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U.S. Supreme Court

United Gas Pipe Line Co. v. Mobile Gas Svc. Corp., 350 U.S. 332 (1956)

United Gas Pipe Line Co. v. Mobile Gas Service Corp.

Argued November 7, 1955

Decided February 27, 1956*

350 U.S. 332


Under the Natural Gas Act, a regulated natural gas company furnishing gas to a distributing company under a long-term contract filed with the Federal Power Commission may not, without the consent of the distributing company, change the rate specified in the contract simply by filing a new rate schedule with the Commission under § 4(d) of the Act. Pp. 350 U. S. 333-347.

(a) Unlike the Interstate Commerce Act, which requires uniform rates, the Natural Gas Act expressly recognizes that rates to particular customers may be set initially by individual contracts filed with the Commission. Pp. 350 U. S. 338-339.

(b) Authority for natural gas companies to change their contract rates unilaterally is not conferred by § 4(d) of the Act, which provides that

"no change shall be made by any natural gas company in any such [filed] rate . . . or contract . . . except after thirty days' notice to the Commission,"

given by filing new schedules showing the changes and the time they are to go into effect. Pp. 350 U. S. 339-340.

(c) The Act neither grants nor defines the initial rate-setting powers of natural gas companies; it merely defines the review powers of the Commission and imposes such duties on natural gas companies as are necessary to effectuate those powers. Pp. 350 U. S. 340-343.

(d) There is nothing in the structure or purpose of the Act from which can be inferred any right, not otherwise possessed and nowhere expressly given by the Act, of natural gas companies unilaterally to change their contracts. Pp. 350 U. S. 343-344.

(e) The conclusion here reached fully promotes the purposes of the Act. Pp. 350 U. S. 344-345.

(f) Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U. S. 56, and Midland Realty Co. v. Kansas City Power & Light Co., 300 U. S. 109, distinguished. Pp. 345- 350 U. S. 346. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 350 U. S. 333

(g) The new schedule filed by the natural gas company in this case was a nullity insofar as it purported to change the rate set by its contract, and the contract rate remained the only lawful rate. P. 350 U. S. 347.

(h) Under its general power to issue order "necessary or appropriate to carry out the provisions of this Act," the Commission had authority to reject the unauthorized filing of a new schedule of rates by the natural gas company, and the Commission's failure to do so and its order "permitting" the new rates to become effective were in error. P. 350 U. S. 347.

(i) Any amounts paid by the distributing company in excess of the contract rates were unlawfully collected, and the natural gas company is obligated to make restitution of the excess payments. P. 350 U. S. 347.

215 F.2d 883 affirmed.

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