Public Utilities Comm'n v. United Fuel Gas Co.
317 U.S. 456 (1943)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Public Utilities Comm'n v. United Fuel Gas Co., 317 U.S. 456 (1943)

Public Utilities Commission v. United Fuel Gas Co.

No. 87

Argued December 8, 1942

Decided January 11, 1943

317 U.S. 456

Syllabus

Upon an appeal to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio from a municipal ordinance establishing, in 1932, rates for natural gas sold in the city by a local utility, the Commission asserted jurisdiction to fix the rates paid by the local utility to an unaffiliated company for natural gas transported and sold in interstate commerce, and, in 1935, issued orders preliminary to fixing such rates. In a suit in equity begun by the interstate company prior to, and decided subsequently to, the Natural Gas Act of 1938, the federal District Court enjoined the enforcement of the orders. The state Commission had held no hearing, and had made no findings, with respect to the lawfulness or reasonableness of the interstate rates.

Held:

1. Considerations of equity require the determination here of the question of local law as to the power of the state Commission to fix retroactively the rates to be charged by the interstate company for natural gas transported and sold in interstate commerce to the local utility. P. 317 U. S. 462.

Page 317 U. S. 457

Where, as here, no state court ruling on local law could settle the federal questions that necessarily remain, and where, as here, the litigation has already been in the federal courts for an inordinately long time, considerations of equity require that the litigation be brought to an end as quickly as possible.

2. Under the law of Ohio, the state Commission, in the circumstances of this case, is without power to fix retroactively the rates to be charged by the interstate company for natural gas sold in interstate commerce to the local utility. P. 317 U. S. 465.

3. The power to fix rates for natural gas transported and sold in interstate commerce has been vested by the Natural Gas Act of 1938 in the Federal Power Commission exclusively. P. 317 U. S. 468.

4. The Natural Gas Act of 1938 does not bar a state commission, in the appropriate exercise of its jurisdiction, from compelling the production of data in the possession of the interstate company and relevant to the proceeding before the Commission. P. 317 U. S. 468.

5. The injunction decree of the District Court cannot, in the circumstances of this case, be set aside as an improper exercise of its equitable jurisdiction. P. 317 U. S. 468.

6. The Johnson Act of May 14, 1934, is inapplicable here. P. 317 U. S. 469.

7. The District Court's decree is to be read as an injunction against enforcement of the state Commission's orders only insofar as they assume jurisdiction to fix the rates to be charged for natural gas transported and sold in interstate commerce. P. 317 U. S. 470.

46 F.Supp. 309 affirmed.

Appeal from a decree of a District Court of three judges enjoining enforcement of certain orders of the state Commission.

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