Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries
Gantner v. PG&E Corp.
The Supreme Court held, in response to a request by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, that Cal. Publ. Util. Code 1759 bars a lawsuit that seeks damages resulting from public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) events where the suit alleges that a utility's negligence in maintaining its grid necessitated shutoffs but does not allege that the shutoffs were unnecessary or violated the regulations of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).To reduce the risk that its utility infrastructure would ignite a wildfire during extreme weather conditions Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) conducted a series of emergency power shutoffs that Plaintiff alleged were necessitated by PG&E's negligence in maintaining its power grid. Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against PG&E requesting class damages of $2.5 billion. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether section 1759 barred this lawsuit. The Supreme Court answered the question in the positive, holding that allowing suit under the circumstances here would interfere with the PUC's comprehensive regulatory and supervisory authority over PSPS. View "Gantner v. PG&E Corp." on Justia Law
Appeal of Liberty Utilities (EnergyNorth Natural Gas) Corp., D/B/A Liberty
Petitioner Liberty Utilities (EnergyNorth Natural Gas) Corp., d/b/a Liberty (Liberty), appealed a New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission order denying Liberty’s request to recover development costs related to a proposed natural gas pipeline and tank system, the Granite Bridge project. This case arose from an unrealized construction project. Liberty relied solely on Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., LLC (Tennessee Gas Pipeline) for its gas supply in southern and central New Hampshire. Liberty executives testified that Liberty sought more supply from Tennessee Gas Pipeline because Liberty was facing increased demand. Liberty and Tennessee Gas Pipeline agreed to an arrangement whereby Liberty would receive additional gas from a second pipeline, but Tennessee Gas Pipeline cancelled that arrangement. In response, Liberty began to explore other options, and eventually decided to construct its own pipeline and tank system, the Granite Bridge project. Liberty estimated that $7.5 million of that amount consisted of engineering, environmental, consulting, internal labor, commission related costs, and land costs. Despite those costs, according to Liberty, it would have been years before Liberty broke ground on Granite Bridge. Later, Tennessee Gas Pipeline offered Liberty more space on its pipeline at a cheaper rate than the projected cost of Granite Bridge. Liberty accepted that offer, and then cancelled the Granite Bridge project. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded Liberty could not recover its costs when it cancelled the project and consumers derived no benefit. The Commission's order was thus affirmed. View "Appeal of Liberty Utilities (EnergyNorth Natural Gas) Corp., D/B/A Liberty" on Justia Law
Citizens of State of Fla. v. Clark
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Public Service Commission allocating partial replacement power costs to Duke Energy Florida, LLC (DEF), holding that the Office of Public Counsel (OPC) waived the arguments it presented on appeal.In its appeal to the Supreme Court for judicial review OPC raised a series of legal challenges to the Commission's authority to assign partial costs and consider mitigating factors when making a determination that DEF's actions were "reasonable and prudent" and argued that the Commission erred in interpreting and applying the burden of proof. DEF argued in response that the issues were not preserved for appellate review. The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed, holding that the issues raised by OPC were not properly preserved and were thus waived. View "Citizens of State of Fla. v. Clark" on Justia Law
Campbell v. Davidson
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for Defendants and denying relief in this class action, holding that the district court did not err.In 2014, over two-thirds of the members of the Try County Telephone Association, Inc., a Wyoming cooperative utility providing telecommunication services on a non-profit basis, voted to sell the Cooperative, including its for-profit subsidiaries, to entities owned by Neil Schlenker. Schlenker converted the Cooperative into a for-profit corporation (TCT). After the sale, Class Representatives filed a class action lawsuit against TCT, Schlenker and his entities, and others, alleging fraud conversion and other claims and requesting that the sale be set aside. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did nor err in granting summary judgment on all claims. View "Campbell v. Davidson" on Justia Law
City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc.
The Illinois Cable and Video Competition Law requires operators to obtain statewide authorization and become a “holder” and requires anyone who wants to provide cable or video service to obtain permission from state or local authorities and pay a fee, as a condition of using public rights of way. In recent years traditional cable services have been supplemented or replaced by streaming services that deliver their content through the Internet. East St. Louis, contending that all streaming depends on cables buried under streets or strung over them, sought to compel each streaming service to pay a fee. None of the defendants were “holders.” A magistrate dismissed the complaint, concluding that only the Attorney General of Illinois is authorized to sue an entity that needs but does not possess, “holder” status.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first concluding that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Normally the citizenship of any entity other than a corporation depends on the citizenship of its partners and members but, under section 1332(d), part of the Class Action Fairness Act, an unincorporated entity is treated like a corporation. The court then held that the statutory system applies to any “cable service or video service” and the defendants do not offer either. If “phone calls over landline cables, electricity over wires, and gas routed through pipes are not trespasses on the City’s land— and they are not—neither are the electrons that carry movies and other videos.” View "City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law
Marina Coast Water District v. County of Monterey
Cal-Am, an investor-owned utility that supplies water to much of the Monterey Peninsula, was subject to a state order to cease its decades-long overuse of certain water sources. Cal-Am sought to comply by drawing seawater and brackish water from coastal aquifers for desalination. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), acting under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, Pub. Resources Code, 21050), certified a final environmental impact report (EIR), and granted Cal-Am a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. The City denied Cal-Am coastal development permits to install the intake wells. Cal-Am appealed to the California Coastal Commission.The County approved a permit to construct the desalination plant in unincorporated Monterey County. Marina Coast Water District challenged that approval, arguing that the County violated CEQA by failing to prepare a subsequent or supplemental EIR and adopting an unsupported statement of overriding considerations, and violated its own general plan by approving a project that lacked a long-term sustainable water supply. The trial court ruled that the County was not required to prepare another EIR and did not violate its own general plan, but unlawfully relied on the water-related benefits of the desalination plant in its statement of overriding considerations without addressing the uncertainty introduced by the City’s denial of the coastal development permit. The court of appeal reversed; the County’s statement of overriding considerations was supported by substantial evidence and any remaining deficiency in the statement was not prejudicial. View "Marina Coast Water District v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law
Boyd v. Central Coast Community Energy
Over the last five decades, California voters have adopted several initiatives limiting the authority of state and local governments to impose taxes without voter approval, including adding Article XIII C of the California Constitution, which requires local and regional governmental entities to secure voter approval for new or increased taxes and defines taxes broadly to include any charges imposed by those entities unless they fall into one of seven enumerated exceptions. The second exception covers charges for services or products that do not exceed reasonable costs. Boyd contends that the electricity rates charged by a regional governmental entity, 3CE, are invalid because they are taxes under Article XIII C that voters have not approved.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit; 3CE’s rates are taxes under Article XIII C’s general definition of taxes, but they fall within the second exception because 3CE proved that its rates do not exceed its reasonable costs. View "Boyd v. Central Coast Community Energy" on Justia Law
Floridians Against Increased Rates, Inc. v. Clark
In this review of a decision of the Public Service Commission relating to rates charged by Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) for the provision of electric service, the Supreme Court held that the Commission had not supplied a basis for meaningful judicial review of its conclusion that the settlement agreement provided a reasonable resolution of the issues, established reasonable rates, and was in the public interest.The settlement agreement at issue was between FPL and seven parties that intervened in the matter and permitted FPL to increase its base rates and service charges. After hearing arguments in favor of and against the settlement agreement the Commission concluded that the agreement "provides a reasonable resolution of all issues raised, establishes rates that are fair, just, and reasonable, and is in the public interest." The Supreme Court reversed, holding that remand was required because the Commission failed to perform its duty to explain its reasoning. View "Floridians Against Increased Rates, Inc. v. Clark" on Justia Law
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Super. Ct.
Petitioner Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) sought extraordinary writ relief for the second time arising out of the parties’ ongoing efforts to clarify the standard of proof to be applied at trial on South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s (the District) right to take part of PG&E’s electric distribution system under the Eminent Domain Law. PG&E emphasized that it did not challenge the validity of the resolution of necessity adopted by the District. PG&E did challenge the District’s right to take its property on grounds that conflicted with various findings the District made in its resolution. Because these challenges were authorized by statute, PG&E could succeed at trial by essentially disproving one of these findings by a preponderance of the evidence. Further, the Court of Appeal agreed with PG&E that the superior court’s September 6, 2017 and November 28, 2022 orders erred in concluding that PG&E also needed to demonstrate the District abused its discretion in adopting its resolution of necessity. Therefore, the Court of Appeal issued a peremptory writ of mandate compelling the superior court to vacate its September 6, 2017 and November 28, 2022 orders, and enter a new order. View "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
In re Application of East Ohio Gas Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approving a stipulation that authorized Dominion Energy Ohio to implement its capital expenditure program rider (CEP Rider), holding that the Commission's orders were not unlawful or unreasonable.Dominion filed an application to recover the costs of its capital expenditure program by establishing the CEP Rider at issue. Dominion and the Commission jointly filed a stipulation asking the Commission to approve the application subject to the staff's recommendations. The Commission modified and approved the stipulation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission did not violate an important regulatory principle in adopting the 9.91 percent rate of return; (2) the Commission did not inconsistently apply its precedent; (3) the Commission did not violate Ohio Rev. Code 4903.09; and (4) Appellants' manifest-weight-of-the-evidence argument failed. View "In re Application of East Ohio Gas Co." on Justia Law