Oklahoma Packing Co v. Oklahoma Gas Electric Co, No. 19

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFRANKFURTER
Citation84 L.Ed. 537,60 S.Ct. 215,309 U.S. 4
Decision Date15 January 1940
Docket NumberNo. 19
PartiesOKLAHOMA PACKING CO. et al. v. OKLAHOMA GAS & ELECTRIC CO. et al.*

309 U.S. 4
60 S.Ct. 215
84 L.Ed. 537
OKLAHOMA PACKING CO. et al.

v.

OKLAHOMA GAS & ELECTRIC CO. et al.*

No. 19.
Decided Jan. 15, 1940.
Rehearing Denied Jan. 29, 1940.

See 309 U.S. 693, 60 S.Ct. 465, 84 L.Ed. —-.

Messrs. Paul Ware and W. R. Brown, both of Chicago, Ill., for petitioners.

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Messrs. I. J. Underwood, of Tulsa, Okl., and Streeter B. Flynn, of Oklahoma City, Okl., for respondents.

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., 10 Cir., 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, 59 S.Ct. 789, 83 L.Ed. 1032. 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, Wilson & Co. had, agreeable to the laws of Oklahoma, designated an agent for service of process 'in any action in the State of 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. et al. v. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., 308 U.S. 165, 60 S.Ct. 153, 84 L.Ed. 167, decided November 22, 1939, 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, 28 U.S.C.A. § 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 the Oklahoma Constitution it was a 'legislative' or 'judicial' review—have for a time, however, been ambiguous and fluctuating. After the present bill was filed but before the challenged injunction was decreed, the Oklahoma Supreme Court had held that its decision in cases like that of Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. v. Wilson & Co., was a judicial judgment. Oklahoma Cotton Ginners' Association v. State, 174 Okl. 243, 51 P.2d 327. But, in Community Natural Gas Co. v. Corporation Commission, 182 Okl. 137, 76 P.2d 393, decided after the decree here in issue, the Oklahoma court formally characterized its review in cases prior to the decision in the Ginners' case as 'legislative', re-

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fused to give that decision retroactive effect, and therefore deemed the res judicata doctrine inapplicable to these prior reviews. Hence, the plea of res judicata in this case must fail, for on that issue state law is determinative here. Union & Planters' Bank v. Memphis, 189 U.S. 71, 23 S.Ct. 604, 47 L.Ed. 712; City of Covington v. First National Bank, 198 U.S. 100, 25 S.Ct. 562, 49 L.Ed. 963; Wright v. Georgia R.R. & Banking Co., 216 U.S. 420, 30 S.Ct. 242, 54 L.Ed. 544.

There remains, therefore, the applicability of § 265 of the Judicial Code. 4 That provision would operate as a bar upon the power of the District Court to enjoin proceedings previously brought in the state court on the supersedeas bond, if 'the only thing sought to be accomplished by this equitable action' is to stay the continuance of that action. Such was the construction placed upon the bill by the earlier District Court of three judges, and such was this Court's assumption when the latter decision came here on appeal. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. v. Oklahoma Packing Co., D.C., 6 F.Supp. 893, 865; Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. v. Oklahoma Packing Co., 292 U.S. 386, 389, 54 S.Ct. 732, 78 L.Ed. 1318. That case eliminated the Corporation Commission as party to the litigation. The District Court to which this Court remanded the matter summarized Gas & Electric's claim by way of answer to the action brought by Wilson & Co. in the state court as an attack upon the Commission's order 'for substantially the same reasons as set out' in the present bill.

The present suit, therefore, is one for an injunction 'to stay proceedings' previously begun in a state court. The decree below is thus within the plain interdiction of an Act of Congress, and not taken out of it by any of the exceptions which this Court has heretofore engrafted upon a limitation of the power of the federal courts dat-

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ing almost from the beginning of our history and expressing an important Congressional policy—to prevent needless friction between state and federal courts. Compare Madisonville Traction Co. v. St. Bernard Mining Co., 196 U.S. 239, 25 S.Ct. 251, 49 L.Ed. 462; Simon v. Southern Railway, 236 U.S. 115, 35 S.Ct. 255, 59 L.Ed. 492; Wells Fargo & Co. v. Taylor, 254 U.S. 175, 41 S.Ct. 93, 65 L.Ed. 205. See Warren, 'Federal and State Court Interference', 43 Harv.L.Rev. 345, 372-77. That the injunction was a restraint of the parties and was not formally directed against the state court itself is immaterial. Hill v. Martin, ...

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192 practice notes
  • Federal Skywalk Cases, In re, Nos. 82-1181
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • June 7, 1982
    ...that ensues from the injunction of state judicial proceedings by a federal court. Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 309 U.S. 4, 9, (60 S.Ct. 215, 218, 84 L.Ed. 447) (1940). Respondents' principal contention is that, as the Court of Appeals held, § 16 of the Clayton Act, w......
  • Provident Tradesmens B. & T. Co. v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., No. 14589.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • April 2, 1969
    ...(M.D.N.C.1966), aff'd per curiam, 375 F.2d 773 (4 Cir. 1967). See also Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 308 U.S. 530, 309 U.S. 4, 60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 447, 537 (1940). Thus, the majority's motions as to the better rule of law, and decisions applying the law of jurisdic......
  • Snider Int'l Corp. v. Town of Forest Heights, Civil No. JFM–12–1248.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • November 29, 2012
    ...R. Co. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Eng'rs, 398 U.S. 281, 286, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 26 L.Ed.2d 234 (1970); Okla. Packing Co. v. Okla. Gas & Elec. Co., 309 U.S. 4, 9, 60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 537 (1940). Had all plaintiffs raised their statutory and constitutional objections in the District Court and appea......
  • Henry v. First Nat. Bank of Clarksdale, No. 76-4200
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 21, 1979
    ...Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 286, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 1743, 26 L.Ed.2d 234 (1970); Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 309 U.S. 4, 60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 537 This section, however, poses no bar to the order under consideration, for the order plainly falls within one of th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
192 cases
  • Federal Skywalk Cases, In re, Nos. 82-1181
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • June 7, 1982
    ...that ensues from the injunction of state judicial proceedings by a federal court. Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 309 U.S. 4, 9, (60 S.Ct. 215, 218, 84 L.Ed. 447) (1940). Respondents' principal contention is that, as the Court of Appeals held, § 16 of the Clayton Act, w......
  • Provident Tradesmens B. & T. Co. v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., No. 14589.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • April 2, 1969
    ...(M.D.N.C.1966), aff'd per curiam, 375 F.2d 773 (4 Cir. 1967). See also Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 308 U.S. 530, 309 U.S. 4, 60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 447, 537 (1940). Thus, the majority's motions as to the better rule of law, and decisions applying the law of jurisdic......
  • Snider Int'l Corp. v. Town of Forest Heights, Civil No. JFM–12–1248.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • November 29, 2012
    ...R. Co. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Eng'rs, 398 U.S. 281, 286, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 26 L.Ed.2d 234 (1970); Okla. Packing Co. v. Okla. Gas & Elec. Co., 309 U.S. 4, 9, 60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 537 (1940). Had all plaintiffs raised their statutory and constitutional objections in the District Court and appea......
  • Henry v. First Nat. Bank of Clarksdale, No. 76-4200
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 21, 1979
    ...Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 286, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 1743, 26 L.Ed.2d 234 (1970); Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., 309 U.S. 4, 60 S.Ct. 215, 84 L.Ed. 537 This section, however, poses no bar to the order under consideration, for the order plainly falls within one of th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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