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U.S. Supreme Court

Western Union Tel. Co. v. Call Publishing Co., 181 U.S. 92 (1901)

Western Union Telegraph Company v. Call Publishing Company

No. 117

Argued and submitted December 4, 1900

Decided April 16, 1901

181 U.S. 92


Where there is dissimilarity in the services rendered by a telegraph company to different persons, a difference in charges is proper, and no recovery can be had unless it is shown not merely that there is a difference in the charges, but that the difference is so great as, under dissimilar conditions of service, to show an unjust discrimination, and the recovery must be limited to the amount of the unreasonable discrimination.

There is no body of federal common law, separate and distinct from the common law existing in the several states, in the sense that there is a body of statute law enacted by Congress separate and distinct from the body of statutes enacted by the several states.

The principles of the common law are operative upon all interstate commercial transactions, except so far as they are modified by Congressional enactment.

Questions of fact, when once settled in the courts of a state, are not subject to review in this Court.

This was an action commenced on April 29, 1891, in the District Court of Lancaster County, Nebraska, by the Call Publishing Company to recover sums alleged to have been wrongfully charged and collected from it by the defendant, now plaintiff in error, for telegraphic services rendered. According to the petition, the plaintiff had been engaged in publishing a daily newspaper in Lincoln, Nebraska, called the Lincoln Daily Call. The Nebraska State Journal was another newspaper published at the same time in the same city, by the State Journal Company. chanrobles.com-red

Page 181 U. S. 93

Each of these papers received Associated Press dispatches over the lines of defendant. The petition alleged:

"4th. That during all of said period, the defendant wrongfully and unjustly discriminated in favor of the said State Journal Company and against this plaintiff, and gave to the State Journal Company an undue advantage, in this: that, while the defendant demanded, charged, and collected of and from the plaintiff for the services aforesaid seventy-five dollars per month for such dispatches, amounting to 1,500 words or less daily, or at the rate of not less than five dollars per 100 words daily per month, it charged and collected from the said State Journal Company for the same, like, and contemporaneous services only the sum of $1.50 per 100 words daily per month."

"Plaintiff alleges that the sum so demanded, charged, collected, and received by the said defendant for the services so rendered the plaintiff as aforesaid was excessive and unjust to the extent of the amount of the excess over the rate charged the said State Journal Company for the same services, which excess was $3.50 per 100 words daily per month, and to that extent it was an unjust and wrongful discrimination against the plaintiff and in favor of the State Journal Company."

"That plaintiff was at all times and is now compelled to pay said excessive charges to the defendant for said services, or to do without the same; that plaintiff could not dispense with such dispatches without very serious injury to its business."

The telegraph company's amended answer denied any unjust discrimination, denied that the sums charged to the plaintiff were unjust or excessive, and alleged that such sums were no more than a fair and reasonable charge and compensation therefor, and similar to charges made upon other persons and corporations at Lincoln and elsewhere for like services. The defendant further claimed that it was a corporation engaged in interstate commerce; that it had accepted the provisions of the act of Congress entitled "An Act to Aid in the Construction of Telegraph Lines and to Secure to the government the Use of the Same for Postal, Military, and other Purposes," approved July 24, 1866; that it had constructed its lines under the authority chanrobles.com-red

Page 181 U. S. 94

of its charter and that act, and denied the jurisdiction of the courts of Nebraska over this controversy. A trial was had resulting in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff, which judgment was reversed by the supreme court of the state. 44 Neb. 326. A second trial in the district court resulted in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff, which was affirmed by the supreme court of the state (58 Neb.192), and thereupon the telegraph company sued out this writ of error.


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