Western Union Telegraph Company v. Borough of New Hope
United States Supreme Court
WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY v. BOROUGH OF NEW HOPE
Argued: December 2, 3, 1902. --- Decided: January 5, 1903
By an ordinance passed in 1894, the borough of New Hope, Pennsylvania, imposed an annual license fee of $1 per pole and $2.50 per mile of wire on the telegraph, telephone, and electric-light poles and wires within its limits. The Western Union Telegraph Company had constructed prior thereto, and had since maintained and operated, a line of telegraph poles and wires through the borough, and this was an action brought in the court of common pleas of Bucks county, in that state, against the company to recover license fees for the four years commencing with 1895. The case came on for trial before the court and a jury, and plaintiff put in evidence the ordinance in question, and it was agreed 'between the parties that for the year beginning October 1, 1895, there were 75 poles and 20 miles of wire, and for the three succeeding years, beginning October 1, 1896, there were 36 poles and 12 miles of wire maintained by the defendant in said borough.' Plaintiff then rested, and defendant offered evidence tending to show that the wires were used as through wires, for the transmission of messages between the different states, and the United States and foreign countries; that the company had no office at New Hope, which it operated itself, but that the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company handled the business there, and transferred it to the Western Union at Philadelphia; that no part of the business that went to or from New Hope went over these lines of wires and poles; and that the local business handed to the Western Union at Philadelphia amounted to from about $7 to $7.50 per month. The evidence further tended to show that the cost value of its lines through New Hope was about $372, and that the cost of inspection, repairs, and maintenance of the plant of the company had averaged for thirteen years $1.49 1/2 per wire per annum; that since October, 1894, the borough had not expended any money on account of the poles and wires of the company; that its expenditures were for repairing streets, street lamps, moderate sums in payment of official services, etc., and that when on holidays the burgess saw fit to appoint a policeman he often called on the constable, who was generally paid $2.50 per day. A lineman testified that during those years the borough never did anything, to his knowledge, 'in the way of inspecting or repairing or removing or anything else in connection with the poles and wires of those telegraph companies.' Defendant contended that the requirement of payment of the license fee in question amounted to a regulation of commerce, and that the ordinance was therefore void.
The court left it to the jury to find whether the license fee exceeded what was reasonable under the circumstances. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, and judgment was rendered thereon, which on error to the superior court was affirmed. 16 Pa. Super. Ct. 306. The supreme court of Pennsylvania refused to allow an appeal to that court.
Messrs. Silas W. Pettit, Robert M. Yardley, H. B. Gill, George H. Fearons and Messrs. Brown & Wells for plaintiff in error.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 421-423 intentionally omitted]
Mr. William C. Ryan for defendant in error.
Mr. Chief Justice Fuller delivered the opinion of the court:
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