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Reg. Tran. Auth. v. Ill. Commerce Com.

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 28, 1983.

THE REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

THE ILLINOIS COMMERCE COMMISSION ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS — (SUBURBAN TRANSIT SYSTEM, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

THE REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES — (THE ILLINOIS COMMERCE COMMISSION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT)).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Albert S. Porter, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE RIZZI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

In two separate actions, plaintiff, Suburban Transit System, Inc. (Suburban), and plaintiffs the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and West Towns Bus Company (West Towns), sought injunctive and other relief as a result of the alleged attempts by defendants, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and its commissioners, to interfere with plaintiffs' operations. The cases were consolidated, and the court found that the ICC lacked jurisdiction over transportation agencies with RTA grant agreements and enjoined defendants "from proceeding any further with regards to the license of the bus companies involved or in any manner interfering with the operation, control and regulation of these bus companies." Defendants appeal. West Towns was allowed to withdraw from the appeal after the RTA purchased all of West Towns' operating rights and certain of its assets. We affirm.

In 1973, the Illinois General Assembly passed the RTA Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 111 2/3, par. 701.01 et seq.), which provided for the creation of the RTA as a single authority to provide and facilitate public transportation in the northeastern area of the State (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 111 2/3, par. 701.02(b)). The RTA is empowered to provide public transportation by purchasing service from transportation agencies through purchase of service agreements, by grants to transportation agencies or by operating transportation service itself. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 702.01(a).) Both Suburban and West Towns operated bus service with grant contracts from the RTA. Suburban and West Towns also held certificates of public convenience and necessity which had been issued by the ICC.

In 1981, as a result of the RTA's inability to meet all of its financial obligations, Suburban and West Towns discontinued bus service. The ICC issued citation orders against both companies directing them to appear before the ICC and show cause why their certificates should not be revoked and penalties imposed for their failure to provide and maintain adequate and effective bus service. Prior to the issuance of the citation order against West Towns, the RTA and West Towns filed a complaint against defendants for injunctive and other relief, alleging that the ICC had threatened to revoke the licenses of West Towns and other bus companies. Suburban, after receiving the citation order, filed its complaint against the RTA and the ICC for declaratory judgment, injunction and other relief, and it obtained a temporary restraining order which prevented the ICC from taking action to revoke its certificate. Plaintiffs' suits were consolidated on the basis of the common threshold question of the ICC's jurisdiction over Suburban and West Towns. The court resolved the jurisdictional issue in favor of plaintiffs and ordered injunctive relief.

• 1 Initially, defendants assert that the record does not support the court's findings that the ICC attempted to exercise jurisdiction over RTA contracts. Defendants maintain that in their answer they denied any interference with or interest in RTA contracts or their terms and that the issues raised in the citation orders against Suburban and West Towns strictly involved violations of the Public Utilities Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 1 et seq.). We find no merit in this argument.

First, we note that the court did not make a specific finding that the ICC attempted to exercise jurisdiction over the RTA contracts. Moreover, as the court noted, whether the ICC has jurisdiction here is a question of law involving statutory interpretation. Therefore, a factual determination that defendants had attempted to exercise jurisdiction is not necessary to support either the conclusion that the ICC lacked jurisdiction over Suburban, West Towns or their RTA grant contracts, or the order of injunctive relief. Finally, even if the citation orders issued by the ICC against Suburban and West Towns involved violations of the Public Utilities Act, the question here is whether that act and the RTA Act prevent the ICC from proceeding against the bus companies regardless of the nature of the violation. Thus, we believe that the court's findings and conclusions are wholly supported by the record.

• 2 The central issue here is whether the ICC has jurisdiction over bus companies which have grant contracts with the RTA. Defendants contend that the ICC has jurisdiction on the basis of certain provisions of the Public Utilities Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 1 et seq.) and the RTA Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 701.01 et seq.), the legislative history of section 10b of the Public Utilities Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 10b), and prior administrative practice.

The Public Utilities Act provides for the general supervision of all public utilities by the ICC. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 8.) However, "public utilities" do not include "such public utilities which are engaged in the transportation of persons by motor bus to the extent that the transportation is conducted pursuant to a valid and subsisting contract with a political subdivision or a municipal corporation in this State * * *." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 10.3(5).) The RTA is a political subdivision and municipal corporation. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 701.04.) There is no dispute that Suburban and West Towns were bus companies which had valid grant contracts with the RTA. We conclude, therefore, that as long as the grant contracts were in effect, Suburban and West Towns were not subject to ICC jurisdiction because they were not public utilities within the meaning of the Public Utilities Act. Cf. Regional Transportation Authority v. Burlington Northern Inc. (1981), 100 Ill. App.3d 779, 782-83, 426 N.E.2d 1143, 1145-46 (where the court noted that under sections 2.04 and 2.06 of the RTA Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, pars. 702.04, 702.06), if some contractual relationship between the RTA and the Burlington was still in effect, the ICC had no jurisdiction to determine fares to be charged by Burlington and Burlington had no authority to charge fares not specifically approved by the RTA).

Defendants contend that the better reading of section 10.3(5) is that it applies only to direct RTA operation of motor bus transportation. We find defendants' interpretation contrary to the express wording of the statute, which plainly applies to all bus transportation conducted pursuant to valid and subsisting contracts with political subdivisions or municipal corporations such as the RTA. Defendants also contend that the certificates of public convenience and necessity held by Suburban, West Towns and other companies with RTA grant contracts override any exemption and create at least concurrent jurisdiction in the ICC and the RTA. We believe, however, that the statute clearly provides that while valid contracts are in effect between companies providing bus transportation and the RTA, the ICC has no jurisdiction. Under the statute, if no valid contracts exist, such companies may become, by definition, public utilities subject to ICC jurisdiction.

• 3 Defendants assert that if the ICC lacks jurisdiction over Suburban and West Towns, we must order the ICC to cancel the certificates of public convenience and necessity which it issued to Suburban and West Towns. We decline to do so. Neither the Public Utilities Act nor the RTA Act provides that certificates issued by the ICC become void when a transportation agency enters into a contract with the RTA. We do not believe that the legislature intended such a result. Rather, both the Public Utilities Act and the RTA Act indicate that the RTA has sole jurisdiction over the companies with which it has a contractual relationship, but if the contractual relationship ends, jurisdiction reverts to the ICC. In this way, companies remain subject to the regulatory control of either the RTA or the ICC at all times.

We find support for our view of the legislative scheme in the stated purpose of the RTA Act which is

"to provide for, aid and assist public transportation in the northeastern area of the State * * * by providing for the creation of a single authority * * * with the power and competence to provide and facilitate public transportation which is attractive and economical to users, comprehensive, coordinated among its various elements, economical, safe, efficient and coordinated with area and State plans." (Emphasis added.) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 111 2/3, par. 701.02(b).)

We believe that the legislature intended to provide for the creation of the RTA as a strong agency, with control over its own contracts, which would cooperate with, but not be dominated by, the ICC.

We find further support for our view of the legislative scheme in some of the other provisions of the Public Utilities Act and the RTA Act. Section 2.06 of the RTA Act removes the RTA from the purview of ...


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