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KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY v. UNITED STATES AMERICA AND INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


December 1, 1913

KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COMMERCE COURT

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Lurton, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney

Author: Pitney

[ 231 U.S. Page 437]

 MR. JUSTICE PITNEY, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The contention of appellant in the Commerce Court and in this court is, that the regulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission relative to the method of keeping the accounts of common carriers, so far as they are here questioned, are unreasonable, beyond the power or authority of either Congress or the Commission, and violative of the Fifth Article of Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as being a deprivation of property without due process of law. It is claimed that the effect of enforcing the regulations under the circumstances of the case is to reduce the amount of net earnings applicable to dividends and thereby cause an irreparable loss to the

[ 231 U.S. Page 438]

     preferred stockholders, whose dividends are non-cumulative and payable only out of the income of the current year; that the property accounts become inaccurate, because while appellant has actually expended something more than $600,000 in the improvement of its property, and its bonded indebtedness has been in fact increased by the like amount, the accounts will declare that for this expenditure the company has obtained a net accretion to its property of only a little over $200,000 ($629,399.74 less $386,484, or $234,747.74); that the Operating Expense Accounts will be improperly swollen by the inclusion therein of the sum of $386,484, to the deception of the stockholders and the investing public, and the impairment of the financial credit of the company; and that under the requirements of the Commission this sum of $386,484 cannot be charged to and finally taken out of the proceeds of the bonds, but must be charged to operating expenses, and thus taken from operating revenue, because of which (as is claimed) this amount, which has already been paid out of the proceeds of bonds, must ultimately be restored in cash to the bond account, and returned to the trustee or otherwise accounted for to the bondholders. As to the Shreveport shop and terminal plant that are to be abandoned, it is contended that it is unreasonable to require the cost of abandonment to be charged to operating expenses, and that this is a proper charge against the accumulated surplus, as represented in the profit and loss account.

The authority of the Commission rests upon § 20 of the "Act to Regulate Commerce" (February 4, 1887, 24 Stat. 379, c. 104, as amended by the Hepburn Act of June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 584, cc. 3591).*fn1 The constitutional

[ 231 U.S. Page 439]

     validity of this legislation was sustained in Interstate Commerce Commission v. Goodrich Transit Co., 224 U.S. 194, 211, 214.

The authority conferred by Congress upon the Commerce Court (act of June 18, 1910; 36 Stat. 539, c. 309;

[ 231 U.S. Page 440]

     Judicial Code, § 207) with respect to enjoining or setting aside the orders of the Commission, like the authority previously exercised by the Federal Circuit Courts, was confined to determining whether there had been violations of the Constitution, or of the power conferred by statute, or an exercise of power so arbitrary as virtually to transcend the authority conferred. Interstate Com. Com. v. Illinois Central R. Co., 215 U.S. 452, 470; Interstate Com. Com. v. Union Pacific R. Co., 222 U.S. 541, 547; Procter & Gamble v. United States, 225 U.S. 282, 297; Interstate Com. Com. v. Balt. & Ohio R. Co., 225 U.S. 326, 340.

As to the intent and meaning of § 20, it is first insisted that the power conferred upon the Commission to prescribe the forms of accounts, records, and memoranda to be kept by the carriers, recognizes a distinction between the form and the substance; and that while the Commission, in order to obtain full and accurate information concerning the affairs of each corporation, must have power to require any reports, schedules, and accounts necessary to show the true financial condition of each carrier; yet that the grant must by fair interpretation, and in order not to amount to an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power, stop short of the point where the regulation in its essence goes not to the form but to the substance and involves interference with the internal affairs of the corporation. We do not, however, think that any such distinction between the form and the substance is admissible with respect to the declared object of standardizing railroad accounts and obtaining therefrom full and accurate information concerning the affairs of the respective corporations. The very object of a system of accounts is to display the pertinent financial operations of the company, and throw light upon its present condition. If they are to truly do this, the form must correspond with the substance. In order that accounts may be standardized,

[ 231 U.S. Page 441]

     it is necessary that the accounts of the several carriers shall be arranged under like headings or titles; and it is obviously essential that charges and credits shall be allocated under the proper headings -- the same with one carrier as with another. Unless "Additions and Betterments," on the one hand, and "Operating Expenses," on the other, are to indicate the same class of entries upon the books of one carrier that they indicate upon the books of other carriers, there is no possibility of standardization. So far as such uniformity requirements control or tend to control the conduct of the carrier in its capacity as a public servant engaged in interstate commerce, they are within the authority constitutionally conferred by Congress upon the Commission. There is no direct interference with the internal affairs of the corporation; and if any such interference indirectly results, it is only such as is incidental to the lawful control of the carrier by the Federal authority and to this the rights of stockholders and bondholders alike are necessarily subject.

It is said, however, that the meaning of the term "operating expenses" was well defined at the time of the passage of the act of 1887, and that during the period intervening between the beginning of the work of the Commission thereunder and the passage of the Hepburn Act in 1906, the term had never been construed to include any charge for property abandoned in the course of improvements; and that this settled construction, upon familiar principles, must be deemed to have entered into the purpose of Congress when it reenacted the language of § 20 in the latter year, and added to it authority to the Commission to prescribe in its discretion the forms of accounts and a prohibition against keeping any others than those prescribed or approved by the Commission. But it will be observed that § 20, as originally enacted, authorized the Commission "in its discretion for the purpose of enabling it the better to carry out the purposes of this act,

[ 231 U.S. Page 442]

     [to] prescribe a period of time within which all common carriers subject to the provisions of this act shall have, as near as may be, a uniform system of accounts, and the manner in which such accounts shall be kept." Congress, when it enacted the Hepburn Act in 1906, must have known that the Commission had not as yet found occasion to enforce this provision; and at the same time may be deemed to have contemplated that the authority then for the first time conferred upon the Commission to determine and prescribe the maximum rates to be charged by the carriers for the services to be performed by them, furnished a new and more cogent reason for establishing a uniform system of accounts.

The contention that the term "operating expenses" had a well-understood and defined meaning either recognized at the time of the passage of the act of 1887 or established by the constant practice of the Commission from that time until the Hepburn Act, so that the use of the term in the latter act amounted to an express limitation upon the grant of power to prescribe the forms of the accounts, is not well founded. Congress, in authorizing the Commission to prescribe a uniform system of accounts, recognized that accounting systems were not then uniform; and in reiterating this authorization in 1906, and adding a prohibition against the keeping of other accounts than those prescribed, manifested a purpose to standardize and render uniform the accounts of the different carriers with respect to matters that entered into property and the improvements thereof, on the one hand, and the current operations of the company, on the other. By the very terms of § 20, Congress at least outlined the classification of the carriers' accounts, for it required the annual reports to show "the amount of capital stock issued, the amounts paid therefor, and the manner of payment for the same . . . the surplus fund, if any, . . . the funded and floating

[ 231 U.S. Page 443]

     debts, . . . the cost and value of the carrier's property, franchises and equipments; . . . the amounts expended for improvements each year, how expended, and the character of such improvements; the earnings and receipts from each branch of business and from all sources; the operating and other expenses; the balances of profit and loss; and a complete exhibit of the financial operations of the carrier each year, including an annual balance sheet." By the same section the Commission was authorized to require these annual reports from all carriers subject to the Act, and to prescribe the manner in which the reports should be made, and for this and other purposes to require carriers to have "as near as may be, a uniform system of accounts, and [to prescribe] the manner in which such accounts shall be kept."

Plainly, the law-making body recognized the essential distinctions between property accounts and operating accounts, between capital and earnings; it recognized that the practice of different carriers varied in respect to these matters; and that no system of supervision and regulation would be complete without requiring the accounts of all the carriers to speak a common language.

There is here no unconstitutional delegation of legislative powers. The reasoning adopted in Interstate Com. Com. v. Goodrich Transit Co., 224 U.S. 194, 210, etc., is controlling. And since, as just shown, uniformity in accounting is dependent upon the adoption and enforcement of precise classification, the authority to define the terms of the classification necessarily follows. It amounts, after all, to no more than laying down the general rules of action under which the Commission shall proceed, and leaving it to the Commission to apply those rules to particular situations and circumstances by the establishment and enforcement of administrative regulations.

It is contended that the regulations of the Commission, in respect to the matters now under consideration, are

[ 231 U.S. Page 444]

     so unreasonable and arbitrary as to constitute an abuse rather than an exercise of the powers conferred by § 20, and consequently that they ought to be set aside by judicial action. This is not on the ground that the Commission did not proceed with due deliberation and after proper inquiry. Respecting this, the record abundantly shows that in the year 1906, and shortly after the passage of the Hepburn Act, the Commission undertook, and for nearly three years prosecuted a most thorough investigation into the current practice of the principal railroad lines, procuring reports and recommendations from experts, and submitting tentative plans for the classification of accounts to the executives of the railroad lines and to a committee of accountants created by the Association of American Railway Accounting Officers, which association was made up of members representing practically every important railroad in the country.

The present attack upon the classification as adopted is, and must be, rested at bottom upon the contention that the regulations embodied in it are so entirely at odds with fundamental principles of correct accounting as intrinsically to manifest an abuse of power.

There is evidence in the record that substantially the same method of distributing charges for so-called "Additions and Betterments" between the Property Accounts and the Operating Accounts is and has long been pursued by important railroad carriers, and has received the sanction of at least one recent text-book writer, -- Whitten, Valuations of Public Service Corporations, §§ 450, 451, 458, etc. Nevertheless, it is insisted with emphasis that property abandoned as an incident to permanent improvements is not an operating expense, and, in effect, that no matter what practice may be pursued by railroad accounting officers, it cannot properly be treated as such.

We are thus brought back to the fundamental distinction between (a) the property or capital accounts, designed

[ 231 U.S. Page 445]

     to represent the investment of the stockholders, and to show the cost of the property as originally acquired, with subsequent additions and improvements; these assets being balanced by the liabilities, including the amount of the capital stock and of bonded and other indebtedness, with net profits or surplus, whether carried under the head of "profit and loss" or otherwise; and (b) the operating accounts, designed to show, on the one side, gross receipts or gross earnings for the year, and on the other side, the expenditures involved in producing those gross earnings and in maintaining the property, the balance being the net earnings.

Since the regulation of the railroad carrier by the public authority, and especially the fixing of the rates to be charged, depend primarily upon two fundamental considerations, (a) the value of the property that is employed in the public service, and (b) the current cost of carrying on that service, it is clear that the maintenance of a proper line of distinction between property accounts and operating accounts is essential to the execution by the Interstate Commerce Commission of the supervisory and regulatory powers conferred upon it by Congress.

Appellant contends, inter alia, that since the original locations were necessary in the development of its railroad line, and were abandoned only as an incident to the improvement and development of the property, the cost thereof, being as it is termed a part of the "cost of progress," should remain in the property account, as representing a part of the stockholders' present investment.

Support for this contention is sought in previous decisions of this court. In Union Pacific R. Co. v. United States, 99 U.S. 402, a decision that turned upon the meaning and effect of an act of July 1, 1862 for aiding the construction of the railroad (12 Stat. 489, c. 120), it was said, at p. 420: "As a general proposition, net earnings are the excess of the gross earnings over the expenditures defrayed

[ 231 U.S. Page 446]

     in producing them, aside from, and exclusive of, the expenditure of capital laid out in constructing and equipping the works themselves. It may often be difficult to draw a precise line between expenditures for construction, and the ordinary expenses incident to operating and maintaining the road and works of a railroad company. Theoretically, the expenses chargeable to earnings include the general expenses of keeping up the organization of the company, and all expenses incurred in operating the works and keeping them in good condition and repair; whilst expenses chargeable to capital include those which are incurred in the original construction of the works, and in the subsequent enlargement and improvement thereof." In Illinois Central R.R. v. Interstate Commerce Commission, 206 U.S. 441, the Commission had held (206 U.S. 449; 10 I.C.C. 544) that while repairs were properly chargeable to current operating expenses, yet expenditures for improvements and equipment "should not be taxed as part of the current or operating expenses of a single year, but should be, so far as practicable, and so far as rates exacted from the public are concerned, projected proportionately over the future." And in this court it was said (p. 462): "It would seem as if expenditures for additions to construction and equipment, as expenditures for original construction and equipment, should be reimbursed by all of the traffic they accommodate during the period of their duration, and that improvements that will last many years should not be charged wholly against the revenue of a single year." And, after pointing out that the case of the Union Pacific Railway Company in 99 U.S. had to do not with rates of transportation or the like, but with the construction of the words "net earnings" in an act of Congress, the court, in pointing out the difference between the position of the Government in that case and the position of a shipper of commodities in the case sub judice, said, with respect to the latter (p. 463):

[ 231 U.S. Page 447]

     "His right is immediate. He may demand a service. He must pay a toll, but a toll measured by the reasonable value of the service. The elements of that value may be many and complex, not always determinable, as we have seen, with mathematical accuracy, but, we think, it is clear, that instrumentalities which are to be used for years should not be paid for by the revenues of a day or year; and this is the principle of returns upon capital which exists in durable shape."

The expressions quoted were properly employed with respect to the questions then presented for decision. As expression of the general principle, we see no occasion now to qualify them. In both cases it was recognized that in so complicated a matter as the construction, maintenance, and operation of a railroad line, it is difficult to define and perhaps more difficult to consistently apply a precise distinction between capital and expense accounts; and while the propriety of distributing improvement costs over a series of years was recognized, the impossibility of scientific accuracy in that regard was acknowledged. The question now is, whether the regulations of the Commission under attack do violance to these general principles -- rather, it is whether those regulations are so clearly contrary to these and other applicable principles that they should be set aside as being in excess of the powers conferred by Congress upon the Commission.

We are unable to see that there is substantial inconsistency with principle, much less gross violation thereof. The contention of the appellant that property, originally acquired because necessary in the construction of the road, and afterwards abandoned only because rendered unnecessary by the improvement and development of the property, should remain in the property account as a part of the stockholders' investment, will be found, upon analysis, to rest upon the unwarrantable assumption that all capital expenditures result in permanent accretions to the

[ 231 U.S. Page 448]

     property of the company. This in effect ignores depreciation -- an inevitable fact which no system of accounts can properly ignore. A more complete depreciation than that which is represented by a part of the original plant that through destruction or obsolescence has actually perished as useful property, it would be difficult to imagine. The fact that the original investment was necessary in order that the second investment might be made is not a conclusive test. Reference is made to the cost of the scaffolding used in the erection of a house, and discarded when the house is completed; and to the cost of the paper that goes to the waste-basket, rather than to the printer, in the preparation of a literary composition; but these are fanciful analogies, and do not assist us here, where the real question is not how shall original cost be ascertained, but, how shall subsequent depreciation in value be reckoned and accounted for?

In Knoxville v. Water Co., 212 U.S. 1, this court had to do with a similar element of depreciation, and, after pointing out that such a plant as was there in question begins to depreciate in value from the moment of its use, and that before coming to the question of profit at all, the company was entitled to earn a sufficient sum annually to provide not only for current repairs but for making good the depreciation and replacing the parts of the property when they should come to the end of their life, the court proceeded to say (p. 14): "If, however, a company fails to perform this plain duty and to exact sufficient returns to keep the investment unimpaired, whether this is the result of unwarranted dividends upon overissues of securities, or of omission to exact proper prices for the output, the fault is its own. When, therefore, a public regulation of its prices comes under question the true value of the property then employes for the purpose of earning a return cannot be enhanced by a consideration of the errors in management which have been committed in the past."

[ 231 U.S. Page 449]

     And since one of the manifest objects of Congress in authorizing the supervision and standardization of carriers' accounts, as is done in § 20 of the Interstate Commerce Act, was to enable the Commissioners to intelligently perform their duties respecting the regulation of carriers' rates for the services performed, and since it is settled that the property investment which is to be taken into consideration as one of the elements in fixing such rates is the property then in use (Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 466, 546; San Diego Land & Town Co. v. National City, 174 U.S. 739, 757; San Diego Land & Town Co. v. Jasper, 189 U.S. 439, 442; Willcox v. Consolidated Gas Co., 212 U.S. 19, 41; Minnesota Rate Cases, 230 U.S. 352, 434, 454, 458), it is obvious that so far as the regulations of the Commission now under consideration discard the "cost of progress" theory, they need no further vindication.

It is insisted that if the appellant, having expended in round figures $600,000, secured by the sale of bonds for improvements, can be compelled to charge $400,000 of that amount to the operating expense of one year or to distribute it among the operating expenses of a series of years, and if it be forbidden to keep any other record representing the transaction, it will have in its possession no kind of record from which it can report accurately either the cost of its property or the cost of improvements or its operating expenses. This, we think is a misapprehension of the effect of the regulations. They do not require appellant to falsify its books or to change in any way the evidential character of the original entries. The source of the money, and the disposition made of it as expended, may and should be correctly shown. The regulations do require that the contemporaneous abandonment of other property be likewise shown, and the replacement cost, less salvage, charged to the appropriate accounts under operating expenses. This, if observed, of course results

[ 231 U.S. Page 450]

     in enforcing a prescribed distinction between capital expense and operating expense. It does not require that the record of the expenditure be obliterated; but it does of course affect the results as they work out upon the balance sheet. If this be fairly done, there is no transmutation of new property into operating expenses, but only an insistence upon the requirement that new property added shall not alone be the measure of the accretion to the property account, and that the depletion attributable to contemporaneous abandonment of other property shall likewise be reflected upon the books.

Stress is laid upon the fact that if the grade reductions in question had been made upon the line of the original right of way, even though made at double the expense, the cost would have gone into "additions and betterments," and would have stood as a permanent increment of assets in the property account; while with respect to similar improvements made off the line of the original right of way, appellant is not permitted to carry into the property account the full cost of the improvement, but must first deduct therefrom the estimated replacement cost (less salvage) of the portions of track no longer used, charging this to the account of operating expenses.

So far as the comparative expense of the different modes of improvement is concerned, little need be said. The accounting regulations do not seek to control railroad companies in the exercise of their discretion respecting what shall be done and how it shall be done, but only to systematize their accounts with respect to whatever is done. It is to be presumed that boards of directors will select that method of accomplishing a needed grade revision that shall be preferable from the engineering standpoint and suited to the financial condition and prospects of the company; not that will adopt an inferior or more costly method of improvement because of the accounting requirements.

[ 231 U.S. Page 451]

     The distinction drawn between grade improvements "off the line" and those made "on the line" rests upon the view that the discarding of sections of the original line of road is a loss or depreciation that in correct accounting should be taken out of the property account. If this is to be done, its value must be charged, directly or indirectly, as an expense incident to the operation of the road. Whether it should be charged against the accumulated profits of previous years, as reflected in the profit and loss account, or against the profits of present and future years, may depend upon circumstances. The theory upon which the Commission has acted in formulating its regulations is fairly stated in its brief herein as follows: The abandonment of property incident to grade revision is "depreciation," and such depreciation is of two kinds, -- (1) that which is not replaced in kind, and (2) that which is replaced by improved materials, track, or equipment. If a trunk line of road has a branch extending into a territory not served by its main line, and, finding the branch unprofitable, abandons it, taking up the track, without constructing any substitute to serve the same territory, the abandoned branch ceases to be an earning instrumentality; the stockholders can thereafter derive no profit from it; it has served its purpose, and only past operations have benefited from it. So far as the profits of past operations have not been distributed to the stockholders, they are represented in the profit and loss account, and therefore such an abandonment or depreciation is properly chargeable to that account unless a special depreciation account has been established in anticipation of such abandonments; and for such an account, provision is made in the regulations. The other kind of depreciation is the result of changes attributable to the inadequacy of the existing property to meet the demands of the future. The road or the structures have to be replaced with stronger or more efficient instrumentalities. Abandonments

[ 231 U.S. Page 452]

     occasioned by changes of this character are therefore chargeable to future earnings, for the reason that the improved condition of the road is not only designed to meet the demands of the future, but presumably will result in economies of operation, and so the resulting benefits will be reaped by those who hold the stock of the company in the present and in the future. The railroad company may, if it sees fit, anticipate general depreciations, and make provision for them by establishing a reserve for the purpose; but if no such provision has been made the abandonments should be taken care of by charging them to present or future operating expense. In case, however, the amount is so large that its inclusion in a carrier's operating expenses for a single year would unduly burden the operating expense account for that year, the carrier may, if so authorized by the Commission, distribute the cost throughout a series of years.

A statement of the theory is sufficient to show that the regulation is not arbitrary in the sense of being without reasonable basis. And there is evidence to show that the Commission was warranted in adopting it, as sustained by expert opinion and approved by experience.

One of the reasons for the distinction made in accounting between improvements made on, and those made off, the old right of way is that in the former case the improvements show themselves in the physical structures, and can be inventoried and appraised by witnesses; the deepening of cuts and increasing of fills, while involving some abandonments (and these under the regulations are to be taken out of the operating account), yet in the main are visible upon the ground, and capable of mensuration and appraisement. To the suggestion that cuts filled up and embankments reduced would not be thus manifest, it is sufficient to say that if such cases occur they must be most extraordinary. When a railroad is originally constructed, cuts and fills are made to overcome natural

[ 231 U.S. Page 453]

     inequalities of surface; if any undue grades are permitted to remain, it is usually because for reasons of economy cuts have been made less deep and fills less high than otherwise they would have been made. Therefore grade revisions upon the line of the original right of way are normally required for the purpose of removing summits in cuts and raising sags in fills; not vice versa.

It is said that the effect of the regulations, if complied with, is to deprive the preferred stockholders of a considerable part of the non-cumulative dividends from the net earnings of the company, to which they would otherwise be entitled. The preferred stockholders, as such, are not before the court, and this is not a proper occasion for determining their rights. Supposing, however, that the enforcement of the accounting system does require them to forego their current dividends, we do not concede that this amounts to an unlawful taking of their property. Assuming (as of course we must) that the management of the company has acted prudently in making these extensive improvements within a short time, instead of distributing them throughout a series of years, and without providing in advance any fund applicable to them, still it must be presumed that the improvements are necessary to the general welfare of the company, and will result in its increased prosperity, and therefore make better the assurance of dividends for the preferred stockholders in the future.

But, aside from that, the Interstate Commerce Act deals with the carrier in its capacity as a servant of the public, and as a distinct entity, amenable to the legitimate regulation of Congress and the Commission. If in this aspect the carrier is not unwarrantably injured or deprived of its property by the exercise of the regulatory powers, the operation of such regulations cannot be restrained on the ground of agreements made by the stockholders amongst themselves for apportioning profits to one or the

[ 231 U.S. Page 454]

     other class of stockholders. To admit this might materially hamper the Federal control over interstate carriers, and evidently would tend to render impracticable the standardization of methods of accounting.

Much stress is laid upon the situation that results from the circumstance that (as is claimed) these regulations were promulgated after appellant had mortgaged its property and issued bonds for financing the improvements in question. It is not contended that the regulations impair the rights of either party under the mortgage. The contention is that the company had the right to finance the full cost of the improvements out of the proceeds of a bond issue, and that the regulations amount in effect to a veto upon the action of the directors in this respect. Supposing this to be true, we are unable to perceive that the appellant is thereby relieved from compliance with the regulations. Whatever was done about authorizing the improvements and financing the cost from the bond issue was done subject to being displaced by the exercise of the powers conferred upon the Interstate Commerce Commission by the act of 1906. The regulations do not affect the administration of the borrowed money. It was borrowed inter alia specifically for use in "reducing grades to one-half of one per cent. on three full operating divisions, aggregating 41 per cent. of the total length of the line." And by the mortgage appellant covenanted to use the bonds and the proceeds thereof in calling in and redeeming an outstanding loan, "and for the general improvement of its property." In short, so far as appears, there is nothing in the regulations to prevent the appellant from devoting the money strictly to the purposes for which it was borrowed, although they do prevent the keeping of the accounts in such manner as to make it appear that the book value of the company's assets is enhanced to the full extent of the moneys disbursed in the improvements.

[ 231 U.S. Page 455]

     When it is said that the amount of $386,484, which under the requirements of the Commission must be charged to operating expenses, must for that reason be ultimately restored in cash to the bond account and returned to the trustee or otherwise accounted for to the bondholders, this does not mean that any obligation of that kind is imposed upon appellant by the classification. We are not referred to anything in the classification, in the provisions of the mortgage, or in the law, that imposes any such duty. What is meant (as we presume), is that if the operating expenses are increased and the operating revenue decreased by the amount mentioned, in accordance with the regulations, and the payment of dividends should nevertheless continue, the books would make it appear that the dividends were paid not from earnings but from the proceeds of the bonds. In other words, the regulations of the Commission prevent the proceeds of the bond issue from being used, in whole or in part, to maintain dividend payments without that fact appearing upon the accounts ; and since it is improbable that appellant would be willing to have the accounts bear such an interpretation, it is probable that the proceeds of the bonds will not be employed for dividend purposes, and unless required for further improvements, may as well be returned to the trustee for the bondholders. Since one of the very purposes of establishing the accounting system is to deter the payment of dividends out of capital, the criticism, upon analysis, bears its own refutation.

The same may be said of the argument that enforcement of the regulations will impair the credit of appellant by diminishing apparent earnings, preventing continuance of dividends upon preferred stock and keeping down the aggregate value of "assets" upon the property accounts. Presumably the regulations have a tendency to place the accounting system upon a sound basis in these respects; and to accomplish this was one of the legitimate

[ 231 U.S. Page 456]

     objects at which Congress aimed in the enactment of § 20 of the Interstate Commerce Act.

It is further insisted that even the theory upon which the accounting regulations rest does not, when analyzed, justify a charge of abandoned property to operating expenses, but at most a charge to profit and loss. The suggestion apparently has force; but, upon consideration, we are unable to see that it furnishes ground for judicial interference with the course pursued by the Commission. Except for the contention (already disposed of) that the value of the abandoned parcels should be permanently carried in the property account as part of the cost of progress, it is and must be conceded that sooner or later it must be charged against the operating revenue, either past or future, if the integrity of the property accounts is to be maintained; and it becomes a question of policy whether it should be charged in solido to profit and loss (an account presumptively representative of past accumulations) or to the operating accounts of the present and future. If abandoned property is not charged off in one way or the other it remains as a permanent inflation of the property accounts, and tends to produce, directly or indirectly, a declaration of dividends out of capital. If it be charged off to the surplus account, it tends to prevent the declaration of dividends based upon a supposed accumulation of past earnings. If charged to operating expenses of the current and future years, it has a tendency to prevent the declaration of dividends from current earnings until the amount of the depreciation shall have been made up out of the earnings.

But, did we agree with appellant that the abandonments ought to be charged to surplus or to profit and loss, rather than to operating expenses, we still should not deem this a sufficient ground to declare that the Commission had abused its power. So long as it acts fairly and reasonably within the grant of power constitutionally conferred

[ 231 U.S. Page 457]

     by Congress, its orders are not open to judicial review.

What has been said respecting the enforced disposition of the charges for property abandoned in grade revision, applies as well to the abandonment of the present shop and terminal plant at Shreveport.

Decree affirmed.


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