Cantor v. Detroit Edison Company

PETITIONER: Cantor
RESPONDENT: Detroit Edison Company
LOCATION: Nortown Theater

DOCKET NO.: 75-122
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 428 US 579 (1976)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1976
DECIDED: Jul 06, 1976

ADVOCATES:
Burton I. Weinstein - for petitioner
George D. Reycraft - for respondents
Howard J. Trienens - for Michigan Bell Telephone Co., et al., as amici curiae, by special leave of Court
Robert H. Bork - for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Cantor v. Detroit Edison Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1976 in Cantor v. Detroit Edison Company

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - July 06, 1976 in Cantor v. Detroit Edison Company

Warren E. Burger:

The Judgments and opinion of the Court in 75-122, Cantor against Detroit Edison Co. will be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This is a anti-trust case.

A druggist who sells light bulbs in retail, brought suit against the Detroit Edison Co. in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, alleging that the utility is using it's monopoly over the distribution of electricity to restrain competition in the sale of Light bulbs.

Since 1886, the company has provided it's customers with limited amounts of light bulbs at no charge other than it's charge for electric service.

Since 1916, this practice has been described in tariffs, which the utility has periodically filed with the Michigan Public Service Commission and the commission's approval of each of those tariffs has had the effect of requiring the utility to continue the light bulb distribution program until it's next tariff is filed and approved.

The utility as the solo supplier of electricity to about 5 million people in South Eastern Michigan and distributes about 50 percent of the standard size light bulbs used by those consumers.

The District Court held that since the program had been approved by the state commission and since the approval of a tariff filed by a utility, required the company to maintain the program until another tariff was filed and approved, it was exempted from the Federal Anti-Trust Laws.

Accordingly, the District Court granted summary Judgment for the defendant.

The Court of Appeals affirmed and we granted certiorari.

In an opinion in which I speak for the Court in Parts 1 and 3 and for Mr. Justice Brennan, Mr. Justice White and Mr. Justice Marshall in Parts 2 and 4, we first note that only one question is before us, whether the program is exempt from Anti-Trust Laws by reason of the state commission's approval.

We do not decide whether the program is unlawful or whether if so, the retail druggist to brought this action or anyone else has any right to recover damages.

We know that there is no evidence that any other utility in Michigan follows a program which requires every customer to pay the same charge for electricity whether or not he receives his light bulbs from the power company.

That there is no state wide policy requiring or even favoring such programs and that the market for light bulbs as opposed to the market for electricity is essentially unregulated.

We then note, that the choice to have or not to have a program such as this is essentially a matter for the utility to decide for itself, subject only to the state commission's approval.

Finally, we point out that if the fact that the program has been approved by a state commission and that it must therefore be maintained until the utility files a new tariff is a sufficient reason to confer immunity and the utility.

A large number of state agencies would have much broader power to grant exemptions from the Federal Anti-Trust Laws than even federal agencies here.

For essentially these reasons, the Court holds that responded is not exempt from the Federal Anti-Trust Laws and we reverse the Judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings.

The Chief Justice has filed a concurring opinion, concurring in part of the opinion which I have prepared in writing separately with respect to other parts.

Mr. Justice Blackmun has filed a concurring opinion, concurring in the Judgment.

Mr. Justice Stewart has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Powell and Mr. Justice Rehnquist have joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Stevens.