Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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The Texas Public Utility Commission issued two orders decertifying territory from the certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) issued to Green Valley for sewer (wastewater) service. Green Valley filed suit alleging that, because it had "provided or made available" sewer service, 7 U.S.C. 1926(b) protected that service from encroachment.The Fifth Circuit granted en banc review and held that a utility has "provided or made available" service under section 1926(b) if it (1) has adequate facilities to provide service to the relevant area within a reasonable time after a request for service is made and (2) has the legal right to provide service. Therefore, the court overruled North Alamo Water Supply Corp. v. City of San Juan, 90 F.3d 910 (5th Cir. 1996) (per curiam). The court modified the dismissal of Green Valley's preemption claim as to TWC 13.254(a-1) to make it without prejudice and affirmed as modified; vacated the judgments invalidating the PUC's orders and remanded with instructions to dismiss those claims as barred by state sovereign immunity; vacated the remaining judgments related to the GVDC Order and remanded with instruction to dismiss those claims as moot; and vacated the judgments on Green Valley's section 1926(b) claims related to the Schertz Order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Green Valley Special Utility District v. City of Schertz" on Justia Law

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The Communications Act of 1934 restricts the rates that telecommunications carriers may charge for transmitting calls across their networks, 47 U.S.C. 201(b). Iowa-based Aureon is a joint venture through which local carriers connect to long-distance carriers such as AT&T and has “subtending” agreements with participating local carriers. AT&T alleged that Aureon imposed interstate and intrastate access charges that violated the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) transitional pricing rules; improperly engaged in access stimulation (enticing high call volumes to generate increased access charges); committed an unreasonable practice by agreeing with subtending carriers to connect calls involving access stimulation; and billed for service not covered by its 2013 interstate tariff. The FCC found that Aureon violated the transitional rule.The D.C. Circuit reversed in part. The transitional rule applies to all “competitive local exchange carriers,” and Aureon falls into that category but the rule applies to intrastate rates so Aureon’s 2013 increase of its interstate rate was not covered. The court remanded the question of whether Aureon’s subtending agreements qualify as access revenue sharing agreements. The court affirmed the FCC’s determination that Aureon’s interstate tariffs apply to traffic involving any local carriers engaged in access stimulation. The FCC erred in refusing to adjudicate AT&T’s unreasonable-practices claim. View "AT&T Corp. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the exemption in Cal. Const. art. II, 9, subd.(a) applies to measures setting municipal water rates, and therefore, municipal water rates and other local utility charges are not subject to referendum.To prevent the referendum process from disrupting essential governmental operations, the California Constitution exempts "statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual current expenses" of the government. See Cal. Const. art. II, 9, subd.(a). After the City of Dunsmuir passed Resolution 2016-02 establishing a five-year plan for a $15 million upgrade to the City's water storage and delivery infrastructure Plaintiff submitted a petition for a referendum seeking to overturn the Resolution. The City declined to place the referendum on the ballot, and Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to compel the City to place the referendum on the ballot. The trial court denied the petition. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the exemption did not apply because the water charges were a "property-related fee" and not a "tax." The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the City's water rates, adopted in the Resolution, fall within the exemption for "tax levies" and therefore are not subject to referendum. View "Wilde v. City of Dunsmuir" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Arizona Corporation Commission may appoint an interim manager to operate a public service corporation (PSC) based on its permissive authority under Ariz. Const. art. XV, 3.Under article 15, section 3, the Commission has permissive authority to make and enforce reasonable orders for the convenience, comfort, safety, and health of the public. Concluding that it was necessary to protect public health and safety, the Commission appointed EPCOR Water Arizona as an interim manager for Johnson Utilities, LLC, an Arizona PSC. Johnson filed a special action seeking to enjoin its enforcement, but the court of appeals denied relief, holding that the Commission has both constitutional and statutory authority to appoint an interim manager of a PSC. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' opinion, holding that the Commission may appoint an interim manager based on its permissive authority under article 15, section 3 of the Arizona Constitution. View "Johnson Utilities, LLC v. Arizona Corp. Commission" on Justia Law

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In an appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the level of deference courts had to afford an administrative agency’s interpretation of its enabling statute. Additionally, the Court considered whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Distributed Antenna System (DAS) networks were public utilities under the Pennsylvania Public Utility Code (Code), thereby reversing the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) interpretation of the definition of “public utility." This case involved the status of DAS networks as public utilities in Pennsylvania. Appellees, Crown Castle NG East LLC (Crown Castle NG) and Pennsylvania-CLEC LLC (Pennsylvania-CLEC) (collectively Crown Castle), operated DAS networks. Crown Castle’s DAS networks provided telecommunications transport services to Wireless Service Providers (WSP), such as AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and others. The WSPs offered "commercial mobile radio service" (CMRS) to retail end-users. The Supreme Court agreed with the Commonwealth Court that DAS network operators did not provide CMRS because DAS network operators “own no spectrum, need no phone numbers, and their contractual relationship is solely with the WSPs, not with the retail cell phone user. . . . [T]he DAS network operator has no control over the generation of that signal [that it transports for the WSPs].” Accordingly, the Court concluded that DAS network operators did not furnish CMRS and were not excluded from the definition of public utility by Section 102(2)(iv). Further, the Court concluded the Commonwealth Court did not err in holding that the PUC’s interpretation of a clear and unambiguous statutory provision was not entitled to deference. Further, the Commonwealth Court properly concluded that DAS network service met the definition of “public utility” and is not excluded from that definition as it did not furnish CMRS service. View "Crown Castle NG East LLC, et al v. Pennsylvania Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving an application for a rate increase submitted by Hawai'i Gas (HG) and remanded this case to the PUC for further proceedings, holding that the PUC did not fulfill its statutory obligations under Haw. Rev. Stat. 269-6(b).Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) as "persons aggrieved" who participated in the contested case, Appellants had standing to appeal; (2) PUC failed to carry out its mandate under section 269-6(b); (3) the PUC's limitations in sub-issue No. 1h violated Appellants' due process rights by improperly curtailing Appellants' substantive participation; and (4) the PUC did not abuse its discretion in adjudicating HG's rate case rather than proceeding through rule-making. View "In re Application of The Gas Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approving the interconnection tax which National Grid (NG) charged Petitioners to interconnect to NG's distribution system then paid to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as contributions in aid of construction, holding that the PUC did not err.In their petition for the issuance of writ of certiorari, Petitioners asked the Supreme Court to declare the PUC order illegal and unreasonable for purportedly failing to follow a specific IRS ruling and for failing to hold NG to its burden of proof. The Supreme Court affirmed the PUC's order, holding (1) NG was entirely reasonable in believing that it continued to owe the interconnection tax to the IRS and in, therefore, passing that tax on to Petitioners; and (2) the PUC order fully comported with a settlement proposal in this case. View "ACP Land, LLC v. Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) lacks the authority to require Otter Tail Power Company to amend an existing transmission cost-recovery rider (TCRR) approved under Minn. Stat. 216B.16, subd. 7b(b) to include the costs and revenues associated with two high-voltage interstate transmission lines, known as the Big Stone Access Transmission Lines (Big Stone Lines).In 2013, the MPUC approved Otter Tail's request for a TCRR for three transmission projects. In 2016, Otter Tail filed this general rate case with the MPUC seeking an annual-rate increase on its retail electricity sales to help offset company-wide investment costs and asserted that the costs and revenues associated with the Big Stone Lines should not be considered when setting the retail rates. The MPUC directed Otter Tail to amend the TCRR approved in 2013 to include the costs and revenues of the Big Stone Lines. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the MPUC does not have statutory authority to compel Otter Tail to include the Big Stone Lines in the TCRR. View "In re Application of Otter Tail Power Company for Authority to Increase Rates for Electric Service in Minnesota" on Justia Law

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Southwest Mississippi Electric Power Association (Southwest) was a nonprofit, member-owned electric cooperative corporation created by statute to provide electricity to rural Mississippians. Plaintiffs Ray Virgil, Barbara Lloyd, and Cassandra Johnson were are members of Southwest who filed a lawsuit alleging Southwest failed to return excess revenues and receipts to its members. Southwest moved to compel arbitration. The trial court granted Southwest’s motion to compel arbitration. Plaintiffs appealed. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed. View "Virgil v. Southwest Mississippi Electric Power Association" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Kansas Corporation Commission approving a non-unanimous settlement agreement including certain rate design changes at issue in this case, holding that the new rate design violates Kansas law.In 2018, two utilities (Utilities) applied to the Commission for a rate increase. The application included a proposed rate increase of $52.6 million per year and changes in the residential rate design. The new rate structure was applicable only to residential distributed generation (DG) customers. Several parties intervened. Most of the parties reached a settlement agreement, but two of the objecting intervenors appealed. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the new rate design violates Kansas law because Kan. Stat. Ann. 66-117d clearly prohibits the Utilities from price discrimination against DG customers. View "In re Joint Application of Westar Energy & Kansas Gas & Electric Co." on Justia Law