Reiter v. Cooper, 507 U.S. 258 (1993)

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REITER et al. v. COOPER, trustee for CAROLINA MOTOR EXPRESS, INC., et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 91-1496. Argued December 1, 1992—Decided March 8, 1993

The Interstate Commerce Act (ICA) requires that motor common carriers charge the tariff rates they file with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), 49 U. S. C. 10762, and that such rates be "reasonable," 10701(a). Between 1984 and 1986, petitioner shippers tendered shipments to Carolina Motor Express, Inc., a motor carrier subject to ICC regulation, at negotiated rates that were lower than the applicable tariff rates on file with the ICC. When Carolina filed for bankruptcy, respondents, the trustee in bankruptcy and a rate auditing firm, brought adversary proceedings against petitioners in the Bankruptcy Court to recover the difference between the negotiated and tariff rates. Petitioners responded, inter alia, that the tariff rates were unlawful because they were unreasonably high. The Bankruptcy Court entered judgment for respondents based on the tariff rates, but the District Court reversed and referred petitioners' defenses to the ICC. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the petitioners' "unreasonable rate" claims were no obstacle to respondents' actions because, even if the tariff rates were unreasonable, the "filed rate doctrine" required petitioners to pay those rates first and then seek relief in a separate action under 11705(b)(3), which gives shippers an express cause of action against carriers for damages (reparations) in the amount of the difference between the tariff rate and the rate determined by the ICC to be reasonable.

Held: 1. Petitioners' unreasonable-rate claims under 11705(b)(3) are subject to the ordinary rules governing counterclaims. Pp. 262-267. (a) While respondents are technically correct that the unreasonable-rate issue cannot be asserted as a defense, petitioners' 11705(b)(3) claims relate to the same shipments for which respondents seek to collect and, thus, are properly raised here as counterclaims. It makes no difference that the counterclaims may have been mistakenly designated as defenses. See Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(c). Pp. 262-263. (b) The 2-year limitation for bringing a civil action under 11705(b)(3) is not applicable here since petitioners' claims seek merely

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