APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Stephenson County; the Hon.
ROBERT L. BRACKEN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE HERSHEY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied March 28, 1960.
In May of 1957 Northwestern Telephone Company filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission revised rate schedules in which it proposed rate increases in the 16 telephone exchanges which it operates in Stephenson, Jo Daviess, Ogle and Whiteside counties. The increased rates as proposed were to be effective June 30, 1957.
Thereafter the Illinois Commerce Commission determined that the reasonableness of the rates should be further investigated, and suspended the effective date of the rate increase to October 28, 1957. Thereafter, by action of the Commission, this suspension was extended until April 28, 1958.
Hearings on the rate increase began before a Commission examiner in July of 1957. Objections to the rate increase were made by communities in which the exchanges were located with the exception of one switching station. In addition, objections were made by the board of supervisors of Stephenson and Jo Daviess counties.
Commencing in July of 1957, evidence was taken and these hearings ended in December of that year. In February of 1958 the Commission entered an order finding that the proposed increase in rates was reasonable and that the existing rates were unjust and unreasonable. By the terms of its order the increased rates were to become effective April 1, 1958.
The objectors' petition for a rehearing before the Commerce Commission was denied, and thereafter the objectors appealed the order of the Commission to the circuit court of Stephenson County. That court, by its order entered February 24, 1959, reversed and set aside the order of the Commission. This appeal by the Commission and by the telephone company is from the action of the circuit court.
During the course of the proceedings below it was developed that the Commission, in a prior order granting a rate increase, had ordered the telephone company to complete the reconstruction of one exchange and to make certain maintenance and construction changes. The company was further ordered to "de-load its rural lines out of each of the exchanges to not more than 10 subscribers per line within six months from the date of the service of this order." The Commission, by the prior order which had been entered in December of 1954, provided that the telephone company should make progress reports on the changes and the de-loading. By the terms of its order these reports were to have been filed every 90 days.
The evidence was that the 1954 order, particularly with reference to de-loading rural lines, had not been complied with and, in fact, so far as this record is concerned, was not completed as of the date of the 1958 order allowing an additional rate increase.
Indeed, the evidence in this case is to the effect that there were many lines with 15 or more subscribers as of the end of 1957, although the company had de-loaded some 130 of the 240 rural lines ordered to be de-loaded in 1954.
In other respects the evidence is most convincing that the telephone service afforded subscribers in some of the rural areas was not all that could be reasonably expected.
The circuit court, in its opinion, took note of these deficiencies and concluded that the order of the Commission allowing a further increase in rates was unreasonable. In fact, the reason given by the circuit court for its order clearly was the failure of the company to comply with the 1954 order as well as the inadequacy of the service. In the course of its opinion filed with the order the circuit court acknowledged that the company did produce figures and statistical data sufficient to prove anything required but concluded that any relief the company might seek from the Commission would and should be denied in that the company had failed to comply with the earlier 1954 order.
In view of the present state of the record here, we deem it unnecessary to review the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the order of the Commission which is declared by the legislature to be prima facie reasonable. The function of the courts upon a review of an order of the Illinois Commerce Commission is to review the order to see whether the order infringes on any substantial rights of the parties and, on appeal, the circuit court may remand the cause to the Commission if the court concludes that the Commission improperly failed to receive evidence that was material to the inquiry, or may affirm the order if it is determined to be lawful and reasonable. If the court determines that the findings of the Commission are supported by the evidence and are not clearly against the ...