Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging two policies related to the provision of basic utility services from the City on the ground that the policies have a disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic residents. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that section 3604(b) of the Fair Housing Act is unambiguous and reaches certain post-acquisition conduct, including post-acquisition conduct related to the provision of services. The panel held that a service within the meaning of section 3604(b) must be a housing-related service that is directly connected to the sale or rental of a dwelling, and the water, gas, and electricity services at issue here fall within the scope of section 3604(b). Finally, the court rejected the City's argument that it is not a housing provider subject to section 3604(b), and held that section 3604(b) does not limit its applicability in such a manner and the court's case law has never held that only housing providers are subject to liability thereunder. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Georgia State Conference of the NAACP v. City of LaGrange" on Justia Law

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An industrial park was built in an unincorporated area in Laurens County, South Carolina, between the City of Laurens (Laurens) and the City of Fountain Inn (Fountain Inn). Both municipalities provided natural gas service beyond their respective borders, and each sought to serve the industrial customers in the new industrial park. However, Laurens -through its subsidiary, the Laurens Commission of Public Works (LCPW) - claimed Fountain Inn could not compete for the industrial customers' business because LCPW had established a designated service area and therefore was the sole authorized natural gas provider to the industrial park. Fountain Inn believed the industrial park was not part of a designated service area, and thus LCPW did not have an exclusive right to provide natural gas to customers in the industrial park. In support of its claim, LCPW asserted it had satisfied the requirements of S.C. Code section 5-7-60 (2004) by providing natural gas in the general vicinity for twenty years pursuant to a 1992 boundary line that was informally agreed to by Laurens and Fountain Inn. Agreeing with LCPW that it had properly created a designated service area, the circuit court enjoined Fountain Inn from providing natural gas service to the industrial park, and the court of appeals affirmed. Because there was no reasonable interpretation of section 5-7-60 that would permit LCPW to claim a designated service area over the industrial park, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed. View "Commissioners of Public Works v. City of Fountain Inn" on Justia Law

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Ten small telephone companies sought review of a California Public Utilities Commission (Commission) resolution and decision declining to issue certain funding to Siskiyou Telephone Company (Siskiyou) and Volcano Telephone Company (Volcano). The telephone companies claimed the resolution and decision departed from well-established requirements governing the issuance of funding from the California High Cost Fund A (CHCF-A). Although the Court of Appeal rejected the telephone companies’ assertion that certain adjustments were mandatory, it agreed with them that the Commission’s resolution and decision did not conform to applicable rules. Accordingly, the Court annulled portions of the resolution and decision denying Siskiyou and Volcano’s adjustment requests for 2016 nonrecurring revenue impacts, and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Calaveras Telephone Company v. Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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The Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717, allows private gas companies to exercise the federal government’s power to take property by eminent domain, if the company has a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); was unable to acquire the property by contract or reach agreement about the amount to be paid; and the value of the property exceeds $3,000. PennEast, scheduled to build a pipeline through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, obtained federal approval for the project and filed suit under the NGA to condemn and gain immediate access to properties along the pipeline route, including 42 properties owned, at least in part, by New Jersey or arms of the state. New Jersey sought dismissal, citing the Eleventh Amendment. The district court ruled in favor of PennEast. The Third Circuit vacated. The Eleventh Amendment recognizes that states enjoy sovereign immunity from suits by private parties in federal court. New Jersey has not consented to PennEast’s condemnation suits and its sovereign immunity has not been abrogated by the NGA. The federal government’s power of eminent domain and its power to hale sovereign states into federal court are separate and distinct. In the NGA, Congress has delegated only the power of eminent domain. View "In re: PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC" on Justia Law

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Neighbors of a proposed solar electric-generation facility challenged the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) issuance of a certificate of public good for the project. At the heart of their appeal was a challenge to the PUC’s conclusions that the Apple Hill project would not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region and would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics. Both of these conclusions rested in substantial part on the PUC’s conclusions that the selectboard of the Town of Bennington took the position that the Apple Hill project complied with the applicable Town Plan, and that the 2010 Town Plan did not establish a clear, written standard. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court determined the evidence and the PUC’s findings did not support these conclusions, so it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Petition of Apple Hill Solar LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the final order of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission) granting part, but not all, of the increase in retail electric rates sought by the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). The Commission’s final order was appealed by PNM and cross-appealed by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (ABCWUA), New Energy Economy (NEE), and the New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers (NMIEC). On appeal, PNM, NEE, ABCWUA, and NMIEC all raised numerous issues with the Commission’s final order. In this opinion the New Mexico Supreme Court addressed challenges made to the Commission’s decisions regarding Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the installation of balanced draft technology at San Juan Generating Station, the new coal supply agreement at Four Corners Power Plant, the inclusion of Rate 11B in rate banding, PNM’s prepaid pension asset, and the adoption of Method A. The Supreme Court rejected each of the arguments on appeal except one: the Court concluded that, by denying PNM any future recovery for its nuclear decommissioning costs related to the Palo Verde capacity at issue in this case, the Commission denied PNM due process of law. Therefore, the Court declared all other aspects of the Commission’s final order to be lawful and reasonable, yet annulled and vacated the final order in its entirety pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 62-11-5 (1982). The matter was remanded to the Commission for further proceedings as required and the entry of an order consistent with the Court’s opinion. View "Public Serv. Co. of N.M. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Startley General Contractors, Inc. ("Startley"), and Mandy Powrzanas, appealed the denial of their renewed motion to have Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance, Jr. recuse himself from the underlying action the plaintiffs filed against the Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham ("BWWB"), Board members, Jones Utility and Contracting Co., Inc., and Richard Jones (collectively, “defendants.”). Plaintiffs alleged the defendants conspired to violate Alabama's competitive-bid law in ways that resulted in financial harm to the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs contended that Judge Vance had received monetary contributions to his 2018 campaign for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court from law firms and attorneys representing the defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the renewed motion to recuse did not fall under the auspices of section 12–24–3, Ala. Code 1975, because it was not based on campaign contributions in "the immediately preceding election." Moreover, “even if [section] 12–24–3 did apply, the plaintiffs failed to establish a rebuttable presumption for recusal because, in order to meet the required threshold, the plaintiffs: (1) included contributions from law firms and individuals who were not ‘parties,’ as that term is defined in 12–24–3(c), to the case; (2) aggregated campaign contributions from multiple parties in contravention to 12–24–3(b) addressing campaign contributions made by ‘a party to the judge or justice’; and (3) incorrectly assumed that ‘total campaign contributions raised during the election cycle’ refers to one-month totals for campaign contributions rather than the ordinary meaning of an ‘election cycle,’ which concerns a longer period.” The Court concluded plaintiffs did not establish that a single, actual "party" to this case gave a "substantial campaign contribution" that would give rise to the conclusion that "[a] reasonable person would perceive that [Judge Vance's] ability to carry out his ... judicial responsibilities with impartiality is impaired." View "Startley General Contractors, Inc. v. Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's order enjoining the Montana Department of Public Service Regulation (PSC) from propounding discovery in a dispute between Republic Services of Montana and North Valley Refuse (collectively, Petitioners), removing the PSC from the matter and ordering appointment of an independent hearing examiner to preside over the case, holding that the district court erred in requiring the PSC to appoint an independent hearing examiner. Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the district court did not err by issuing a writ of prohibition barring the PSC from propounding discovery because the standards were satisfied for issuance of a writ of prohibition; but (2) the district court erred by issuing a writ of mandate requiring the PSC to appoint an independent hearing examiner. Because the authority for removal of the entire PSC based upon the independent actions of a staff member were insufficient, and the remedy under the circumstances was overbroad, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Allied Waste Services of N.A., LLC v. Montana Department of Public Service Regulation" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that the City of LaGrange did not enjoy state-action immunity when it ties its water-utility service to its natural-gas service for customers in unincorporated Troup County, Georgia. In this case, the Georgia legislature could have foreseen that cities would use their water monopoly to increase their share of an unrelated market and that such an anticompetitive move was not the inherent, logical, or ordinary result of the legislative scheme. Therefore, the district court correctly denied the City's motion to dismiss for state-action immunity and the court affirmed the district court's judgment in this interlocutory appeal. View "Diverse Power, Inc. v. City of LaGrange" on Justia Law

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City of Lancaster (“the City”) enacted a measure (“Ordinance 16-2013”) that sought to superimpose municipal requirements upon state-regulated utilities that used the City’s rights-of-way to deliver services. PPL Electric Utilities Corp. (“PPL”) challenged the Ordinance, contending, inter alia, that it intruded upon, and thus was preempted by, the Code. The Commonwealth Court largely agreed, upholding PPL’s challenge with regard to all but one of the challenged provisions of the Ordinance. The provision that the Commonwealth Court upheld authorized the City to impose an “annual occupancy fee” upon utilities that utilize its municipal rights-of-way. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that all of the provisions challenged by PPL, including the annual occupancy fee, were preempted by the Code. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s decision except with respect to its allowance for the annual occupancy fee, which latter ruling was reversed. View "PPL Elec. Utilities v. City of Lancaster, et al -" on Justia Law