Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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At issue in this case was a Public Service Commission order setting rates an electric utility had to pay to solar and other qualifying renewable energy producers for electricity the utility will then sell to its customers. The South Carolina Supreme Court dismissed the appeal because two of the appellants lacked standing to appeal, and the appeal was moot as to the remaining appellant. View "SC Coastal Conservation League v. Dominion Energy" on Justia Law

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Members of Delta Electric Power Association filed a lawsuit against the cooperative seeking the return of excess revenue and receipts. Delta moved to compel arbitration. The trial court found that the arbitration clause contained in the bylaws was procedurally unconscionable and denied Delta’s motion to compel. After Delta appealed the trial court’s decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court decided Virgil v. Southwest Mississippi Electric Power Association, 296 So. 3d 53 (Miss. 2020), in which it found an arbitration agreement contained in a cooperative’s bylaws to be valid and enforceable. Because the Supreme Court determined the issues in this case were almost identical to the issues decided in Virgil, precedent required it Court to reverse the trial court’s decision denying Delta’s motion to compel arbitration. View "Delta Electric Power Assn. v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court affirming Defendant's magistrate court conviction for operating an onsite wastewater system without a permit, holding that the City's ordinance as applied to Defendant was not an ex post facto law.Defendant was convicted for failure to obtain a permit in violation of Rapid City Municipal Code (RCMC) 13.20.800. On appeal, Defendant argued that RCMC 13.20.800 violated the ex post facto clauses of the state and federal constitutions, was preempted by state administrative rules, and exceeded Rapid City's authority since Defendant lived outside of the city's limits. The circuit court affirmed the conviction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the City's sewerage permit ordinance was not an ex post facto law because it punished Defendant for conduct occurring after the ordinance was enacted; (2) RCMC 13.20.800 does not conflict with state administrative regulations; and (3) there was no merit to Defendant's argument that the City lacked authority to enforce the ordinance beyond its municipal boundaries. View "City Of Rapid City v. Schaub" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were employed by Just Energy, a group of affiliated energy supply companies, as door-to-door solicitors. Just Energy paid them exclusively on a commission basis. Plaintiffs signed independent contractor agreements with confidentiality, non-disparagement, non-exclusive, and non-compete clauses; used a verbatim script with customers; were typically required to attend daily meetings; and were driven to the field in teams led by supervisors. Any work breaks were controlled by supervisors. Some Plaintiffs testified they were required to work on specific days and hours. They had to adhere to a dress code, wearing a shirt that prominently displays the company’s name. Just Energy could reject any customer’s application and commissions would not be paid. Of the 3,840 Plaintiffs with compensation data available, 214 made no money; 69% of the individuals made under $1,000 in total compensation.Plaintiffs sued, alleging that Just Energy misclassified them as outside salespeople in order to qualify for an exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Ohio Minimum Fair Wage Standards Act (OMFWSA). The court granted conditional class certification and instructed the jury “to consider the extent to which the employee has the authority to bind the company” and whether “the employer retains and/or exercises discretion to accept or reject any transactions for reasons that are unrelated to regulatory requirements.”The jury found Just Energy liable for minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA and the OMFWSA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Just Energy retained discretion to reject the sale. Plaintiffs did not benefit from minimal supervision; their jobs did not comport with the purpose of the outside sales exemption. The court upheld the admission of compensation evidence and the jury instruction. View "Hurt v. Commerce Energy, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by plaintiffs, customers of the DWP, claiming that DWP overcharged for electric power and then transferred the surplus funds to the City, thereby allowing the City to receive what amounts to an unlawful tax under California law. Plaintiffs alleged claims under the Hobbs Act, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and 42 U.S.C. 1983, as well as claims under state law.The panel agreed with its sister circuits that the Hobbs Act does not support a private civil right of action; held that municipal entities are not subject to liability under RICO when sued in their official capacities, but the RICO claims in this case were asserted against the defendant City and DWP officials in their personal capacities; held that the RICO claim was nonetheless properly dismissed because it failed as a matter of law because it did not adequately allege a predicate act in extortion under California law or the Hobbs Act, mail and wire fraud, or obstruction of justice; and held that, under the Johnson Act, the district court lacked jurisdiction over the the section 1983 claims. Because plaintiffs have provided no basis for concluding that any of these deficiencies could be cured by an amendment of the complaint, and based upon the panel's own thorough review of the record, the panel held that amendment would be futile. View "Abcarian v. Levine" on Justia Law

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The Riverside County Transportation Commission (Commission) sought to extend its Metrolink commuter rail line from Riverside to Perris, using the route of a preexisting rail line that it had acquired. At five points, however, the new rail line would cross gas pipelines owned by the Southern California Gas Company. The Gas Company had installed these pipelines under city streets decades earlier, pursuant to franchises granted by the relevant cities and, in some instances, pursuant to licenses granted by the then-owner of the preexisting rail line. The new rail line could not be built as long as the pipelines remained in place. The Commission terminated the licenses and demanded that the Gas Company relocate its pipelines at its own expense. The parties agreed that the Gas Company would relocate its pipelines, to other points also owned by the Commission, and the Commission would pay the estimated expenses, but only provisionally; the Commission could still sue for reimbursement, and the Gas Company could then sue for any additional expenses. The trial court ruled that the Gas Company had to bear all of the costs of relocation; however, it also ruled that the Gas Company had never trespassed on the Commission’s land. Both sides appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal held the Gas Company did have to bear all of the costs of relocation. However, the Court also held that, at those points where the Gas Company held licenses for its pipelines, once the Commission terminated the licenses, the Gas Company could be held liable for trespass. View "Riverside County Transportation Comm. v. Southern Cal. Gas Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court vacating and modifying the orders of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) reducing standard-offer contract rates and maximum contract lengths for small solar qualifying facilities (QFs), holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err in determining that the PSC's calculation of the avoided-cost rate was arbitrary and unlawful; and (2) the district court did not err in concluding that the PSC arbitrarily and unreasonably calculated QF capacity contribution values and arbitrarily and unreasonably reduced maximum-length QF-1 contracts to fifteen years. View "Vote Solar v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law

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The Wisconsin Public Service Commission issued a permit authorizing the construction of a $500 million electricity transmission line in southwestern Wisconsin. Two environmental groups sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking to invalidate the permit. The permit holders moved to intervene. The district court denied the motion. The permit holders appealed and moved for expedited review because the case continues without them in the district court.The Seventh Circuit granted the motion, reversing the district court. The permit holders are entitled to intervene under Rule 24(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; “this is a paradigmatic case for intervention as of right.” The three basic criteria for intervention are satisfied: the intervention motion was timely; the transmission companies hold a valuable property interest in the permit that is under attack; and their interest will be extinguished if the plaintiffs prevail. The only disputed question was whether the existing defendants adequately represent their interests. The Commission regulates the transmission companies, it does not advocate for them or represent their interests. The transmission companies cannot be forced to rely entirely on their regulators to protect their investment in this enormous project, which they stand to lose if the plaintiffs are successful. View "Driftless Area Land Conservancy v. Huebsch" on Justia Law

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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