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Malcolm Johnson and A. C. Cassatt, for appellants.
DAY, Circuit Judge (after stating the facts as above). This action involves the construction and application of Act Cong. July 2, 1890 (26 Stat. 209). This statute makes illegal “every contract, combination, in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states or with foreign nations.” The act further makes it a misdemeanor to monopolize or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with others to monopolize, any part of the trade or commerce among the several states. This suit was brought under cover of the fourth section, giving to the circuit court jurisdiction of proceedings in equity brought by the United States district attorney, under the direction of the attorney general, to restrain violations of the law.
Is the contract in restraint of trade, within the meaning of the law? As we understand the decisions of the supreme court of the United States, the construction of the statute is no longer an open question. At the common law, contracts were invalid when in unreasonable restraint of trade, and were not enforced by the courts. See opinion of this court, per Taft, Circuit Judge, in U. S. v. Addyston Pipe & Steel Co., 29 C. C. A. 141, 85 Fed. 271-279, 46 L. R. A. 122. By the constitution of the United States, congress is given plenary power to regulate commerce between the states and with foreign nations. In the exercise of this power, congress may prevent interference by the states with the freedom of interstate commerce, and may likewise prohibit individuals, by contract or otherwise, from impeding the free and untrammeled flow of such trade. In the exercise of this right, congress has seen fit to prohibit all contracts in restraint of trade. It has not left to the courts the consideration of the question whether such restraint is reasonable or unreasonable, or whether the contract would have been illegal at the common law or not. The act leaves for consideration by judicial authority no question of this character, but all contracts and combinations are declared illegal if in restraint of trade or commerce among the states. U. S. v. TransMissouri Freight Ass'n, 166 U. S. 290, 17 Sup. Ct. 540, 41 L. Ed. 1007; U. S. v. Joint Traffic Ass'n, 171 Ú. S. 505, 19 Sup. Ct. 25, 43 L. Ed. 259; Addyston Pipe & Steel Co. v. U. S., 175 Ù. S. 211, 20 Sup. Ct. 96, 44 L. Ed. 136.
While this is the general rule to be deduced from the authorities cited, it is to be remembered that the supreme court has also declared:
"An agreement entered into for the purpose of promoting the legitimate business of an individual or corporation, with no purpose to thereby affect or restrain interstate commerce, is not, as we think, covered by the act, although the agreement may indirectly and remotely affect commerce.” U. S. V. Joint Traffic Ass'n, 171 U. S. 505, 568, 19 Sup. Ct. 25, 43 L. Ed. 239.
The question is, in each case, does the contract or combination have the necessary effect to restrain interstate commerce? A contract or combination which interferes with the freedom of interstate commerce, and hinders or prevents its free enjoyment, to the extent that it does so, restrains that commerce, and is illegal. It was the policy of the common law to discourage monopolies, and to refuse to enforce contracts which had the effect to suppress competition. It was believed and declared by those who built up that system of jurisprudence that the public interests were best subserved when commerce and trade were left unfettered by combinations and agreements which had the effect to destroy competition in whole or in part. It was in the same spirit, and with the same end in view, that congress passed the act under consideration, which is aimed to maintain interstate commerce upon the basis of free competition, and contracts which have the necessary tendency to restrain that freedom are within the condemnation of the law. The courts are not concerned with the policy of such a law. It is not for them to inquire whether it be true, as is often alleged, that this is a mistaken public policy, and combinations, in the reduction of the cost of production, cheapened transportation, and lowered cost to the consumer, have been productive of more good than evil to the public. The constitution has delegated to congress the right to control and regulate commerce between the states. In the exercise of this right, it has declared for that policy which shall keep competition free, and leave interstate commerce open to all, without the right to any to fetter it by contracts or combinations which shall put it under restraint.
Looking, then, to the contract in question, we find 14 of the coal producers of this district, whose aggregate production is 5,000 tons a day, entering into an agreement which, without making a partnership, undertakes to control the entire output of the several mines for shipment west by a leading route. Examining its provisions, we find that these 14 independent operators, who theretofore were competing in the open market for the trade which is the subject of this contract, are now prevented from any independent action in fixing prices, but are obliged to sell at a price fixed by the executive committee, or not to sell at all. One of the witnesses introduced by the defendants said in the course of his testimony:
"I suppose before this contract went into effect the operators were not generally informed as to what each other were receiving, and that each received his own price."
Undoubtedly the market price was generally controlling, but the price was not fixed by arbitrary agreement, and was left to the operation of the natural laws of open competition. Under this agreement no member of the association is permitted to sell coal or coke bound to points west on the railroad except under the terms and conditions of the contract, and the fuel company cannot directly or indirectly become interested in the buying or selling of bituminous coal or coke of any members of the association, or coal or coke in competition with coal or coke of members of the association, except under the terms of the agreement. Monthly reports are to be made, showing the tonnage of the various kinds of coal and coke shipped by the various members of the association, and weighed during the month, together with an average price of each grade of coal or coke so shipped and weighed, which average price is to be computed upon the basis of the actual price, less gross profits, if any, received for all coal and coke sold, and the minimum price as fixed by the contract for coal and coke not sold in such month, and settlement to be made with the members of the association according to the prices fixed. The fuel company is to receive a gross profit of not to exceed 10 cents a ton, and the amount realized each month in excess of said profit, over and above the minimum price, is to be paid to the members of the coal association. The executive committee of the coal association is required, not later than the 20th day of each month, to designate the percentage of the total product of each class and grade of coal and coke which they deem best to be shipped by each member of the association under the terms of the contract.
A consideration of these provisions, assuming that the contract relates to interstate commerce, would seem to make plain the violation of the statute of 1890. Here are 14 dealers who have neither formed a corporation nor a partnership, but have limited to the terms of this agreement their rights for five years in the mining and shipping of coal upon one of their main outlets to the market. They have restricted their right to produce coal for such shipment to the amount designated by the committee. They have restricted sales to this purchaser to a price to be fixed by the committee. They have eliminated competition in the market among themselves. They have restricted the purchaser so that he may not buy from others in competition with themselves. If we correctly interpret the decisions of the supreme court, these provisions clearly restrain the freedom of interstate commerce, which it is the purpose of this statute to maintain unfettered by such contracts and combinations. While it is admitted that some restraint may result upon commerce by these provisions, it is strenuously argued by the learned counsel for the defendants that such restrictions among a portion of the coal dealers of a district are only ancillary to a main lawful purpose, resulting in larger competition, and greater freedom and volume of interstate trade, and do not violate the act. In support of this contention, Judge Taft's opinion in the Addyston Pipe Co. Case, supra, is cited, in which, after summarizing the five instances in which the common law upheld covenants in partial restraint of trade, the learned judge said:
“It would be stating it too strongly to say that these five classes of covenants in restraint of trade include all of those upheld as valid at the common law; but it would certainly seem to follow from the tests laid down for determining the validity of such an agreement that no conventional restraint of trade can be enforced unless the covenant embodying it is merely ancillary to the main purpose of a lawful contract, and necessary to protect the covenantee in the enjoyment of the legitimate fruits of the contract, or to protect him from the dangers of an unjust use of those fruits by the other party.”
And the judge quotes from Chief Justice Tindal in Horner v. Graves, 7 Bing: 735, to the effect that in such cases it is to be considered whether the restraint imposed by the contract is only fair protection to the interests of the party in whose favor it is given, and not so large as to interfere with the interests of the public. If the unreasonable restraint, as at the common law, was the test of the validity of such contracts, we might inquire whether this agreement did not contain certain restrictions entirely unnecessary to the protection of the fuel company in acquiring the coal from the association, which restrictions are inimical to the public interest. But it is to be remembered that the test of the common law as to the reasonableness of the restraint of commerce is not the test of the validity of such agreements, within the provision of the statute. This proposition was decided by the supreme court in the Trans-Missouri Case, supra, and affirmed in later cases. Not that every case of incidental restraint makes a contract void, but the question is, is it the effect of the contract to directly restrain interstate commerce? Upon this question the supreme court has said (Joint Traffic Ass'n Case, 171 U. S. 567, 568, 19 Sup. Ct. 31, 43 L. Ed. 287):
"Nevertheless, we might say that the formation of corporations for business or manufacturing purposes bas never, to our knowledge, been regarded in the nature of a contract in restraint of trade or commerce. The same may be said of the contract of partnership. It might also be difficult to show that the appointment, of two or more producers, of the same person to sell their goods on commission, was a matter in any degree in restraint of trade.
"An agreement entered into for the purpose of promoting the legitimate business of an individual or corporation, with no purpose to thereby affect or restrain interstate commerce, and which does not directly restrain such commerce, is not, as we think, covered by the act, although the agreement may indirectly and remotely affect that commerce. We also repeat what is said in the case above cited, that 'the act of congress must have a reasonable construction, or else there would scarcely be an agreement or contract among business men that could not be said to have, indirectly or re motely, some bearing upon interstate commerce, and possibly to restrain it.'"
And in the Addyston Case, 175 U. S. 245, 20 Sup. Ct. 109, 44 L. Ed. 149, the court says:
"All the facts and circumstances are, however, to be considered in order to determine the fundamental question, whether the necessary effect of the combination is to restrain interstate commerce.”
And it is argued that the main purpose of this agreement being to increase the trade of the parties, to enhance competition in a larger field, and improve the character of the product, these objects are beneficial to the public, as well as to the private parties, lawful in their scope and purpose, and justifying the indirect and partial restraint of trade involved in the execution of the agreement. The argument here advanced would be available to nearly every combination of this kind. Wider markets and more trade may be the inducements to such agreements, but they are purposes which the act of congress does not permit to interfere with the freedom of interstate traffic. It would, however, be closing our eyes to the situation and the terms of the contract not to perceive that the limiting of competition was a moving purpose in entering into this agreement. Not only are the 14 operators who signed the agreement limited in prices and trade and production to the governing action of the executive committee, but in the nineteenth paragraph of the contract it is provided that any person, firm, or corporation now or hereafter producing coal to be shipped on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad may become a party to the contract by signing the same; such parties to be admitted, by a majority vote of the members, to full participation in the benefits and obligations of the contract. The parties may well be concluded to have intended, in what they did, to put an end to competition in the district in shipments to the Western market to be reached by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, by getting all the operators into an agreement to sell for a single price, to be fixed by a committee of their number, and to limit competition among themselves in markets near and remote, within the scope of the agreement. It is to be remembered in this connection that it is the effect of the contract upon interstate commerce, not the intention of the parties in entering into it, which determines whether it falls within the prohibition of the statute. The Trans-Missouri Case, 166 U. S. 341, 17 Sup. Ct. 540, 41 L. Ed. 1007; the Addyston Case, 175 U. S. 234, 20 Sup. Ct. 96, 44 L. Ed. 136. It is, moreover, contended that the effect of this agreement has been the reduction of prices to the consumer. In determining whether a combination restrains interstate commerce, it is not only the effect upon consumers which is to be considered, but, as well, the effect upon others in the business, who, from choice or necessity, are left outside of the organization. As is said in the Trans-Missouri Case, 166 U. S. 323, 17 Sup. Ct. 552, 41 L. Ed. 1021:
"In business or trading combinations, they may even temporarily, or perhaps permanently, reduce the price of the article traded in or manufactured, by reducing the expense inseparable from the running of many different companies for the same purpose. Trade or commerce under those circumstances may nevertheless be badly and unfortunately restrained by driving out of business the small dealers and worthy men whose lives have been spent therein, and who might be unable to readjust themselves to their altered surroundings. Mere reduction in the price of the commodity dealt in might be dearly paid for by the ruin of such a class, and the absorption of control over one commodity by an all-powerful combination of capital.”
In the present case, if the scheme of this combination shall prevail, until nearly all of the operators in this district have availed themselves of the opportunity contained in the contract and become parties to it, the effect upon dealers who have not its large facilities, and may be unable to compete for the contracts and meet the prices fixed by the committee, cannot be otherwise than disastrous. And when the small dealer has been driven out, the combination is one step nearer to the power to control the market.
It is further contended that the competition is such in the market for which this coal is intended, and the coal produced by the operators, parties to this agreement, is such a small fraction of the quantity sold, that it cannot affect prices materially. It is not required, in order to violate this statute, that a monopoly be created. It is sufficient if that be the necessary tendency of the agreement. In U. S. v. E. C. Knight Co., 156 U. S. I, 15 Sup. Ct. 249, 39 L. Ed. 325, Chief Justice Fuller said:
"Again, all the authorities agree that, in order to vitiate a contract or combination, it is not essential that its result be a complete monopoly. It is sufficient if it really tends to that end, and to deprive the public of the advantages which flow from a free competition." Quoted with approval in the Addyston Case, 175 U. S. 237, 20 Sup. Ct. 96, 44 L. Ed. 136.