Southwestern Telegraph Telephone Company v. Adelia Danaher

Decision Date17 March 1914
Docket NumberNo. 43,43
Citation238 U.S. 482,35 S.Ct. 886,59 L.Ed. 1419
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus intentionally omitted] Mr. Charles T. Coleman for plaintiff in error on original submission and reargument.

Messrs. David A. Frank and Mr. Charles T. Coleman for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 483-484 intentionally omitted] Mrs. Adelia P. Danaher, in propria persona, for defendant in error on original submission.

Mr. Mike Danaher for defendant in error on reargument.

Mr. Justice Van Devanter delivered the opinion of the court:

This was an action against a telephone company by one of its patrons to recover penalties at the rate of $100 per day for sixty-three days for alleged discrimination against the plaintiff, the right of recovery being grounded upon a statute of Arkansas, Kirby's Digest, § 7948, reading as follows:

'Every telephone company doing business in this state and engaged in a general telephone business shall supply all applicants for telephone connection and facilities without discrimination or partiality; provided, such applicants comply or offer to comply with the reasonable regulations of the company, and no such company shall impose any condition or restriction upon any such applicant that are not imposed impartially upon all persons or companies in like situations; nor shall such company discriminate against any individual or company engaged in lawful business, by requiring as condition for furnishing such facilities that they shall not be used in the business of the applicant, or otherwise, under penalty of $100 for each day such company continues such discrimination and refuses such facilities after compliance or offer to comply with the reasonable regulations and time to furnish the same has elapsed, to be recovered by the applicant whose application is so neglected or refused.'

For several years the company had been conducting a general telephone exchange at Little Rock, Arkansas, with over 5,000 patrons, among them being the plaintiff. One of its established regulations was to the effect that it would not furnish telephone service to any patron in arrears for past service, and would not accord to a patron so in arrears the discount usually allowed for paying in advance of a designated time.

The customary monthly rate was $2 during the first part of the period in question, and thereafter $2.75, with a deduction of 50 cents if payment was made before the 15th of the month.

The discrimination charged by the plaintiff consisted (a) in arbitrarily refusing for forty days to permit her to use the telephone in her residence when she had made prompt payment therefor at the customary monthly rate, and had fully complied with all existing rules, notwithstanding other patrons similarly situated were permitted to use the telephones in their residences during that period; and (b) in requiring her to pay at the rate of $2.75 per month for the period covering the next twenty-three days when other patrons similarly situated were required to pay only $2.25 per month for the same period. In its answer the company denied the plaintiff's allegations of payment and discrimination, as also her compliance with existing rules, and relied upon the regulation before mentioned as justifying the company's action in denying her the use of the telephone during the forty days, and in requiring her to pay the full rate of $2.75 for the month covering the next twenty-three days. In that connection it was alleged in the answer that the regulation was adopted in good faith several years before, and had been uniformly and impartially enforced; that at the times when the plaintiff's telephone was disconnected, and when she was refused the discount of 50 cents, she was indebted to the company in the sum of $4 for the service for two months preceding; that the company's acts were in entire accord with the regulations and with timely notices theretofore given to the plaintiff, and that the statute, if held to authorize or require the infliction of the designated penalties by reason of what was done in impartially enforcing the regulation, would be purely arbitrary and would result in depriving the company of its property without due process of law, contrary to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

At the trial the plaintiff produced evidence tending to establish the charges in in her complaint, and when the company was introducing its evidence it offered to prove that when the plaintiff's telephone was disconnected and when she was refused the discount of 50 cents she had failed and refused to pay her telephone rental for two months preceding, although she frequently had been requested to pay it, and knew the telephone would be disconnected if payment was not made; that the regulation before named had been in force for several years and had been applied universally against all delinquent patrons without partiality or discrimination, and that the plaintiff was denied the use of the telephone and refused the discount only because she was delinquent at the time. This evidence was rejected, and in its charge to the jury the court, at the plaintiff's request, said: 'Under the law, the defendant should not refuse to serve the plaintiff because she had not paid a debt contracted for services rendered in the past, and if you find that the defendant did refuse to render her services for that reason, your verdict should be for the plaintiff.' The defendant asked the court to say to the jury: 'If you find from the evidence that the defendant enforced against plaintiff the same rule or regulation that it enforced against all others in like situation with the plaintiff, your verdict will be for the defendant,' and this request was refused. The trial resulted in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff for the penalties claimed, amounting to $6,300, and the judgment was af- firmed by the supreme court of the state. 102 Ark. 547, 144 S. W. 925. At a former trial the defendant had prevailed, but that judgment was reversed and a new trial directed, the supreme court saying on that occasion (94 Ark. 533, 537; 30 L.R.A.(N.S.) 1027, 127 S. W. 963): 'A telephone company, being a public servant, cannot...

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