Prendergast v. New York Telephone Co, 542

Citation262 U.S. 43,67 L.Ed. 853,43 S.Ct. 466
Decision Date16 April 1923
Docket NumberNo. 542,542
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 43-45 intentionally omitted] Wilbur W. Chambers, of Albany, N. Y., and Simon Fleischmann, of Buffalo, N. Y., for appellants.

John W. Davis and Chas. T. Russell, both of New York City, for appellee.

Mr. Justice SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an appeal, under Section 266 of the Judicial Code (Comp. St. § 1243) from an order of the District Court enjoining pendente lite the enforcement of orders of the Public Service Commission of New York prescribing maximum rates for the exchange service of the Telephone Company.

The Commission, having entered upon an investigation as to the rates charged by the Company for telephone service within the State, on March 3, 1922, after a large amount of evidence had been taken, but before the hearings had been completed, made the two orders in question. One of these reduced temporarily, pending final determination, the maximum rates to be charged by the Company after April 1, for exchange telephone service in the City of New York. The other made a like reduction in the maximum rates for such service in other municipalities within the State, which were divided into groups, with basic area rates in each; with a further provision that either the Company or any municipality affected might apply for modification of the classifications on or before April 15. The Company on March 29 filed its bill in the District Court against the Commission, its counsel and the Attorney General of the State, for the purpose of enjoining the enforcement of these orders, upon the ground that they were confiscatory and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. An application for an interlocutory injunction was heard by three judges; and the court as thus constituted on June 12 granted an interlocutory order enjoining the defendants from enforcing the orders of the Commission pending the final hearing and until the further order of the court; the Company being required to give bond for $6,000,000 to secure the repayment to its subscribers of all excess charges paid pending the suit in the event the injunction should thereafter be dissolved. From this interlocutory order the defendants have appealed directly to this court.

Since the argument on the appeal the Company has submitted a motion to dismiss the appeal or affirm the order of the court, upon the ground that on January 25, 1923, the Commission made final orders in the pending investigation establishing a schedule of telephone rates for the State which will yield the Company a much higher annual return than the temporary rates whose enforcement was enjoined. This, it is insisted, shows that the injunction was properly granted.1 The fact that the Commission has, more than seven months after the injunction was granted, made orders allowing higher rates—whose correctness may yet be questioned in appropriate procee ings for review—upon evidence not before us, does not establish that the injunction was rightly granted under the conditions which then existed. See Cumberland Telephone Co. v. Louisiana Commission (D. C.) 283 Fed. 215, 218. Hence the motion is denied.

The appellants urge, in substance, as grounds of error: That the special court of three judges had no jurisdiction to grant the injunction; that the bill contained insufficient averments of fact, as distinguished from mere conclusions; that it was prematurely filed; and that the injunction was granted upon insufficient evidence.

We conclude:

1. The specially constituted court of three judges had jurisdiction under Section 266 of the Judicial Code to hear and determine the application for the injunction upon the ground of the unconstitutionality of the orders of the Commission. Oklahoma Natural Gas Co. v. Russell (March 5, 1923) 261 U. S. 290, 43 Sup. Ct. 353, 67 L. Ed. ——.

2. The defendants answered the bill on the merits without questioning in any way the sufficiency or form of its averments. See Campbell v. United States, 244 U. S. 99, 106, 32 Sup. Ct. 398, 56 L. Ed. 684. The bill specifically alleged that the cost of the Company's property in the State devoted to the rendition of intrastate telephone service, the cost of its reproduction, and its fair and reasonable value exceeded the sums of $247,000,000, $373,000,000 and $323,000,000, respectively; and that the rates prescribed by the Commission would prevent it from earning more than 2.56% per annum upon the cost of such property and 1.96% upon its fair and reasonable value and would not afford it a fair return upon such value. In short, it aptly stated the ultimate facts upon which the Company asked relief omitting any mere statements of evidence. Equity Rule 25, par. 3 (198 Fed. xxv, 115 C. C. A. xxv).

3. Upon the making by the Commission of the orders in question the proceedings had reached the judicial state entitling the Company to resort to the court for relief. Bacon v. Rutland Railroad, 232 U. S. 134, 137, 34 Sup. Ct. 283, 58 L. Ed. 538, distinguishing Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line, 211 U. S. 210, 229, 29 Sup. Ct. 67, 53 L. Ed. 150, in which an appeal had not been taken to the highest tribunal vested with the final legislative authority of the State. Here the Commission is vested with the final legislative authority of the State in the ratemaking process; the authority exercised by the state courts upon a review by certiorari (People v. Wilecox, 194 N. Y. 383, 87 N. E. 517), being purely judicial and having no legislative character. Civil Practice Act (Laws New York 1920, c. 925) §§ 1304, 1305.

It was not necessary that the Company should apply to the Commission for a rehearing before resorting to the court. While under the Public Service Commissions Law any person interested in an order of the Commission has the right to apply for a rehearing, the Commission is not required to grant such rehearing unless in its judgment sufficient reason therefor appear; the application for the rehearing does not excuse compliance with the order or its enforcement except as the Commission may direct; and any change made in the original order upon the rehearing does not affect the enforcement of any right arising from the original order (Sec. 22). As the law does not require an application for a rehearing to be made and its granting is entirely within the discretion of the Commission, we see no reason for requiring it to be made as a condition...

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