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In re Penn Central Transportation Co.

decided: October 9, 1973.

IN THE MATTER OF: PENN CENTRAL TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, DEBTOR, INDIANA HARBOR BELT RAILROAD COMPANY, APPELLANT IN NO. 72-1436, MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE OF INTERLINE RAILROADS: THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND SANTA FE RAILWAY COMPANY ILLINOIS NORTHERN RAILWAY BURLINGTON NORTHERN, INC. OREGON TRUNK RAILWAY CHICAGO, MILWAUKEE, ST. PAUL AND PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY CHICAGO & NORTH WESTERN RAILWAY CO. CHICAGO, ROCK ISLAND & PACIFIC RAILROAD CO. PEORIA TERMINAL CO. DELAWARE & HUDSON RAILWAY CO. GREENWICH & JOHNSONVILLE RAILWAY CO. GRAND TRUNK WESTERN RAILROAD CO. KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN RAILROAD LOUISIANA & ARKANSAS RAILWAY CO. MISSOURI-KANSAS-TEXAS RAILROAD CO. MISSOURI PACIFIC RAILROAD CO. TEXAS & PACIFIC RAILWAY CO. MISSOURI-ILLINOIS RAILROAD CO. CHICAGO & EASTERN ILLINOIS RAILROAD NORFOLK AND WESTERN RAILWAY CO. NEW JERSEY, INDIANA & ILLINOIS RAILROAD NORFOLK, FRANKLIN & DANVILLE RAILWAY SEABOARD COAST LINE RAILROAD CO. COLUMBIA, NEWBERRY & LAURENS RAILROAD CO. SOUTHERN PACIFIC TRANSPORTATION COMPANY SAN DIEGO & ARIZONA EASTERN RAILWAY NORTHWESTERN PACIFIC RR PORTLAND TRACTION COMPANY SUNSET RAILWAY CO. VISALIA ELECTRIC RAILROAD CO. ST. LOUIS SOUTHWESTERN RAILWAY CO. SOUTHERN RAILWAY SYSTEM ST. LOUIS-SAN FRANCISCO RAILWAY CO. ALABAMA, TENNESSEE & NORTHERN RAILROAD CO. QUANAH, ACME & PACIFIC RAILWAY CO. UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD CO. THE WESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD CO. SACRAMENTO NORTHERN RAILWAY, APPELLANTS IN NO. 72-1437 LOUISVILLE AND NASHVILLE RAILROAD COMPANY, APPELLANT IN NO. 72-1438


Reargued Before the Court En Banc May 23, 1973 APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Van Dusen, Aldisert, Adams, Gibbons, Rosenn and Weis, Circuit Judges. Adams, Circuit Judge, concurring.

Author: Rosenn

Opinion OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

The primary issues raised on this appeal are (1) whether freight and passenger revenues earned by railroad carriers for interline transportation or services but collected by Penn Central Transportation Company (Penn Central) in their behalf are held by it as trust funds, and (2) whether other interline services performed and expenses incurred by the interline carriers for Penn Central prior to its reorganization are entitled to current payment or offset. The district court in the Penn Central reorganization held that the interline railroads*fn1 (Interlines) were not entitled to current payment of their claims from the debtor or to a declaration of an equitable lien or priority. In addition, the court enjoined them from setting off these amounts against corresponding claims of Penn Central. In reviewing this order we are compelled to examine the complex accounting procedures of our national railroad systems and apply traditional principles of equity and trust law to the operating relationships among the railroads. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. THE BACKGROUND

The district court has succinctly described the system of accounts of interline railroads in its Opinion and Order No. 613, 340 F. Supp. 857 (E.D. Pa. 1972) as follows:

The nation's railroads function in many ways as a single system. For example, a shipper or receiver pays one railroad for services of carriage for the entire shipment, although the shipment may travel over many different railroads; a railroad car may travel over the lines of many different railroads, and be used by each of them, before it again returns to the possession of the owning railroad; and a shipper whose freight may have been damaged in shipment by one of several carriers may apply to any of them for payment of his claim. The railroads have created a system of accounting and periodic settlement of accounts to facilitate this manner of operation. The accounting for various types of rail service rendered to the public or to other railroads results in "interline accounts," and the striking of balances between the railroads with respect to these interline accounts results in "interline balances." Each of the accounts is settled separately; there is no netting of the balances in different accounts.*fn1a

The methods of accounting and payment for interline services, however, are not controlled by statute but by industry accounting practices and rules.

The two basic categories of accounts here in issue are: (1) freight and passenger accounts; (2) other accounts, including (a) car repair accounts, (b) overcharge and loss and damage accounts, (c) per diem accounts, and (d) switching accounts. The accounting rules, described below in greater detail, differ for each of the categories. Basically, as to the first category, either the destination or the originating carrier collects the sums earned by each of the interline railroads and then allocates the appropriate amounts. As to the other accounts, the railroad that performs the service collects the amounts due it from the appropriate carrier.

Penn Central filed its petition for reorganization under section 77 of the Bankruptcy Act on June 21, 1970. In Order No. 1, approving the petition, entered on the same day, the court in paragraph 3(B) authorized Penn Central "in its discretion" to pay all interline accounts.*fn2

On June 24, 1970, one of the interline carriers, Burlington Northern, Inc., petitioned the district court to require Penn Central to pay interline accounts and balances.*fn3 At a hearing on July 1, 1970, Charles S. Hill, Penn Central's Vice-President-Comptroller, explained that Penn Central incurs an average net liability for interline charges of $24 million per month, owing $41 million and earning $17 million. On accounts stated in June 1970 which remain unpaid and are here in issue, he said it owed approximately $32.8 million, representing services performed in April and May 1970, and earlier.

Mr. Hill also endeavored to explain Penn Central's plans as they related to interline accounts. He described Penn Central's cash forecast for the month of July and, when asked whether interline balances had been provided for, replied:

We have made provision on the expectation with the approval of the Court for meeting all of the interline accounts to be presented after or scheduled to be presented after June 30.

He explained that these payments would reflect services performed in June 1970 and earlier and that payment on them would begin July 23.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the court invited the parties to submit an order making mandatory the payment of charges stated "from and after" July 1, 1970. Order No. 9, drafted by the parties, was entered the same day. It ordered the payment of all interline accounts first stated or presented on or after July 1, 1970.*fn4 It also specifies that it does not prejudice the right of the Interlines to claim priority for interline accounts stated prior to July 1.

A controversy subsequently arose when the Interlines attempted to set off the interline balances they owed Penn Central against amounts owed them by Penn Central. Consequently, on June 24, 1971, the trustees petitioned the court to order that the Interlines pay all balances due. The trustees alleged that the Interlines had failed to honor drafts drawn by Penn Central in total amount of $413 million representing pre-bankruptcy interline balances such as claims for May 1970 freight services.*fn5 They contended that this violated Order No. 1, paragraph 10, providing:

All persons, firms and corporations . . . holding for the account of the Debtor deposit balances or credits be and each of them hereby are restrained and enjoined from selling, converting or otherwise disposing of such collateral, deposit balances or other credits or any part thereof, or from offsetting the same, or any thereof, against any obligation of the debtor, until further order of this court.

The Interlines defended and counterclaimed, alleging that they were entitled to offset amounts they owed Penn Central against amounts Penn Central owed them. They also alleged that Penn Central held in trust for them (a) amounts collected in their behalf for interline freight and passenger services and (b) amounts they paid on Penn Central's behalf for overcharge and loss and damage claims. In addition, they argued that Penn Central's assets should be impressed with an equitable lien for such amounts. In counterclaiming, they further alleged that Order No. 9 required Penn Central to pay immediately unpaid interline balances which would become subject to draft in July and represented pre-June 20 car repairs, passenger receipts, and services and supplies.

The district court ruled in favor of the trustees and entered Order No. 613 enjoining any further setoffs. The Interlines appeal that order. They argue (1) that Penn Central holds in trust balances arising from freight and passenger services rendered by the Interlines; (2) that other interline accounts must be paid because the Interlines are compelled by law to perform these services; and (3) that Order No. 9 requires the payment of May 1970 car repair charges and passenger balances which become subject to draft in July.

II. FREIGHT AND PASSENGER ACCOUNTS

Freight and passenger charges are collected by the originating or destination carrier for services performed by the Interlines. Under the AAR rules, instead of separately paying each carrier that participates in an interline shipment, the shipper pays all freight charges to either the originating carrier when the shipment is "prepaid" or to the destination carrier on "collect" shipments. Funds collected are deposited in the collecting carriers' general accounts. The interline railroads make numerous collections for each other daily which are segregated and settled monthly. No interest is paid by the collecting carrier for the period it holds another carrier's revenue.

The destination railroad is responsible for preparing and settling interline freight accounts. It prepares an "abstract" on which the appropriate freight charges are allocated to the participating carriers. It then "not later than the eighteenth of the succeeding month" sends copies of the abstract to the other carriers.*fn6 The carriers may then immediately draw a draft on the destination railroad for the net balance due for the month. The destination carrier must include in the monthly accounting all charges for which the destination carrier has received a waybill, whether or not the shipper paid. The waybill is issued by the originating carrier and prescribes the movement of the shipment and charges. The charges which Penn Central has not paid in the instant case represent May 1970 freight services; Penn Central declined drafts submitted on or after June 22, 1970, of approximately $15 million for these accounts.

Passenger accounts are handled similarly. The monthly reports, however, are not required until the last day of the first month following the service. Net passenger balances also are subject to immediate draft upon receipt of the statements. Penn Central has declined drafts submitted on or after July 1, 1970, for approximately $280,000 for May traffic.

The AAR interline accounting system is in essence, therefore, a system by which one railroad collects monies owed by shippers to both itself and other railroads. The monies collected belong only in part to the collecting railroad; as to monies owed other railroads, the collecting railroad serves merely as a receiving and transmitting agent. A common sense interpretation of this system would indicate that funds collected by one railroad for and in behalf of another railroad are held in trust by the collecting railroad until the monies are transmitted. Whether the money is held in trust must be determined, however, not merely by reliance on common sense, but also by application of traditional legal doctrines. We therefore turn to the law of trusts to make that determination. In applying the law of trusts, it will be necessary to examine the manifestation of intent of the parties, not only in terms of written documents, but also in terms of the conduct of the parties. Especially important in the present case are (1) the absence of any payment of interest on monies collected during the time they are held by the collecting railroad, and (2) the commingling of the monies with general funds by the collecting railroad.

Accommodating and applying traditional common law trust principles to the unique regulatory scheme and accounting policies used by the nation's railroads, we have concluded that transportation and freight charges, when collected, are held in trust for ...


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