Justia Utilities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Court of Appeal
Merced Irrigation District v. Superior Court
MID, an irrigation district, petitioned for a writ of mandate, challenging the trial court's conclusion that MID was not a "municipal corporation" for purposes of Public Utilities Code section 10251. The court concluded that the term "municipal corporation" is ambiguous, and the court resolved the ambiguity by adopting the meaning in its strict or proper sense because it is the common and thus best indicator of statutory intent. Therefore, the court concluded that the term "municipal corporation" used in section 10251 does not include irrigation districts. Accordingly, the trial court properly granted summary adjudication of MID's fourth cause of action under section 10251. The court denied the petition for writ of mandate. View "Merced Irrigation District v. Superior Court" on Justia Law
T-Mobile W., LLC v. City & Cnty. of. San Francisco
Plaintiffs, “telephone corporations” require installation of wireless facilities, including antennas, transmitters, and power supplies, on existing utility poles in the city’s rights-of-way. In 2011, San Francisco adopted an ordinance, requiring Plaintiffs to obtain a permit before installing or modifying any wireless facility in the public right-of-way, citing the need “to regulate placement … that will diminish the City’s beauty.” The ordinance required a showing of technological or economic necessity and created three “Tiers” of facilities based on equipment size. It conditioned approval for Tiers II and III on aesthetic approval; locations designated “Planning Protected” or “Zoning Protected,” or “Park Protected,” triggered different aesthetic standards. Any Tier III facility required a finding that “a Tier II Facility is insufficient to meet the Applicant’s service needs.” “Any person” could protest tentative approval of a Tier III application. The trial court held that the modification provisions violated the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act; provisions conditioning approval on economic or technological necessity, were preempted by section 7901. The aesthetics-based compatibility standards were not preempted. An amended ordinance, enacted in response, retained the basic permitting structure, but removed the size-based tiers, requiring compliance with aesthetics-based standards based on location. The court of appeal reversed, finding that the ordinance was not preempted. View "T-Mobile W., LLC v. City & Cnty. of. San Francisco" on Justia Law
Cal. Pub. Utils. Comm’n v. Superior Court
Aguirre sought injunctive and declaratory relief against the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for failing to comply with the Public Records Act (PRA), Government Code sections 6250-6276.48 The complaint alleged that the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was closed after it leaked radiation in 2012; that costs of the shutdown and loss due to the shutdown exceeded $4 billion; and that CPUC approved the owner assigning $3.3 billion of these costs to utility ratepayers during an ex parte meeting in Warsaw, Poland. Aguirre made PRA requests seeking the production of emails and other documents related to the CPUC’s investigation of the shutdown and the settlement and meetings. The superior court rejected CPUC’s motion to dismiss. The court of appeal agreed with CPUC. Public Utilities Code section 1759 bars the superior court from exercising jurisdiction over the suit. The duty to comply with the PRA is an “official duty” of the CPUC. A “writ of mandate in any court of competent jurisdiction” is one of the statutory means available to enforce the PRA (Gov. Code 6258), and a “writ of mandamus” may be brought against the CPUC in the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal in appropriate cases under section 1759(b). View "Cal. Pub. Utils. Comm'n v. Superior Court" on Justia Law
Santa Clarita Org. v. Castaic Lake Water Agency
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
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
City of Santa Maria v. Adam
The court of appeal previously remanded the suit, concerning the rights to groundwater contained in the Santa Maria Valley Groundwater Basin. The parties are landowners who extract groundwater for agricultural use and public water producers that pump groundwater for municipal and industrial use. The court of appeal directed the trial court to quiet title to the landlowners’ overlying rights to native groundwater by declaring that these rights have priority over all appropriators, less the amount that the public producers are entitled to pursuant to their prescriptive rights. The trial court amended its judgment to hold that the city had established a total prescriptive right of 5100 acre feet per year and Golden State Water Company had established a total prescriptive right of 1900 acre feet per year, both perfected against the Basin aquifer as a whole, so only a proportionate amount of the prescriptive right could be exercised against the landowners’ overlying rights. The court did not quantify the proportionate prescriptive rights nor reconsider its prevailing party determination or allocation of costs. The court of appeal affirmed, holding that the trial court properly quieted title and did not err when it declined to reconsider the prevailing party determination. View "City of Santa Maria v. Adam" on Justia Law
New Cingular Wireless PCS v. Pub. Utils. Comm’n of Cal.
AT&T sought to acquire T-Mobil, then a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, and merge its operations and infrastructure into itself. For months after the proposal was announced, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Department of Justice, and state regulatory agencies, investigated to determine whether the merger would have adverse effects on competition and customer service, and if so, whether mitigation measures were warranted as a condition of approval. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) sought to complete the investigation of a complex transaction having national scope within a few months because FCC proceedings were unfolding on an expedited schedule. CPUC invited participation from intervenors, including TURN and CforAT. TURN apparently took a leading role and won several procedural victories. Before CPUC completed comments for submission to the FCC, AT&T and Telekom unexpectedly announced the withdrawal of their proposed merger. CPUC dismissed the proceeding as moot, but decided several collateral matters, and stated that requests for intervenor compensation “are appropriate.” TURN and CforAT sought intervenor compensation. Based on detailed findings explaining their “substantial contributions,” CPUC issued awards over opposition by proponents of the merger. The court of appeal vacated the awards without prejudice to renewal and redetermination of the requests. The awards were consistent with CPUC’s long-standing position and with the statutory scheme. The court rejected the “broad” rationale relied upon by CPUC in the orders. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS v. Pub. Utils. Comm'n of Cal." on Justia Law
Constr. Indus. Force Acct. Council, Inc. v. Ross Valley Sanitation Dist.
A trade association of California unions, contractors’ associations and contractors filed suit. Following discovery and a contested hearing, the court ruled that defendant Ross Valley Sanitary District lacked authority under Public Contract Code 20803 to engage its own workforce to complete a sewer system improvement project costing more than $15,000 without putting the project out for competitive bid and contract. The trial court ordered the District to cease and desist from taking further action with respect to about 139 miles of its small diameter sewer pipe with in-house workers, and to conduct all future replacement of this pipe through competitive bid and contract. The court of appeal reversed. Section 20803 applies when a district contracts with a third party for public work, and not when a district relies on force account (in-house) work. View "Constr. Indus. Force Acct. Council, Inc. v. Ross Valley Sanitation Dist." on Justia Law
Lefebvre v. So. Cal. Edison
Plaintiff filed a putative class action against Edison, alleging in his second amended complaint that Edison fraudulently enrolled ineligible customers in the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program. The trial court sustained Edison’s demurrer to the second amended complaint without leave to amend. The court concluded that Public Utilities Code section 1759, subdivision (a) forecloses plaintiff’s claims because a judgment in his favor would have the effect of undermining a general supervisory or regulatory policy of the California Public Utilities Commission. The court also concluded that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Lefebvre v. So. Cal. Edison" on Justia Law
Newhall Cnty. Water Dist. v. Castaic Lake Water Agency
Newhall, a retail water purveyor, challenged a wholesale water rate increase adopted in February 2013 by the Agency. The trial court found the Agency's rates violated article XIII C of the California Constitution (Proposition 26), which defines any local government levy, charge or exaction as a tax requiring voter approval, unless (as relevant here) it is imposed “for a specific government service or product provided directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government of providing the service or product.” The court affirmed the trial court's conclusion that the challenged rates did not comply with this exception because the Agency based its wholesale rate for imported water in substantial part on Newhall’s use of groundwater, which was not supplied by the Agency. The court concluded that the wholesale water cost allocated to Newhall did not, as required, bear a fair or reasonable relationship to Newhall's burdens on, or benefits received from, the Agency’s activity. View "Newhall Cnty. Water Dist. v. Castaic Lake Water Agency" on Justia Law