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U.S. Supreme Court

Chesapeake & Potomac Tel. Co. v. Manning, 186 U.S. 238 (1902)

Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company v. Manning

No. 383

Argued March 10-11, 1902

Decided June 2, 1902

186 U.S. 238


The Court of Appeals made a complete disposition of the controversy in this case, and all that was left for the Supreme Court was the ministerial duty of entering a final injunction in the language of the preliminary order, with the proviso that it should operate until such time in the future as the defendant should voluntarily withdraw from business in the District of Columbia, and this was clearly a final decree.

Courts always presume that a legislature in enacting statutes acts advisedly and with full knowledge of the situation, and they must accept its action as that of a body having full power to act, and only acting when it has acquired sufficient information to justify its action.

While a legislature may prescribe regulations for the management of business of a public nature, even though carried on by private corporations, with private capital, and for private benefit, the language of such regulations will not be broadened by implication.

The decree as directed by the Court of Appeals was erroneous, and cast a burden upon the defendant to which it was not subjected by the legislation of Congress.

On July 14, 1898, the appellees commenced this suit in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, to restrain the defendant from discontinuing its telephone service to them.

Their bill alleged that the defendant was a corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York, and for a long time past engaged in the business of furnishing telephone chanrobles.com-red

Page 186 U. S. 239

exchange service in the District of Columbia; that with the assent and under the direction of the Congress of the United States and the commissioners of the District of Columbia, it was occupying the streets, avenues, and alleys of the City of Washington with its conduits and electric wires; that the plaintiffs had a contract with the defendant for such service, terminable by either party upon ten days' notice in writing; that, on July 2, they gave notice of their intention to terminate such contract. The bill further alleged the passage by Congress on June 30, 1898, of an act limiting the charges for telephone service; that they desired to continue the use of the telephone service furnished by defendant, and had tendered the amount required to be paid under the act of Congress, but that nevertheless the defendant threatened to remove the telephone and its appliances now in the premises of plaintiffs and to discontinue its telephone service to them.

The defendant answered, admitting its incorporation, its business of furnishing telephone service, the passage of the act of Congress, set forth its contract with the complainants and the correspondence in reference to the termination of the contract, and alleged that the act of Congress had no application to any individual desiring telephone service, but only to such service as might be rendered for the public to the District of Columbia; that, if it did apply to individuals desiring telephone service the act was beyond the power of Congress, inasmuch as the rates prescribed in it were arbitrary, unjust, unreasonable, and unconscionable, because the service could not be furnished at the rates named therein without an actual loss to the defendant, thus practically working a deprivation of its property and property rights without just compensation or due process of law.

A preliminary injunction was granted restraining the defendant from removing the telephone and its appliances from the premises of plaintiffs or discontinuing its telephone service. Other suits of a similar nature were commenced in the same court by different parties against the telephone company. An order of consolidation of all these suits was entered, but the subsequent proceedings were carried on in this suit, the testimony chanrobles.com-red

Page 186 U. S. 240

introduced being also used in the others, and their disposition the same as that made of this. A large volume of testimony was taken, and the case was submitted on pleadings and proofs. On February 28, 1900, a decree was entered dissolving the preliminary injunction and dismissing the bill of complaint, with costs. Mr. Justice Barnard, before whom the case was heard, was of the opinion that the rates fixed by the act were unreasonably low for the service and supplies to which they refer, and that therefore the act could not be sustained. An appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals of the District, which on May 21, 1901, reversed the decree of the Supreme Court and remanded the case with instructions to enter a decree granting the permanent injunction, as prayed for, but with a single modification. From such decree, the case was brought to this Court on appeal.


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