tariff only when there is sufficient side-track on either side of the elevator spout to hold 25 cars. In this way, only four cuts would be required to load and move a 100-car unit train.

For the reasons that follow, the Court holds that the four-cut requirement refers to only those cuts performed by the ICG pursuant to the terms and conditions of the tariff, in no way restricting the number of additional cuts which may be performed by defendants or by others on a rental basis. In addition, the Court finds nothing in Tariff 604 which explicitly or implicitly requires an elevator to have a certain length of track available to it in order to qualify for the lower rates.

A. Four-Cut Restriction

It is undisputed that more than four cuts were required and, indeed, were performed in loading the 100-car unit trains at the nine elevator origins. Whenever more than four cuts were made, however, the shippers carried them out in one of three ways: (1) by use of their own equipment;*fn13 (2) by use of equipment rented from third parties;*fn14 and/or (3) by use of equipment rented from ICG.*fn15 Defendants argue, and the Court agrees, that the four-cut requirement is for the convenience of the carrier. By limiting the number of cuts to be performed under the tariff to four, the ICG is ensuring that its engines and crew will not be delayed unnecessarily or undercompensated in loading a 100-car unit train. The central question is whether Tariff 604 requires that no more than four cuts can be performed for a 100-unit train, or simply means that the ICG will perform only four cuts "free of charge," with any additional cuts to be arranged by the shipper and grain elevator on a rental basis apart from the tariff.

The interpretation of an ambiguous tariff provision presents a question of law. Penn Central Co. v. General Mills, Inc., 439 F.2d 1338, 1340 (8th Cir. 1971). In construing a tariff, "its terms must be taken in the sense in which they are generally used and accepted; and it must be construed in accordance with the meaning of the words used." Id. at 1340-1341; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. United States, 221 F.2d 811 (7th Cir. 1955). Strained constructions of the tariff are to be avoided, particularly when they would lead to impractical or unjust results. National Van Lines, Inc. v. United States, 355 F.2d 326, 332 (7th Cir. 1966). Rather, the courts have expressed a preference for tariff interpretations which "conforms to the intentions of the framers of the tariff, avoids possible violations of the law, and accords with the practical application given by shippers and carriers alike." Penn Central, supra, at 1341. In other words, the Court will consider the practical application given to the tariff by the parties themselves in determining the meaning of the tariff:

    We think it highly significant that the
  intervening railroads for a period of more than
  three years accepted without question the
  certification made by plaintiffs and other
  shippers of ground limestone as being in
  substantial compliance with Section 4. During
  that period they accepted from plaintiffs more
  than 1,400 cars of ground limestone, some
  consigned for the purposes enumerated in Section
  4, some for other purposes. As the railroads were
  the progenitors of the tariff and acquiesced in
  plaintiff's interpretation for such a long period,
  we think the inference inescapable that they
  interpreted it in the same manner. To think
  otherwise would necessarily attribute to the
  carriers a degree of indifference, negligence or
  plain stupidity, for which the record furnishes no
  justification.

Calcium Carbonate Company v. United States, 256 F. Supp. 99, 103 (S.D. Ill. 1966) (emphasis supplied). Finally, as suggested by Calcium Carbonate, ambiguities in the meaning of a tariff should be construed strictly against the carrier who drafted the tariff. See also Penn Central, supra; Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. United States, 434 F.2d 1341 (Ct.Cl. 1970); National Van Lines, Inc. v. United States, 355 F.2d 326 (7th Cir. 1966); Kansas City Southern Railway Co. v. Kansas City Power & Light Co., 430 F. Supp. 722 (W.D. Mo. 1976), aff'd, 551 F.2d 1134 (8th Cir. 1977).

Under these principles, the Court finds the defendants' interpretation of the four-cut requirement the more convincing one. Plaintiff has not shown that its restrictive definition of the four-cut requirement is the version generally used and accepted. Although the lower rate of Tariff 604 clearly does not apply in those situations where the ICG is required to switch more than four cuts of empty or loaded cars, nowhere does the tariff preclude the ICG from performing additional switches under separate arrangements. To the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.