309 U.S. 4 (1939), 19, Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Elec. Co.

Docket Nº:No. 19
Citation:309 U.S. 4, 60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 537
Party Name:Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Elec. Co.
Case Date:January 15, 1940
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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309 U.S. 4 (1939)

60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 537

Oklahoma Packing Co.

v.

Oklahoma Gas & Elec. Co.

No. 19

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 15, 1940

Argued October 17, 1939

Opinion on Petition for Rehearing delivered January 15, 1940

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. A Delaware corporation, pursuant to the laws of Oklahoma, designated an agent for service of process "in any action in the Oklahoma." Held, amenable to suit in the federal District Court in Oklahoma upon a cause of action arising in that State. Neirbo Co. v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 308 U.S. 165. P. 6.

2. A determination of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma that its judgments, on appeal from rate orders of the Corporation Commission, were formerly legislative in character, and that they cannot be given the effect of res judicata by the retroactive influence of a later doctrine of that court characterizing such judgments as judicial, held binding on this Court. P. 7.

3. Where an action upon supersedeas bonds, given by a gas company for the security of one of its consumers in connection with its appeal from a rate order, was pending in a state court and defended by the company's answer upon the ground that the order violated the Federal Constitution, held that a subsequent suit by the company, on the same ground, to enjoin the consumer from prosecuting the action could not be entertained by a federal court. Jud.Code, § 265. P. 8.

100 F.2d 770 reversed.

Certiorari, 306 U.S. 629, to review the affirmance of a decree enjoining the prosecution of an action in the state court.

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

[60 S.Ct. 216] MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The case concerns a rate controversy which has been winding its slow way through state and federal courts for thirteen years.1 While the relationship of two utilities with Wilson & Co., a consumer of natural gas, complicates the situation, the legal issues before us may be disposed of as though this were a typical case of a utility resisting an order reducing its rates.2 Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company (hereafter called Gas & Electric) appealed to

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the Oklahoma Supreme Court from such an order by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The reduction was stayed pending the appeal, but, to protect Wilson & Co. against a potential overcharge, Gas & Electric gave a supersedeas bond. Gas & Electric lost its appeal, Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. v. Wilson & Co., 146 Okl. 272, 288 P. 316, and Wilson & Co. brought suit on the bond. That suit was instituted on December 3, 1931, in one of the district courts of Oklahoma. To enjoin prosecution of the latter suit, Gas & Electric, on May 20, 1932, invoked the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.3 After a complicated series of moves in both state and federal courts, not necessary here to detail, this relief was granted by the District Court on September 10, 1937, and, on December 19, 1938, sustained by the Circuit Court of Appeals. Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 100 F.2d 770. Since the case in part was in conflict with the Second Circuit's decision in Neirbo Co. v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 103 F.2d 765, and also presented novel aspects of important questions of federal law, we granted certiorari, 306 U.S. 629. We are not concerned with the merits of the Commission's order.

At the threshold, we are met by the procedural objection, seasonably made, that Wilson & Co., a Delaware corporation, was improperly sued in the District Court of the Western District of Oklahoma. The objection is

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unavailable. Prior to this suit, [60 S.Ct. 217] Wilson & Co. had, agreeable to the laws of Oklahoma, designated an agent for service of process "in any action in the Oklahoma." Both courts below found this to be, in fact, a consent on Wilson & Co.'s part to be sued in the courts of Oklahoma upon causes of action arising in that state. The Federal District Court is, we hold, a court of Oklahoma within the scope of that consent, and, for the reasons indicated in Neirbo Co. v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 308 U.S. 165, Wilson & Co. was amenable to suit in the Western District of Oklahoma.

Petitioners further urge (1) that their plea of res judicata should have been sustained, and (2) that § 265 of the Judicial Act, Act of March 3, 1911, 36 Stat. 1162, 28 U.S.C. § 379, derived from § 5 of the Act of March 2, 1793, 1 Stat. 333, 335, was a bar to the suit.

The claim of res judicata is based on the prior determination in 1930 by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma that the contested order of the Corporation Commission was valid. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. v. Wilson & Co., 146 Okl. 272, 288 P. 316. The pronouncements of the Oklahoma Supreme Court concerning the character of such a determination -- whether, under...

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