Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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Minn-Kota Ag. Products, Inc. appealed a district court order dismissing Minn-Kota’s appeal of findings of fact, conclusions of law and order issued by the North Dakota Public Service Commission (PSC) for lack of standing and affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order denying Minn-Kota’s petition to intervene. In 2017, Minn-Kota began construction of a large, $20 million grain handling facility near the municipalities of Barney and Mooreton, North Dakota. During construction of the facility, Minn-Kota received proposals to provide electric power to the facility from Otter Tail Power Co., an electric public utility, and Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, a rural electric cooperative. Minn-Kota determined Otter Tail would provide cheaper and more reliable electric service and chose Otter Tail as its preferred provider. Dakota Valley protested Otter Tail’s application and requested a hearing. Otter Tail and Dakota Valley were represented at the hearing, and each offered evidence and testimony. Minn- Kota was not a formal party represented at the hearing and, other than the testimony offered by Schuler, Minn-Kota did not contribute to the hearing. In December 2017, the PSC held a work session to contemplate and discuss Otter Tail’s application. The concerns expressed by the PSC at the work session made it clear the PSC was likely going to deny Otter Tail’s application. As a result, Minn-Kota submitted a petition to intervene, which an ALJ determined Minn-Kota submitted after the deadline to intervene had passed, and denied it. Minn-Kota argued it has standing to appeal the PSC’s decision because it participated in the proceedings before the PSC, and the PSC’s decision should be reversed because it was not supported by the facts or law. In the alternative, Minn-Kota argued the case should have been remanded to the PSC and it should have been allowed to intervene and introduce additional evidence into the record. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined Minn-Kota had standing, but did not provide a compelling argument on how Otter Tail did not adequately represent its interests at the administrative hearing or throughout the entirety of the proceedings. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and thus affirmed the PSC's order. View "Minn-Kota Ag Products, Inc. v. N.D. Public Service Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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From November 2004 to January 2011, The Door Shop, Inc., utilized $36,081.86 of electricity from Alcorn County Electric Power Association (ACE). But because of a billing error, it was charged only $10,396.28. Upon discovering the error, ACE sought to recover the $25,658.58 difference via supplemental billing. The Door Shop refused to pay, which prompted ACE to file suit. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined that as a matter of law, the Door Shop had to pay, and affirmed the circuit court's order. View "The Door Shop, Inc. v. Alcorn County Electric Power Association" on Justia Law

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SCOPE filed suit alleging that the trial court erred in denying its writ of mandate claim because the Agency’s acquisition of Valencia Water Company is unlawful. The court concluded that the court does not have to dismiss the appeal as untimely under the streamlined procedures available for validating certain acts of public agencies, Code Civ. Proc., 860 et seq., because the validation procedures invoke a court’s in rem jurisdiction, and that subject matter jurisdiction attaches only if there is a statutory basis for invoking those procedures and proper notice. Because that basis is absent here and because estoppel does not apply to subject matter jurisdiction, the validation procedures’ accelerated timeline for appeal is inapplicable. The court also concluded that there is substantial evidence to support the trial court’s factual finding that the purveyor did not become the agency’s alter ego in this case. The agency did not violate article XVI, section 17 of the California Constitution for two reasons - namely, the provision reaches only stock acquisitions that extend credit and the provision’s exception for stock ownership applies to any “mutual water company” and any other “corporation” (whether or not it is a mutual water company). Thus, the fact that the corporate purveyor in this case was not a mutual water company is of no significance. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Santa Clarita Org. v. Castaic Lake Water Agency" on Justia Law

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On Friday, January 9, 2009, after business hours, an unidentified motor vehicle crashed into and felled a utility pole carrying electric lines owned and operated by Duquesne Light. Several wires were connected to Burton L. Hirsh’s Funeral Home, and at least one was stripped from the attachment point to the building’s electrical system located on the structure. In addition to the funeral home, a number of other local buildings lost power as a result of the incident, although no structure other than Hirsh’s was connected directly to the downed pole. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review, as framed by appellant, was “[w]hether the Superior Court erred in imposing upon electric utilities a burdensome and unprecedented duty to enter customers’ premises and inspect customers’ electrical facilities before restoring power after an outage” The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court, finding that Duquesne Light failed to adequately confront the common-law duties invoked by Hirsh or the warnings dynamic tempering the Superior Court’s ruling. The Superior Court did not err to the extent that it recognized a duty, on the part of an electric service provider, to take reasonable measures to avert harm in a scenario in which the utility has actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition impacting a customer’s electrical system, occasioned by fallen and intermixed electrical lines proximate to the customer’s premises. The Court offered no opinion as to whether Duquesne Light had actual or constructive knowledge of an unreasonable risk in this scenario, since the electric company’s summary judgment effort was not staged in a manner which would have elicited an informed determination on such point. View "Alderwoods (PA), Inc. v. Duquesne Light" on Justia Law

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A fire destroyed a hydroponic tomato facility belonging to a new business, Sunnyland Farms, Inc. The day before the fire, Sunnyland's electricity had been shut off by its local utility, the Central New Mexico Electrical Cooperative (CNMEC), for nonpayment. Sunnyland's water pumps were powered by electricity, and without power, Sunnyland's facility had no water. Sunnyland sued CNMEC, alleging both that CNMEC had wrongfully suspended service, and if its electrical service had been in place, firefighters and Sunnyland employees would have been able to stop the fire from consuming the facility. After a bench trial, the court found CNMEC liable for negligence and breach of contract. The trial court awarded damages, including lost profits, of over $21 million in contract and tort, but reduced the tort damages by 80% for Sunnyland's comparative fault. It also awarded $100,000 in punitive damages. The parties cross-appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the contract judgment, vacated the punitive damages, held that the lost profit damages were not supported by sufficient evidence, affirmed the trial court's offset of damages based on CNMEC's purchase of a subrogation lien, and affirmed the trial court's rulings on pre- and post-judgment interest. Sunnyland appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals regarding the contract judgment, punitive damages, and interest, and reversed on the lost profit damages and the offset. The Court also took the opportunity of this case to re-examine the standard for consequential contract damages in New Mexico. View "Sunnyland Farms, Inc. v. Central N.M. Electric Cooperative, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose from a dispute regarding the sewer system serving Sunnyside Industrial Park, LLC. Sunnyside Park Utilities (SPU) provides water and sewer services to the industrial park and Doyle Beck and Kirk Woolf are, respectively, the Secretary and President of SPU. Printcraft Press, Inc. (Printcraft) is a printing business that occupies a building in the industrial park. In 2004, Printcraft entered a ten-year lease for property in the industrial park. The dispute in this case centered on the failure of Beck, Woolf, and SPU to disclose limitations on the sewage system, including the amount of sewage the system could handle and its lack of suitability to dispose of some chemicals used in the printing business. After Printcraft started using the sewage system, SPU disconnected Printcraft from the system in December 2006. Printcraft sued SPU, Beck, and Woolf (collectively, defendants) for breach of contract, fraudulent nondisclosure, and fraud. At trial, the jury found that the defendants owed Printcraft a duty to disclose the limitations of the system and failed to do so. The trial court denied the defendants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and entered judgment in favor of Printcraft. Defendants timely appealed and Printcraft cross-appealed. However, in 2009, SPU filed a renewed motion for relief from judgment under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), asserting newly discovered evidence regarding whether Printcraft's damages claim was affected by its subsequent connection to the Idaho Falls city sewer system. The district court found that the newly discovered evidence satisfied the requirements of I.R.C.P. 60(b) and granted a new trial on the issue of damages. On appeal, the defendants argued that they had no duty to disclose, that any failure to disclose did not lead Printcraft to believe any fact that was false, that the refusal to give SPU's requested jury instructions was improper, and that the district court erred in denying their motion for JNOV because there was not sufficient evidence to support the jury's determination of damages. In turn, Printcraft's cross-appeal argued that the district court erred in limiting the potential bases for defendants' duty to disclose, that Printcraft's breach of contract claim was improperly dismissed, that the subsequent Rule 60(b) motion was improperly granted, that the issue of punitive damages should have been submitted to the jury, and that the judge erred in denying Printcraft's request for attorney fees. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's grant of SPU's motion under 60(b)(2). The Court affirmed the denial of defendants' motion for JNOV as to the existence and breach of a duty to disclose and as to the amount of damages. The Court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the jury instructions. And the Court affirmed the district court's decision to deny Printcraft's request to put the question of punitive damages to the jury.View "Printcraft Press, Inc. v. Sunnyside Park Utilities, Inc." on Justia Law

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One of Summit Water Distribution Company's (SWDC) minority shareholders, Bear Hollow Restoration, filed a complaint requesting a review and investigation of SWDC's exemption from public regulation under the now-repealed Utah Admin. R. 746-331-1. The Public Service Commission dismissed the complaint on the basis that SWDC was not a public utility, and therefore, the Commission did not have jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commission's dismissal, holding (1) the allegations in Bear Hollow's complaint were insufficient to establish that SWDC served the public generally or that the Commission had jurisdiction; (2) Bear Hollow was not prejudiced by repeal of Rule 746-331-1 because the rule applied only to internal agency decisions and the underlying substantive law remained in place; and (3) the Commission did not abuse its discretion when it refused Bear Hollow's amended complaint after the original complaint had been dismissed.View "Bear Hollow Restoration, LLC v. Utah Pub. Serv. Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Montana Department of Revenue ("Department") appealed a judgment reversing the State Tax Appeal Board's ("STAB") conclusion that the Department had applied a "commonly accepted" method to assess the value of PacificCorp's Montana properties. At issue was whether substantial evidence demonstrated common acceptance of the Department's direct capitalization method that derived earnings-to-price ratios from an industry-wide analysis. Also at issue was whether substantial evidence supported STAB's conclusion that additional obsolescence did not exist to warrant consideration of further adjustments to PacifiCorp's taxable value. The court held that substantial evidence supported the Department's use of earnings-to-price ratios in its direct capitalization approach; that additional depreciation deductions were not warranted; and that the Department did not overvalue PacifiCorp's property. The court also held that MCA 15-8-111(2)(b) did not require the Department to conduct a separate, additional obsolescence study when no evidence suggested that obsolescence existed that has not been accounted for in the taxpayer's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") Form 1 filing. The court further held that STAB correctly determined that the actual $9.4 billion sales price of PacifiCorp verified that the Department's $7.1 billion assessment had not overvalued PacifiCorp's properties.