Union Portland Cement Co. v. Public Utilities Commission of Utah

CourtSupreme Court of Utah
Citation189 P. 593,56 Utah 175
Decision Date09 April 1920
Docket Number3452
PartiesUNION PORTLAND CEMENT CO. v. PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION OF UTAH

Original application by the Union Portland Cement Company against the Public Utilities Commission of Utah for writ of prohibition to restrain defendant from exercising jurisdiction to pass upon the reasonableness of a certain electric light and power contract.

ALTERNATIVE WRIT QUASHED, AND PEREMPTORY WRIT DENIED.

H. H Henderson, Wade M. Johnson, and Charles R. Hollingsworth, all of Ogden, for plaintiff.

Dan B Shields, Atty. Gen., and Jas. H. Wolfe, O. C. Dalby, and H. Van Dam, Jr., Asst. Attys. Gen., for defendant.

James F. MacLane, Charles C. Parsons, Rawlins, Ray & Rawlins, and Dickson, Ellis, Lucas & Adamson, all of Salt Lake City, amici curiae.

THURMAN, J. CORFMAN, C. J., and FRICK, WEBER, and GIDEON, JJ., concur.

OPINION

THURMAN, J.

This is an application for a writ of prohibition prohibiting and restraining the Public Utilities Commission of Utah (hereinafter called the commission) from assuming or exercising jurisdiction to pass upon the reasonableness or unreasonableness of a certain contract described in the compaint. The complaint shows that plaintiff is, and at all times referred to has been, a corporation engaged in the manufacture of cement in Morgan county, Utah; that on or about the 23d day of November, 1912, plaintiff entered into a contract with the Utah Power Company, a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the state of Maine and authorized to transact business in the state of Utah, whereby said Utah Power Company agreed to deliver to plaintiff at its place of business in said Morgan county electric power in any quantity which plaintiff might need. not exceeding 3,000 electrical horse power, for use in operating plaintiff's plant by motors and for the purpose of lighting plaintiff's premises; that in consideration of said electric power to be so furnished said plaintiff agreed to pay said Utah Power Company at least $ 2,000 per month; that said contract was to remain in force for ten years and until terminated by either party upon six months' notice in writing to the other party; that thereafter, in the year 1914, the Utah Power & Light Company, (hereinafter called the power company) took over said contract and assumed the obligations thereunder from the said Utah Power Company, and ever since said year has performed all the conditions of said contract; that said power company is also a corporation organized under the laws of the state of Maine and is authorized to do business as a corporation in this state and is in good standing; that since the year 1913 the said power company and its predecessor in interest have been paid by plaintiff a yearly compensation of about $ 60,000 for electrical power furnished plaintiff by said power company; that said contract has been fully performed and is now being performed by all the parties to the same, and neither party to said contract is seeking to have the same set aside, annulled, or modified; that at all times mentioned the said power companies and the plaintiff were authorized under the laws of this state and by their articles of incorporation to enter into said contract, and at the time it was entered into as above stated there was no constitutional provision or legislative enactment prohibiting or limiting the terms of such contract; that on February 27, 1917, the Utah Legislature passed an act entitled "An act creating a Public Utilities Commission, defining public utilities, prescribing the powers and duties of the commission," etc. (Laws 1917, chapter 47), which act was, on the 8th day of March next following, approved by the Governor and thereafter became effective and is now in full force and effect; that said commission, appointed under and in pursuance of said act, on or about the 27th day of September, 1919, issued a certain order as follows:

"Examination having been made by the commission of certain special contracts entered into by and between the Utah Power & Light Company and certain of its customers, under which the said Utah Power & Light Company has been and now is giving service, furnishing energy for light and power purposes.

"And it appearing from such examination that the rates, charges, facilities, privileges, rules and regulations provided in such special contracts, are not in accordance with the rates, charges, facilities, privileges, rules and regulations set out in the published schedules of said Utah Power & Light Company lawfully on file with this commission, or with the provisions of contracts based upon such lawfully published schedules, entered into by and between the said Utah Power & Light Company and others of its customers, under which service is being concurrently given;

"And it further appearing that said special contracts are discriminatory and preferential; * * *

"And it further appearing that the following named persons and corporations are parties to the said contract * * * Union Portland Cement Company: * * *

"Now, therefore, upon motion of the commission:

"It is ordered, that for the purpose of making a full and complete investigation and inquiry into the provisions of such contracts, and each of them, and into all matters pertaining thereunto, the said Utah Power & Light Company and the persons and corporations above named, be notified and cited to appear before the commission at its office, Room 303 State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, on the 11th day of November, 1919, at 10 o'clock a. m., then and there to justify the continuing in effect of such special contracts, and the rates, charges, facilities and privileges granted thereunder, and to show the reasonableness and equity of such rates, charges, facilities and privileges, and further to show that they are not in contravention of the provisions of said section 4789 of the Compiled Laws of Utah, 1917."

It is further alleged in the complaint that said order was duly served on the plaintiff; that said plaintiff thereafter, before any evidence was taken by said commission under said order, appeared and filed a motion and demurrer objecting to the jurisdiction of said commission to hear and determine the matter set out in its said order, for the reason that plaintiff's contract with said power company was entered into prior to the passage by the Legislature of said act above referred to; that said motion and demurrer were overruled and denied on January 27, 1920, and said commission then and there held that it had jurisdiction to hear and determine whether said contract was discriminatory, preferential, or otherwise, and said commission is now proceeding to take evidence. The complaint further alleges that said commission is acting without authority to investigate the terms of said contract, and is without jurisdiction to enter an order changing or modifying the terms thereof, for the reason that said order or decree would be in violation of the Constitution of the United States providing that no state shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts, and is likewise in violation of a similar provision of the Constitution of this state.

It is further alleged that said contract between plaintiff and the power company was not entered into in pursuance of any ordinance or franchise granted by the state of Utah, or pursuant to any ordinance or franchise of any legal subdivision of said state; that plaintiff has no plain, speedy, and adequate remedy at law, and therefore prays that an alternative writ issue and defendant be required to show why said writ should not be made permanent.

The alternative writ was issued, and the defendant, by the Attorney General of the state, thereafter appeared and moved to quash the writ and dismiss the proceeding upon the ground that it appears upon the face thereof that the facts stated are wholly insufficient to justify the issuance of either an alternative or permanent writ, or to constitute a cause of action against the defendant.

The motion to quash challenges the jurisdiction of the court to hear or determine the issues presented by the complaint or to proceed further in the case.

At the hearing on the motion the representatives of divers persons and corporations and not parties to the record but interested in the questions involved were permitted to appear as friends of the court, participate in the proceedings; and file briefs in support of their respective contentions.

Many interesting questions have been presented for our consideration, some of which are of far-reaching importance and under ordinary circumstances would require of the court its most painstaking and deliberate consideration. Instructive briefs have been filed by all the attorneys appearing in the cause, evincing a conscientious desire on their part to assist the court in arriving at correct conclusions concerning the questions presented. The court however, is of the opinion that it is not only unnecessary but, under the circumstances, would be unwise at this time to enter upon a discussion of the question of jurisdiction raised by the motion to quash; for, in any event, the court is of the opinion the writ should be denied as it appears on the face of the complaint that plaintiff has a plain, speedy, and adequate remedy for the grievances of which it complains. Other considerations, though not of controlling importance, tend to influence the court not to discuss at this time the question of jurisdiction raised by the motion to quash. Recent decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States which have been called to our attention seem to go very far towards solving the question of jurisdiction in cases of this kind. We especially refer to the case of Kansas City Bolt & Nut...

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