Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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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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Petitioners, three rural telephone companies, challenged the Commissions' decision establishing petitioners' "cost of capital," which reflects a company's cost of generating or obtaining capital investment in assets that provide utility services to customers. Petitioners alleged that the Commission failed to adequately consider certain risks that exist for investing in small, rural telephone companies, and therefore the cost of capital was set at an unreasonably low level, resulting in a confiscatory rate of return. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding that petitioners failed to meet their burden of demonstrating that the Commission's cost of capital determination was arbitrary, capricious, lacking in any evidentiary support, or that it otherwise fell short of constitutional standards regarding a reasonable rate of return. View "Ponderosa Telephone Co. v. California Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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After years of investigation, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board), issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO) to San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and several other entities, in connection with a power plant’s operations that discharged waste into the San Diego Bay. The Regional Board found that SDG&E caused or permitted waste to be discharged into the Bay and thereby created, or threatened to create, pollution and nuisance conditions. SDG&E contested its designation as a responsible "person" under Water Code section 13304 (a), and petitioned for a writ of mandate to have the CAO vacated. The superior court denied the writ. SDG&E argued then, as it did before the Court of Appeal, that shipyard companies comparatively discharged greater amounts of pollutants into the Bay and that two appellate opinions required application of the "substantial factor" causation test to determine whether SDG&E created or threatened to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The Court of Appeal found it was undisputed that SDG&E directly discharged and thus "caused or permitted" waste to enter the Bay, distinguishing the aforementioned appellate cases. Further, the Regional Board adequately demonstrated that the waste discharged by SDG&E created, or threatened to create, a condition of pollution or nuisance. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. San Diego Regional Water etc." on Justia Law

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Uber is a “transportation networking company” (TNC) regulated by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC). All TNCs must submit annual reports to the CPUC, containing specified data, and file an annual accessibility plan. After receiving numerous complaints from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency regarding illegal parking, traffic congestion, and safety hazards caused by TNC vehicles, the city attorney opened an investigation into possible violations of state and municipal law by TNCs, including Uber. The city attorney issued the administrative subpoenas to Uber, including a request for: Annual Reports filed by Uber with CPUC, 2013-2017 and all of the raw data supporting those reports on providing accessible vehicles, driver violations/suspensions, number of drivers completing training courses, updates on accessibility plans, report on hours/miles logged by drivers, and providing service by zip code. Uber refused to comply, arguing that the CPUC had primary jurisdiction. The court of appeal affirmed a trial court order that Uber produce the reports. It was within the city attorney’s investigative powers to issue the administrative subpoenas. Public Utilities Code section 1759 did not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction and the primary jurisdiction doctrine did not apply to postpone enforcement of the administrative subpoenas. View "City and County of San Francisco v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal focused on circumstances in which local water and irrigation districts were entitled to subvention for unfunded state mandates. The Commission on State Mandates (Commission). The Commission denied consolidated test claims for subvention by appellants Paradise Irrigation District (Paradise), South Feather Water & Power Agency (South Feather), Richvale Irrigation District (Richvale), Biggs-West Gridley Water District (Biggs), Oakdale Irrigation District (Oakdale), and Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (Glenn-Colusa). The Commission determined the Water and Irrigation Districts had sufficient legal authority to levy fees to pay for any water service improvements mandated by the Water Conservation Act of 2009. The trial court agreed and denied a petition for writ of mandate brought by the Water and Irrigation Districts. On appeal, the Water and Irrigation Districts presented a question left open by the Court of Appeal’s decision in Connell v. Superior Court, 59 Cal.App.4th 382 (1997). Based on the statutory language, Connell held local water districts were precluded from subvention for state mandates to increase water purity levels insofar as the water districts have legal authority to recover the costs of the state-mandated program. In so holding, Connell rejected an argument by the Santa Margarita Water District and three other water districts that they did not have the “practical ability in light of surrounding economic circumstances.” This appeal considered whether the passage of Proposition 218 changed the authority of water and irrigation districts to recover costs from their ratepayers so that unfunded state mandates for water service had to be reimbursed by the state. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding the Water and Irrigation Districts possessed statutory authority to collect fees necessary to comply with the Water Conservation Act. Thus, under Government Code section 17556(d), subvention was not available to the Water and Irrigation Districts. The Commission properly denied the reimbursement claims at issue in this case because the Water and Irrigation Districts continued to have legal authority to levy fees even if subject to majority protest of water and irrigation district customers. View "Paradise Irrigation Dist. v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law

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A devastating wildfire (the Butte Fire) swept through Calaveras and Amador counties in September 2015. The fire started when a tree came into contact with an overhead power line owned and operated by petitioners Pacific Gas and Electric Company and PG&E Corporation (together, PG&E or the company). Real parties in interest (plaintiffs) brought suit against PG&E, seeking punitive damages under Public Utilities Code section 2106 and Civil Code section 3294. PG&E sought summary adjudication of plaintiffs’ request for punitive damages under section 3294 only. The trial court denied the motion. PG&E thereafter sought writ relief from the trial court’s order. The Court of Appeal concluded there were no triable issues of fact which, if resolved in plaintiffs’ favor, could have subjected PG&E to punitive damages under section 3294. Accordingly, the Court granted the petition. View "Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the court of appeal held that if the advocacy of an intervenor contributes to a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) proceeding by assisting CPUC in the making of any order or decision (Pub. Util. Code 1802(i))[3]) that is part of the final resolution of the proceeding, whether or not on the merits, CPUC may determine whether, in its judgment, the intervenor’s contribution was substantial enough to merit a compensation award. The court of appeal vacated CPUC's subsequent award. CPUC's determination of “substantial contribution” to some interim or procedural “order or decision” is not alone, sufficient to justify "awarding every penny" claimed for work in connection with the proceeding as a whole. CPUC needed to show how its findings fit into the statutory requirement that compensable work be traceable to some “order or decision,” which is a measure of whether an intervenor achieved some degree of advocacy success. CPUC retains ample discretion to assess whether a given type of contribution counts as “substantial” in a proceeding. In exercising that discretion, CPUC may recognize that even small victories may have a major impact on the course of a proceeding, but there must still be some objective indication of successful advocacy. The remand decisions did not trace the amounts of fees and costs to specific orders or decisions. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Public Utilities Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Edison, alleging claims related to the flow of electricity due to neutral-to-earth voltage (NEV) that came from Edison's electrical substation and flowed onto plaintiff's property. On retrial, the jury found in favor of plaintiff and awarded her damages on her nuisance claim, but the trial court denied plaintiff's motion for attorney fees. Both parties appealed. The Court of Appeals held that, based upon the evidence presented at trial, the court could not conclude as a matter of law that the harm plaintiff suffered did not outweigh the public benefit of Edison's conduct. The court held, however, that the trial court erred in admitting irrelevant evidence related to stray voltage incidents involving prior owners or tenants of the house or other properties, and that the admission of that evidence was prejudicial to Edison. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment and remanded for retrial of the nuisance claim. The court dismissed as moot plaintiff's cross-appeal. View "Wilson v. Southern California Edison Co." on Justia Law

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Crown proposed to install 13 microcell transmitters on utility poles, primarily in the public right of way, as part of a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) in the Day Valley area, a rural portion of unincorporated Aptos. A staff report characterized the microcells as “relatively visually inconspicuous” small structures Santa Cruz County concluded that Crown’s DAS project was categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000) and rejected a claim that an exception to the exemption applied for “unusual circumstances” or “cumulative impact.” The court of appeal affirmed the superior court in upholding the approval. The court rejected arguments that the county: failed to consider the entire project and instead improperly segmented the project by considering each microcell individually; in determining that the “cumulative impact” exception did not apply, failed to consider information submitted by opponents that AT&T was interested in putting cell transmitters in the Day Valley area; erroneously concluded that the “location” exception and the “unusual circumstances” exception did not apply based on the residential agricultural nature of the area. Opponents produced no evidence that it is unusual for small structures to be used to provide utility extensions in a rural area. View "Aptos Residents Association v. County of Santa Cruz" on Justia Law

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PG&E filed suit against HART for negligently servicing a large transformer at a hydroelectric power plant and for damages under Public Utilities Code section 7952. The trial court concluded that because PG&E did not own the transformer, PG&E could not prove essential elements of its causes of action for negligence and damages under section 7952. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the transformer was necessary or useful equipment as that phrase was used in section 7952; PG&E was an electrical corporation for purposes of section 7952; the preposition "of" in the phrase "equipment of any...electrical...corporation" was used in the proprietary sense; the ownership of property interests in the equipment need not be complete ownership because the phrase "equipment of any...electrical...corporation" also encompassed equipment in which the corporation was a partial owner; the evidence presented showed that PG&E held multiple property interests in the transformer and thus it might be regarded as a partial owner of the transformer entitled to recover the measure of damages set forth in section 7952; and therefore HART has not carried its burden of demonstrating PG&E's cause of action for damages under section 7952 lacked merit. View "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Hart High-Voltage Apparatus Repair and Testing Co." on Justia Law