292 U.S. 386 (1934), 832, Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. v. Oklahoma Packing Co.

Docket Nº:No. 832
Citation:292 U.S. 386, 54 S.Ct. 732, 78 L.Ed. 1318
Party Name:Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. v. Oklahoma Packing Co.
Case Date:May 21, 1934
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 386

292 U.S. 386 (1934)

54 S.Ct. 732, 78 L.Ed. 1318

Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co.


Oklahoma Packing Co.

No. 832

United States Supreme Court

May 21, 1934

        Argued May 3, 4, 1934




        1. The three-judge procedure under Jud.Code § 266 is an extraordinary one, designed for a specific class of cases, and must be kept within the limitations imposed by the statute. P. 391.

        2. The procedure prescribed br § 266 may be invoked only if the suit is in fact and in law a suit to restrain the action of state officers. P. 390.

        3. When it becomes apparent that the plaintiff has no case for three judges, though they may have been properly convened, their action is no longer prescribed, and direct appeal to this Court must fail, as well as where the plaintiff does not press his injunction or his constitutional attack. P. 391.

        4. In a suit brought by a public utility company under Judicial Code § 266 to enjoin the enforcement by state officers of an allegedly unconstitutional order affecting its service and rates, and also to enjoin a private party from prosecuting an action based upon the order, it became apparent at final hearing that there had been no basis for relief against the officers because the order had been superseded by another before the suit was begun, and no penalties were threatened. Held, that there was no occasion for proceeding under § 266, and that a direct appeal would not lie to this Court for the purpose of determining the private controversy, although it was one within the general jurisdiction of the District Court. P. 390.

        5. Although without jurisdiction to hear the merits of an appeal erroneously based on Jud.Code § 266, this Court has authority in the case to enforce the limitations of that section by appropriate directions, and it may frame its order in a way that will save to the appellants their proper remedies. P. 392.

        6 F.Supp. 893, decree vacated.

        Appeal from a decree of the District Court, constituted of three judges, which dismissed a suit brought against the Corporation Commission of Oklahoma and its members

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to enjoin the enforcement of an order affecting service and rates of the plaintiff gas company, and also against a private corporation, beneficiary of the order, to restrain it from prosecuting an action to recover what it had paid in excess.

        STONE, J., lead opinion

        MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

       This is an appeal under § 266 of the Judicial Code from a decree of the District Court for Western Oklahoma, three judges sitting, which dismissed the cause for want of equity jurisdiction. 6 F.Supp. 893. The suit was brought by Oklahoma Natural Gas Company and Oklahoma [54 S.Ct. 733] Gas & Electric Company, two public service companies, against appellees, Wilson & Co., Inc., now Oklahoma Packing Company, a private business corporation, the State Corporation Commission, and the Attorney General of the state, to enjoin enforcement of an order of the Commission. The order, which directed the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company to supply Wilson & Company with natural gas at a prescribed rate, was assailed as an infringement of the due process and contract clauses of the Federal Constitution on the ground that it imposed on the gas company a duty to serve which it had never undertaken to perform, and impaired a contract between the two gas companies with respect to the distribution of gas by them to consumers in the vicinity of the plant of Wilson & Co. The order, which was made upon petition of Wilson & Co. to the state

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commission, directed that the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company be required to supply it with gas at a lower rate than it had been paying for gas supplied by the Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company which that company purchased from the Natural Gas Company for distribution.

        On appeal, the state supreme court affirmed the order. 146 Okl. 272, 288 P. 316. Pending the appeal, supersedeas bonds were given which suspended the order, and Wilson & Co. continued to take its gas supply from the Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company at the higher rate. In the meantime, while the petition to review the order was pending before the state supreme court, and before the present suit was brought, the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company acquired the properties of the Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company, and a new industrial rate for natural gas supplied by it was put into effect by order of the Commission.

        Upon affirmance...

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