No. 550 April Term, 1976, Appeal from the Order of February 23, 1976, of the Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, of Allegheny County, at No. GD7523074.
John H. Morgan, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Richard F. Kronz, Pittsburgh, with him Ronald C. Weingrad, Pittsburgh, for appellees.
Watkins, President Judge, and Jacobs, Hoffman, Cercone, Price, and Spaeth, JJ. Van der Voort, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.
[ 251 Pa. Super. Page 77]
The Peoples Natural Gas Company has appealed from the Order of the lower court dismissing its preliminary objections to appellees' complaint.*fn1 For the reasons developed below, we remand.
The pertinent facts may be summarized as follows: In October, 1975, appellees commenced this assumpsit action against appellant Peoples by filing a complaint containing three counts.*fn2 Appellees allege that they are consumers of natural gas who contracted to purchase gas air-conditioning systems from Peoples. It is averred that they were induced to purchase these systems by appellant's promise to provide them with a special gas rate for air-conditioning use from
[ 251 Pa. Super. Page 78]
May 15 to October 15 of each year during the lifetime of the systems. Appellees further aver that appellant supplied them with natural gas at a special rate until 1975, but that since 1975, they have been billed at Peoples' regular rate for residential gas consumption because the special rate was eliminated from the tariff approved by the P.U.C.*fn3 Appellees, in this action, seek to recover damages for Peoples' failure to complete the exchange of value contemplated by the alleged sales contracts. They request judgment for the amount that they have been and will be required to pay in excess of the alleged special gas rate for the period from May 15 to October 15, 1975, and from May 15 to October 15 of each subsequent year during the lifetime of their gas air-conditioning systems.
Peoples filed preliminary objections to appellees' complaint raising, inter alia, the issue of jurisdiction.*fn4 This appeal followed the lower court's order of February 23, 1976, dismissing Peoples' preliminary objections.
Appellant's position is that the P.U.C. has exclusive jurisdiction over the matters raised in appellees' complaint. "The legislature has provided an exclusive method for questioning the propriety of any rate charged by a public utility for service rendered in its public utility capacity, and that method is by complaint to the P.U.C." Appellant's Brief at 20. This assertion is based on appellant's belief that the essential issue in the case is a question of the rate that it may lawfully charge for the sale of natural gas; appellant
[ 251 Pa. Super. Page 79]
characterizes this action as an attempt by appellees to recover refunds for the exaction of an ...