Justia Utilities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
350 Montana v. State
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court concluding that Plaintiffs - a climate advocacy group and three NorthWestern Energy ratepayers - had standing to challenge Mont. Code Ann. 69-8-421 as unconstitutional and then invalidating the statute, holding that Plaintiffs' challenge to the preapproval statute was not justiciable.At issue was section 69-8-421, which effectively permitted NorthWestern, but no other public utility, to apply to the Montana Public Service Commission for preapproval of an electricity supply resource. Plaintiffs filed a complaint requesting declaratory judgment that the preapproval statute violated both Mont. Const. art. II, 31 and Mont. Const. art. V, 12. NorthWestern filed a motion to dismiss for both lack of standing and ripeness. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiffs lacked standing to raise the rights of non-party utilities; and (2) Plaintiffs' alleged consumer injuries were not yet ripe for consideration. View "350 Montana v. State" on Justia Law
Delta Electric Power Assn. v. Campbell
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
Virgil v. Southwest Mississippi Electric Power Association
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
Panoche Energy Ctr. v. Pac. Gas & Elec.
Panoche, a producer of electricity, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), a utility that purchases its electricity, disputed which of them should bear the costs of complying with a legislatively-mandated program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions pursuant to the Global Warming Solutions Act (Assem. Bill 32 (2005–2006 Reg. Sess.). PG&E invoked the arbitration clause in its agreement with Panoche. Panoche resisted arbitration, arguing that the controversy was not ripe for resolution because ongoing regulatory proceedings at the California Air Resources Board and the California Public Utilities Commission would at least provide guidance in the arbitration and could render the proceeding unnecessary. The arbitration panel denied Panoche’s motion, and after a hearing determined that Panoche had assumed the cost of implementing AB 32 under the agreement and understood that at the time of signing. The arbitrators also concluded that the parties “provide[ed] for recovery of GHG costs” by Panoche through a “payment mechanism” in the agreement. The trial court agreed with Panoche, ruled that the arbitration was premature, and vacated the award. The court of appeal reversed and ordered confirmation of the award. Panoche identified no procedural disadvantage it suffered in going forward with the arbitration as scheduled and failed to meet the “sufficient cause” prong under Code of Civil Procedure 1286.2(a)(5). View "Panoche Energy Ctr. v. Pac. Gas & Elec." on Justia Law
Kleen Energy Sys., LLC v. Comm’r of Energy & Envtl. Prot.
Kleen Energy Systems, LLC, an electric generating facility, entered into a contract with Connecticut Light and Power Company, an electric distribution company. A dispute subsequently arose concerning the proper interpretation of the contract’s pricing provision. At the request of Waterside Power, LLC, which had entered into a similar contract with Connecticut Light and Power, the Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection, acting through the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (the Authority), conducted proceedings to resolve the dispute. Kleen Energy was a participant in, but not a party to, those proceedings. Waterside subsequently filed a petition for a declaratory ruling challenging the decision. The Authority issued a declaratory ruling denying Waterside relief. Kleen Energy filed an administrative appeal from the Authority’s ruling, claiming that it had a contractual right to submit the dispute to arbitration and that the Authority lacked jurisdiction to issue a declaratory ruling to resolve the dispute. The trial court ultimately concluded (1) the Authority had jurisdiction to issue a declaratory ruling to resolve the dispute, (2) Kleen Energy had waived its contractual right to arbitration, and (3) the Authority had properly resolved the dispute. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court erred in determining that the Authority had jurisdiction to resolve the pricing dispute. View "Kleen Energy Sys., LLC v. Comm’r of Energy & Envtl. Prot." on Justia Law
Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners, et al
Plaintiff-appellee Randy Howard sought to bring a class action suit against Ferrellgas Partners, LP in federal district court for allegedly overcharging him and other customers. Ferrellgas moved to force plaintiff to pursue his individual claim alone, in arbitration, arguing that arbitration was the procedure the parties had agreed to. The district court was unable to conclude that the parties agreed to arbitrate. Rather than proceed to trial as the Federal Arbitation Act required, the district court entered an order denying arbitration outright. The Tenth Circuit concluded that denial was error: "When it's apparent from a quick look at the case that no material disputes of fact exist, it may be permissible and efficient for a district court to decide the arbitration question as a matter of law through motions practice and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing arbitration. . . . Parties should not have to endure years of waiting and exhaust legions of photocopiers in discovery and motions practice merely to learn where their dispute will be heard. The Act requires courts process the venue question quickly so the parties can get on with the merits of their dispute in the right forum. It calls for a summary trial — not death by discovery." View "Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners, et al" on Justia Law
Colstrip Energy, LP v. Northwestern Corp.
Appellant, a Montana limited partnership which owned an electrical generating plant in Rosebud County, appealed the district court's order denying its motion to vacate the arbitration award ("Final Award") in its dispute with appellee, a Delaware corporation and a regulated public utility conducting business in Montana. At issue was whether the district court abused its discretion when if failed to vacate, modify, or correct the arbitration award. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's motion where Montana's Uniform Arbitration Act, 27-5-311 MCA, did not permit a court to vacate an arbitration award in part; where Montana law was clear that a non-breaching party was still required to prove its damages; where the district court correctly noted in its order confirming the Final Award that the legal precedent on which appellant relied for its request to modify or correct the Final Award applied only to motions to vacate an award; and where the district court correctly determined that it lacked the authority to vacate the Final Award.