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U.S. Supreme Court

Ohio Bell Tel. Co. v. Public Utilities Comm'n, 301 U.S. 292 (1937)

Ohio Bell Telephone Co. v. Public Utilities Commission of Ohio

No. 539

Argued April 6, 7, 1937

Decided April 26, 1937

301 U.S. 292


1. As bases for an order requiring a telephone company to refund to its patrons "excess" earnings collected during a series of years, a state commission valued the company's property for each of those years by applying to the value in an earlier year, which it had determined on hearings, price trend percentages said to have been derived from evidence of which the commission took judicial notice but which it withheld from its records and refused to reveal. Held a denial of due process of law. P. 301 U. S. 300.

2. A fair hearing is essential to due process; without it, there is condemnation without trial. P. 301 U. S. 300.

3. Judicial notice may be taken of the fact that there has been an economic depression, with decline of market values, but judicial notice cannot be taken of the values of land, labor, buildings, and equipment, with their yearly fluctuations. P. 301 U. S. 300.

4. This distinction is the more important in cases where the extent of the fluctuations is not collaterally involved, but is the very point in issue. P. 301 U. S. 301.

5. Taking of judicial notice has no other effect than to relieve one of the parties to a controversy of the burden of resorting to the usual forms of evidence; his opponent is at liberty to dispute the matter by evidence. P. 301 U. S. 301.

6. To press the doctrine of judicial notice to the extent attempted in this case, and to do that retroactively, after the case had been submitted, would be to turn the doctrine into a pretext for dispensing with a trial. P. 301 U. S. 302.

7. From the standpoint of due process -- the protection of the individual against arbitrary action -- a deeper vice than the unreasonable extension of judicial notice is in this case the concealment from the party affected of the particular or evidential facts of which judicial notice was taken by the commission, and on which it rested its conclusion. P. 301 U. S. 302.

8. Under the statutes of Ohio, no provision is made for a review of the order of the Public Utilities Commission by a separate or independent suit. The sole method of review is by petition in error to the Supreme Court of the State, which considers both the chanrobles.com-red

Page 301 U. S. 293

law and the facts upon the record made below, and not upon new evidence. If, as in this case, that court merely accepts findings of the commission attributed to judicial notice and unsupported by any known or knowable evidence, judicial review is denied. P. 301 U. S. 303.

9. In view of the power and discretion reposed in regulatory commissions, the inexorable safeguard of a fair and open hearing must be maintained in its integrity in their proceedings. P. 301 U. S. 304.

10. The right to such a hearing is one of the rudiments of fair play assured to every litigant by the Fourteenth Amendment as a minimal requirement. There can be no compromise on the footing of convenience or expediency, or because of a natural desire to be rid of harassing delay, when that minimal requirement has been neglected or ignored. P. 301 U. S. 304.

11. The appellant in this case has not estopped itself from objecting to the use of price trends gathered in its absence. P. 301 U. S. 306.

131 Oh.St. 539, 3 N.E.2d 475, reversed.

Appeal from a judgment sustaining on appeal an order of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio requiring the Telephone Company to refund "excess earnings" to its patrons.


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