Delaware & A. Telegraph & Tel. Co. v. State of Delaware

Decision Date21 April 1892
Docket Number3.
Citation50 F. 677
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Charles L. Buckingham and Edward G. Bradford, for plaintiff in error.

R. S Guernsey and George H. Bates, for defendant in error.

Before ACHESON, Circuit Judge, and BUTLER and GREEN, District Judges.

BUTLER District Judge.

There is no controversy about the facts of this case. The relator owns and operates a telegraph system with lines extending throughout the country, having its principal office in the city of Wilmington. The respondent owns and operates a telephone exchange in Wilmington connected with the places of business and residences of subscribers, to whom telephonic facilities are furnished. One of the subscribers enjoying such facilities is the Western Union Telegraph Company. The relator, desiring similar facilities, on the 20th of November 1889, applied to the respondent for connection with its exchange, and the application was refused. The proofs show that up to November, 1889, applied to the respondent for connection with its exchange, and the application was refused. The proofs show that up to November 10, 1879, the National Bell Telephone Company and the Western Union Telegraph Company were owners of rival telephone patents about which they had been engaged in litigation. At that date they entered into a contract by virtue of which the former company became owner of the patents previously held by the latter, and the latter company acquired an exclusive license to use the telephone for transmitting telegraphic messages under all the patents for a term of 17 years. Subsequently the patents were assigned, subject to this license, to the American Bell Telephone Company. All licenses, including the respondent's, subsequently granted under the patents have been made subject to that of the Western Union Telegraph Company.

It is no longer open to question that telephone and telegraph companies are subject to the rules governing common carriers and others engaged in like public employment. This has been so frequently decided that the point must be regarded as settled. While it has not been directly before the supreme court of the United States, cases in which it has been so determined are cited approvingly by that court in Budd v New York, 143 U.S. 517, 12 S.Ct. 468. While such companies are not required to extend their facilities beyond such reasonable limits as they prescribe for themselves, they cannot discriminate between individuals of classes which they undertake to serve. As common carriers of merchandise may prescribe the points between which they will carry and the description of goods they will accept, so, doubtless, may carriers of messages limit their business and obligations. If, therefore, the respondent had confined the use of its telephonic facilities to the carriage of personal messages for individuals, excluding those of telegraph companies and others who forward messages for hire, the relator would probably, have no just ground of complaint. As we have seen however, it did not so limit its business, but carried telegraphic messages, as well as others. The respondent contends, however, that this was not its voluntary act; that the Western Union Telegraph Company had acquired rights superior to its own, and that it could not, therefore, exclude this company from the use of its facilities. This position cannot be sustained. The admission of the Western Union Telegraph Company to its system was the respondent's voluntary act. Such admission could only be obtained by its express consent. To say that its license required such admission does not help the respondent. It voluntarily accepted the license and assented to its terms. Nor does it help the respondent to say that the license could not be obtained on other terms. If not, it could have been declined. Had it been, and the business avoided, the responsibilities which attend it would also have been avoided. Accepting the license, however, as the respondent did, and engaging in the carriage of messages, it cannot escape the public duties which attend the employment. It must carry for all persons belonging to the classes it undertakes to accommodate. Its alleged responsibility to the licensor for so carrying impartially affords no excuse. The responsibility was improperly assumed, if it exists. But it does not exist. The object of the stipulation out of which it is supposed to arise, as well as that of the contract in which it originated, between the Western Union Telegraph Company and the National Bell Telephone Company, was to accomplish a result which the law forbids. In other words it was to effect precisely what has occurred,-- the establishment of a system of telephone lines and exchanges to carry telegraphic messages, as well as others, which should be so conducted as to confer a monopoly on one telegraph company. Had the owner of the patents come to...

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