Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company v. Forrest Manning &
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 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 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.
Messrs. John W. Griggs and A. S. Worthington for appellant.
Messrs. Arthur A. Birney, John J. Hemphil, Henry F. Woodward, and Arthur Peter for appellees.
Mr. Justice Brewer delivered the opinion of the court: