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Willcox v. Consolidated Gas Company of New York

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

212 U.S. 19

Willcox  v.  Consolidated Gas Company of New York

 Argued: November 4, 5, 6, 1908. --- Decided: January 4, 1909

[Syllabus from pages 19-23 intentionally omitted]

The appellee, complainant below, filed its bill May 1, 1906, in the United States circuit Court for the southern district of New York, against the city of New York, the attorney general of the state, the district attorney of New York county, and the gas commission of the state, to enjoin the enforcement of certain acts of the legislature of the state, as well as of an order made by the gas commission, February 23, 1906, to take effect May 1, 1906, relative to rates for gas in New York city.

Since the commencement of the suit, the gas commission has been abolished and the public service commission has been created by the legislature in its stead. The official term of Attorney General Meyer has also expired, and Attorney General Jackson, his successor, has been substituted in his place.

The ground for the relief asked for in the bill was the alleged unconstitutionality of the acts and the order, because the rates fixed were so low as to be confiscatory. Upon filing the bill a preliminary injunction was granted (146 Fed. 150), and, after issue was joined, the case was referred to one of the standing masters of the court to take testimony, in conformity to the practice indicated in Chicago, M. & St. P. R. Co. v. Tompkins, 176 U.S. 167, 179, 44 L. ed. 417, 422, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 336.

A hearing was had before the master, who reported in favor of the complainant. The case then came before the circuit court, and, after argument, a final decree was entered, restraining defendants from enforcing the provisions of the acts and the order relating to rates or penalties. 157 Fed. 849. These various defendants, except the district attorney, have taken separate appeals directly to this court from the decree so entered. The acts which are declared void as unconstitutional are chapter 736 of the Laws of 1905, which limits the price of gas sold to the city of New York to a sum not to exceed 75 cents per thousand cubic feet. The act also requires that the gas sold shall have a specified illuminating power, and a certain pressure at all distances from the place of manufacture. Penalties are attached to a violation of the act. The other act is chapter 125 of the Laws of 1906, limiting the prices of gas in the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx, to other consumers than the city of New York, to 80 cents per thousand cubic feet, with like penalties as in the act of 1905, and with the same provisions as to illuminating power and the pressure in the service mains. The order which was declared invalid was one made by the gas commission created under and by virtue of chapter 737 of the Laws of 1905, the order providing that the price of gas in the city should be not more than 80 cents to consumers other than the city of New York. The order had the same provisions as to illuminating power and pressure as the acts above mentioned. The master and the court below found that the 80-cent rate was so low as to amount to confiscation, and hence the acts and the order were invalid as in violation of the Federal Constitution.

Messrs. Edward B. Whitney and George S.C.oleman for the Public Service Commission.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 25-28 intentionally omitted]

Messrs. Alton B. Parker, William P. Burr, and Francis K. Pendleton for the city of New York.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 29-31 intentionally omitted]

Mr. William S. Jackson in propria persona for the Attorney General.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 31-33 intentionally omitted]

Messrs. James M. Beck, John A. Garver, Charles F. Mathewson, and Shearman & Sterling for the Consolidated Gas Company.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 33-39 intentionally omitted]

Messrs. W. Bourke Cochran and Nathan Mattews as amici curice.

Statement by Mr. Justice Peckham:

Mr. Justice Peckham, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).