16 F.Supp. 884 (N.D.Cal.), 3660, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Railroad Commission of California

Docket Nº:3660-S.
Citation:16 F.Supp. 884
Party Name:PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC CO. v. RAILROAD COMMISSION OF CALIFORNIA et al. (CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO et al., Interveners).
Court:United States District Courts, 9th Circuit, Northern District of California

Page 884

16 F.Supp. 884 (N.D.Cal.)

PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC CO.

v.

RAILROAD COMMISSION OF CALIFORNIA et al. (CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO et al., Interveners).

No. 3660-S.

United States District Court, N.D. California, Southern Division.

Chaffee E. Hall, Charles P. Cutten, Warren Olney, Jr., Allan P. Matthew, and McCutchen, Olney, Mannon & Greene, all of San Francisco, Cal., for plaintiff.

Ira H. Rowell, Roderick B. Cassidy, and Frank B. Austin, all of San Francisco, Cal., for defendants.

John J. O'Toole, City Atty., and Dion R. Holm, Asst. City Atty., both of San Francisco, Cal., for intervener City and County of San Francisco.

C. Stanley Wood, City Atty., and John W. Collier, Deputy City Atty., both of Oakland, Cal., for intervener City of Oakland.

J. Leroy Johnson, City Atty., of Stockton, Cal., for intervener City of Stockton.

Before WILBUR, Circuit Judge, and ST. SURE and LOUDERBACK, District judges.

WILBUR, Circuit Judge.

In the case at bar the decree enjoined the Railroad Commission of California from enforcing its order fixing the natural gas rates chargeable by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company upon the ground that the order was void because the company

Page 885

was denied due process of law in the rate-making proceedings before the Commission in which the order was made. 1

The Commission contends in its application for rehearing that before a decree enjoining the enforcement of its void order can be appropriately entered, a court of equity must determine whether or not previous rates fixed by the Commission for supplying such gas are reasonable or just and can only interfere with the subsequent invalid order if it finds that the rates previously fixed by the Commission are not excessive. In other words, it is contended that in order for this court to set aside an invalid order of the Commission fixing rates, it must determine whether a previous rate fixing order of the Commission which, in absence of the later invalid order, would still be effective, is also invalid because the rates therein are excessive.

The federal courts acting under the Constitution of the United States have no authority over the rate-making power of the states, except to prevent confiscation of property by rates that are too low, or, as in the case at bar, to secure to a litigant its right to have its rights determined in accordance with due process.

The federal courts cannot under the Constitution disturb a rate fixed by state authority in accordance with the requirements of due process because of a claim that notwithstanding the determination of the rate-making body of the state that the rates are reasonable and just, the rates are in fact unreasonable and unjust. Such power would in last analysis transfer the rate-making power to the federal courts, and would deprive the state and its rate-making commissions of all real authority over rates. Such a result has been uniformly repeatedly and consistently repudiated by the federal courts, and particularly by the Supreme Court.

The petitioners herein are charged with the duty and clothed with the power of the state to fix rates, and should be the last to petition a federal court to set aside as excessive and void its own determination that its rates are just and reasonable. 2 Nor does it substantially alter the situation that rates reasonable when fixed may become unreasonable or excessive by reason of changed conditions. The remedy of those served by a public utility against excessive or extortionate rates lies with the Railroad Commission and not with the courts. It is seldom that a court can say that a rate is so excessive and unreasonable as to require redress where the court is unaided by the conclusions of a rate-making body or by some arbitrary rule of law such as the long and short haul prohibitions of Constitution or statute. The tendency of all recent legislation and decision is to place the rate-making power in the hands of administrative bodies having legislative authority to fix rates after due hearing and to make such rates so determined conclusive upon...

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