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City of Phoenix v. Kasun

Supreme Court of Arizona

December 18, 1939

CITY OF PHOENIX, a Municipal Corporation, and M. L. WHEELER, City Manager of the City of Phoenix, a Municipal Corporation, Appellants,
GEORGE KASUN AND MARY KASUN, his Wife, on Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, Appellees

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of the County of Maricopa. M. T. Phelps, Judge. Judgment reversed.

Mr. Hess Seaman, City Attorney, and Mr. William C. Fields, Assistant City Attorney, for Appellants.

Mr. E. O. Phelgar and Messrs. Cunningham & Carson, for Appellees.


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[54 Ariz. 471] LOCKWOOD, J.

This is an action by George Kasun and Mary Kasun, his wife, hereinafter called plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, under section 3736, Revised Code of 1928, [54 Ariz. 472] against the City of Phoenix, a municipal corporation, hereinafter called defendant, asking for an injunction against the latter's attempting to enforce a certain ordinance adopted by it increasing the water rates to be paid by consumers outside of the city limits. The substance of the complaint was that the ordinance raising the rate was void because the amount charged for service to the outside consumers was exorbitant, excessive, oppressive, unreasonable and confiscatory. Upon the filing of the complaint an order to show cause was issued to the defendant. In response to such order, it filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint upon the grounds, among others, that it appeared upon the face thereof that the court had no jurisdiction of the subject matter. Defendant further filed a verified answer denying all the material allegations of the complaint, and setting up as a special defense that the water furnished to plaintiffs was furnished under a contract which permitted the raising of the rates to be charged to consumers of plaintiffs' class at any time by the city, and that such being the case, the court was without jurisdiction to review the terms of the contract on the ground that the rate fixed by the city was exorbitant, unreasonable or discriminatory. At the hearing on the order to show cause, the court overruled defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint and entered an order for a temporary injunction prohibiting the collection of rates under the ordinance in question. Subsequent to the issuance of such temporary writ of injunction, the city adopted another ordinance, No. 2822, repealing all previous ordinances, and fixing the rate to be paid for water delivered to consumers, including all consumers both within and without the city limits. A supplement to the original complaint was filed, alleging that the new ordinance was void for the same reasons as the one [54 Ariz. 473] first complained of, and asking for a temporary injunction against it. Defendant objected for the same reason it had to the original complaint, and then stipulated as follows:

"Whereas, if and in the event the Court denies defendants' motion to dismiss supplemental complaint in resistance to motion for order extending or clarifying temporary injunction and to quash temporary injunction heretofore granted herein, the defendants desire to appeal from said temporary injunction as extended or clarified in advance of a trial on the merits on the issues raised by the pleadings herein,

"It is stipulated and agreed between the parties hereto as follows:

"1. That the trial setting heretofore entered be vacated and that said case not be

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set for trial pending such appeal and its determination;

"2. That pending such appeal and its determination, the City of Phoenix will bill all non-resident water consumers at the rates in force before the enactment of the ordinances sought to be invalidated in plaintiffs' original complaint, and in the event defendants are successful on said appeal, no attempt to retroactively enforce said ordinances sought to be invalidated in said original and supplemental complaint will be made by the City."

The injunction as asked for in the supplemental complaint was then granted, and the following stipulation was made:

"... and Counsel for the defendants having stipulated in open court that if the Court, as a matter of law, has jurisdiction to determine whether or not said water rates as fixed in said ordinance No. 2822 are unreasonable, arbitrary or discriminatory, that the complaint and supplemental complaint contain allegations sufficient to warrant the Court in granting a Temporary Restraining Order until this cause may be heard upon its merits, the Court finds that the plaintiffs are entitled to a Temporary Injunction against the defendants, restraining, inhibiting and enjoining [54 Ariz. 474] the said defendants from enforcing or attempting to enforce the provisions of Ordinance No. 2822...."

It was the theory of plaintiffs that the court had jurisdiction to consider this question. It was contended by defendant that the relationship between the city and consumers of water beyond its corporate limit was not one of public duty, but of voluntary contract, which the court had no jurisdiction to review on the ground that it was unreasonable, arbitrary or discriminatory. The issue of jurisdiction is the sole one for our determination.

We have previously laid down certain rules governing municipal corporations operating public utilities, both within and without their corporate limits. They may be stated as follows: (a) a municipal corporation has a right to furnish water through its municipal water plant to consumers without, as well as within, its corporate limits; (b) while furnishing water in this manner the state corporation commission has no jurisdiction to regulate its actions towards consumers, whether inside or outside of such limits; (c) the legislature is the only body which has the right to regulate the rates charged by a municipal corporation operating a public utility, and it has plenary power in that respect except as limited by the Constitution; (d) a municipality may not compel consumers outside of its corporate limits to purchase water from it, nor can it be compelled to furnish such water to non-residents; (e) a municipality can only dispose of its surplus water outside of its corporate limits subject to the prior right of its inhabitants in case of shortage. We think these propositions are either declared specifically or impliedly by the cases of City of Phoenix v. Wright, 52 Ariz. 227, 80 P.2d 390; Crandall v. Town of Safford, 47 Ariz. 402, 56 P.2d 660; City of Tucson v. Sims, 39 Ariz. 168, [54 Ariz. 475] 4 P.2d 673; Menderson v. City of Phoenix, 51 Ariz. 280, 76 P.2d 321.

But, it is contended, admitting all of this to be true, the courts have the inherent right to determine the reasonableness of charges made by a municipality, so long as it does furnish water outside of its limits. This is urged upon the basis that the municipality, when it undertakes this, is operating a public utility, and that public utilities are always subject to the jurisdiction of the courts as to whether their rates are unjust, arbitrary or confiscatory.

The distinguishing characteristic of a public utility is the devotion of private property by the owner to such a use that the public generally, or at least that part of the public which has been served and has accepted the service, has the right to demand that such service, so long as it is continued, shall be conducted with reasonable efficiency and under proper charges. When private property is thus devoted to the public use, certain reciprocal rights and duties are raised by implication of law as between the utility and the persons whom it serves, and no contract is necessary to give them. Inasmuch, therefore, as one who devotes his property to a use in which the public has an interest, in effect grants to the public an interest in the use thereof, he must submit to being controlled by the public for the common good to the extent of the interest thus created and so long as such use is continued. Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113, 24 L.Ed. 77. The right inherent in the public authorities to control the rates to be charged by those operating public utilities is based on the fact that they owe a legal duty to the public to furnish certain services and can, therefore, be regulated by the

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public as to the price to be charged for such services. It is upon these basic principles that the entire superstructure of public regulation of ...

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