Louisiana Power & Light Company v. City of Thibodaux

PETITIONER: Louisiana Power & Light Company
RESPONDENT: City of Thibodaux
LOCATION: United States Senate

DOCKET NO.: 398
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 360 US 25 (1959)
ARGUED: Apr 02, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 08, 1959

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Louisiana Power & Light Company v. City of Thibodaux

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 02, 1959 in Louisiana Power & Light Company v. City of Thibodaux

Earl Warren:

Number 398 Louisiana Power & Light Company, petitioner versus City of Thibodaux.

MrMonroe.

J. Raburn Monroe:

Mr. Chief Justice may it please the Court.

This proceeding was commenced by the City of Thibodaux filing a suit in the District Court of Lafourche Parish state court, relying solely on the authority of Act 111 of 1900, an act which had never been interpreted by any state decision or state court decision and as far as we know had never been invoked before as a basis for a condemnation proceeding.

The defendant, the Louisiana Power & Light, removed the case to the Federal District Court.

After a -- after removal, the defendant filed answer in which it raised about eight of ten questions under state law involving the interpretation of the state act, the application of the state act, validity of the state act and its -- and several other questions of state law.

At the pre-trial conference, the District Judge concluded to hear the issues of law prior to going into the matter of compensation.

Argument was held at some great length in the District Court on these issues of law, and the District Court proceeded to exercise the questions of state law and grant a stay of proceedings until these questions should be decided by a Supreme Court of Louisiana interpretation.

His reasons for doing this is, he points out, that although the power of eminent domain is inhere in the sovereign, it is never delegated to subdivisions by implication and that it is a power that is brought with great peril, a possibility of abuse.

He then finds that there had been no state decisions interpreting this law, but that there has been an Attorney General's opinion in 1951 which is to the effect that municipalities do not have the power to condemn utilities.

He, therefore, granted the stay, pending that proceeding.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

(Inaudible)

J. Raburn Monroe:

That was -- I was going to come to the specific answers, yes.

Well going -- I'll go back and fill in the facts.

Louisiana Power & Light Company operates in about 44 parishes in the Louisiana and the property here involved in this condemnation suit was a property in the suburbs of the City of Thibodaux.

Thibodaux which operates a municipal plant expanded its city limits and then sought to bring this condemnation proceeding.

As I say Louisiana Power & Light operates a general electric utility, it generates electricity at remote points from Thibodaux and Monroe, Louisiana and in New Orleans, Louisiana, transmits that by high power transmission lines and then distributes it in Thibodaux.

I bring this point out because part of the property involved here is not just a property within the city, new city limits of Thibodaux, but it is that portion that was built, that capacity that was built in all the way back to the power plant for the purpose of serving this area, which is one of the questions as to the applicability of this act.

Now this act of 1900 speaks of -- says that municipality can condemn a plant and it goes on to say that if the person owning the plant owns two or more utility plants such as water plant, gas plant at the city condemning this, condemn all of the plants.

And so the question or one of the questions state law arising here is whether the city would be required in this case to condemn the entire property of the Louisiana Power & Light which would raise a question as to its state constitutionality, if it was so interpreted.

That is, courtesy of -- in one parish operate a general utility system throughout the state of Louisiana.

Going on to the -- I might add here also the city of, the city is seeking here also to condemn the right of the Louisiana Power & Light to operate in this section of the city, that is its franchise.

Now Louisiana Power & Light operates in that section by virtue of three franchises granted by the parish of Lafourche prior to the taking in of this territory by the city and the reason that the city wants to expropriate a portion of those franchise rights in this area is for the reason that the rates charged by the city to its inhabitants for residential service are approximately 55% higher than the rates charged by Louisiana Power & Light company, so that the city couldn't -- would not long-haul to any customers if they took the property, if we still had the right to operate in that territory.

So -- and we -- we say that a careful examination of the statute will show that they are not specifically granted a right to acquire a franchise or a portion of the franchise.

Well as I say we raise about eight or nine different questions of state law in this proceeding and unless the Court wants to me, I won't go into them all, it took about an hour's argument before the District Court.

When the order of -- the sale order was entered by the District Court, the City of Thibodaux appealed and we filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the order was an interlocutory order which is not appealable under the Judicial Code, Section 1291.

The Court of Appeal consolidated the appeal and the motion to dismiss, both argued the same time.

In argument on the – on the motion to dismiss, the City of Thibodaux argued that this was, this stay order was in effect an injunction setting the doctrine stemming from the (Inaudible) case.

In other words, that in granting a stay the District Court was acting as a chancellor in equity, staying a proceeding or enjoining a proceeding on the law side of the case -- we -- which if it was a in junction, would be one of the exceptions provided in Judicial Code Section 1292 Sub 1.

In the -- this doctrine has been (Inaudible), but in practically all the cases citing this doctrine it has differentiated the action of a court in granting the stay, acting as a chancellor in equity, enjoining a different proceeding and the action of the judge in the orderly process of trying a case.