Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The case revolves around a dispute between Southern California Edison Company (SCE) and 21st Century Insurance Company and other insurance companies (plaintiffs). The plaintiffs, who paid policyholders for losses resulting from a fire known as the Creek Fire, sued SCE under a subrogation theory to recover their payments. They alleged that an arc from SCE's electric powerlines caused the fire. During discovery, SCE withheld certain documents, asserting they were generated during an attorney-led internal investigation into the cause of the fire and were protected by attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product doctrine. The plaintiffs moved to compel the production of these documents, arguing that SCE's primary reason for conducting the investigation was to comply with state law requiring it to publicly report any involvement it had in causing the fire. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs and compelled the production of the documents.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division One reviewed the case. The court concluded that the trial court's order improperly invaded the protection afforded by the attorney work product doctrine. Even where the dominant purpose of an attorney-directed internal investigation is to comply with a client's public reporting requirement, attorney work product generated in connection with gathering facts to assist counsel in advising the client on how to comply with that statutory or regulatory reporting requirement remains protected. As the plaintiffs did not show grounds for the production of their adversary's work product, the trial court erred in compelling its production. The court did not address whether the order also violated the attorney-client privilege. The court granted SCE's petition and directed the trial court to vacate its order and issue a new order denying the plaintiffs' motion to compel. View "Southern California Edison Co. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between Simple Avo Paradise Ranch, LLC (Simple Avo), an avocado farm, and Southern California Edison Company (SCE), a utility company. Simple Avo claimed that SCE was responsible for damages caused by the 2017 Thomas Fire in Southern California due to SCE's alleged negligence in maintaining its electrical infrastructure. The case was part of a larger coordinated proceeding involving hundreds of similar lawsuits against SCE.Before Simple Avo filed its lawsuit, the trial court had overruled SCE's demurrer to the cause of action for inverse condemnation in the master complaints filed by each of the plaintiff groups. Simple Avo did not participate in the briefing or argument on SCE’s demurrer before the trial court. Instead, Simple Avo and SCE settled for an undisclosed amount and entered into a stipulated judgment whereby SCE would pay $1.75 million to Simple Avo on the inverse condemnation claim, subject to SCE’s appeal of the demurrer ruling.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven, affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that the stipulated judgment was appealable and justiciable, and that the trial court correctly overruled the demurrer. The court found that SCE could be liable for inverse condemnation as a public entity, and that the master complaint sufficiently alleged a cause of action for inverse condemnation. View "Simple Avo Paradise Ranch, LLC v. Southern Cal. Edison Co." on Justia Law

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The case involves Sacramento Municipal Utility District (District) and David Kwan. The District opened an electrical service account for Kwan, which was later found to be diverting power to support a cannabis grow operation. The trial court held Kwan liable for aiding and abetting utility diversion and awarded treble damages plus attorney fees. Kwan appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to prove his knowledge of the power theft and challenging the monetary awards.Previously, the District filed a complaint against Kwan for power theft, conversion, and account stated. After a trial and a retrial, the court found Kwan liable for aiding and abetting utility diversion. Kwan claimed he was a victim of identity theft and had no connection to Sacramento. However, the District provided evidence contradicting Kwan's defense, including phone records, equipment purchases, and cash payments.In the Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District, the court affirmed the trial court's decision. The court found substantial evidence that Kwan aided and abetted power diversion, including his purchase of equipment that could be used to grow cannabis, his phone calls to a Sacramento number, and cash deposits made during the period of power theft. The court also upheld the monetary awards, finding no error in the trial court's calculation of damages, its decision to treble damages, or its decision to award attorney fees. The court concluded that the District had established the fact of the proximately caused injury from the date of account creation with reasonable certainty. View "Sacramento Municipal Utility Dist. v. Kwan" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District reviewed a decision by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to adopt a new net energy metering (NEM) tariff. The PUC was required by the Legislature to create a successor tariff to the existing NEM scheme, which utilities argued overcompensated owners of renewable energy systems for their exported energy, raising electricity costs for customers without such systems.The petitioners, Center for Biological Diversity, Inc., Environmental Working Group, and The Protect our Communities Foundation, contended that the successor tariff did not comply with various requirements of section 2827.1 of the Public Utilities Code. The petitioners argued that the tariff failed to consider the social benefits of customer-generated power, improperly favored the interests of utility customers who did not own renewable systems, failed to promote sustainable growth of renewable energy, and neglected alternatives to promote the growth of renewable systems among customers in disadvantaged communities.The court affirmed the PUC's decision. It held that the PUC had appropriately balanced the various objectives set out by the Legislature in section 2827.1. The court found that the successor tariff was designed to reduce the financial advantage previously given to owners of renewable energy systems under the NEM tariff, which the court said was consistent with the Legislature's aim of balancing costs and benefits to all customers. The court also noted that the PUC had adopted programs to make renewable energy systems more accessible to low-income customers, satisfying the requirement to ensure growth among residential customers in disadvantaged communities.Lastly, the court concluded that the PUC's decision to apply the same tariff to both residential and nonresidential customers was justified, as the nonresidential NEM 2.0 tariff, while cost-effective for the electrical system as a whole, did not balance costs and benefits among all customers. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Public Utilities Com." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal of the State of California was asked to review a decision by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that adopted a new tariff (pricing structure) for utility customers who generate their own power from renewable sources, such as solar panels. This new tariff significantly reduces the price utilities pay for customer-generated power. The petitioners, a group of environmental organizations, argued that the new tariff fails to comply with various requirements imposed by state law, including that it doesn't take into account the societal benefits of customer-generated power, it favors utility customers who don't own renewable systems, it doesn't promote sustainable growth of renewable energy, and it doesn't promote the growth of renewable systems among customers in disadvantaged communities. The court upheld the PUC's decision.The court found that the PUC's decision to base the price paid for exported power on the marginal cost of energy to the utilities served the goal of equity among customers. The court also determined that the PUC's decision complied with the statutory mandate to ensure that the tariff does not grant unwarranted benefits or impose unwarranted costs on any particular group of ratepayers. Lastly, the court found the PUC's efforts to stimulate the adoption of renewable systems in disadvantaged communities sufficient to meet its statutory obligation. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Public Utilities Com." on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over a tariff adopted by the Public Utilities Commission (Commission) of the State of California that affects the compensation utilities provide to customers for excess electricity generated by renewable energy systems. The tariff, known as the net energy metering (NEM) tariff, previously required utilities to purchase excess electricity from renewable systems at the same price customers pay for electricity. However, utilities complained that this overcompensated the owners of renewable systems and raised the cost of electricity for customers without renewable systems. In response, the California Legislature enacted a law requiring the Commission to adopt a successor tariff that promotes the continued sustainable growth of renewable power generation while balancing costs and benefits to all customers.Several environmental groups challenged the Commission's newly adopted successor tariff, asserting that it did not comply with various statutory requirements. The Court of Appeal of the State of California First Appellate District upheld the Commission's tariff. The court found that the Commission's successor tariff adequately served the various objectives of the law and was based on a reasonable interpretation of its statutory mandate. The court also found that the Commission's decision to value exported energy from renewable systems based on the marginal cost of energy to the utilities was a reasonable approach to fulfilling the law's requirement to balance the equities among all customers. The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that the Commission had failed to properly account for the costs and benefits of renewable energy, and that it had improperly favored the interests of utility customers who do not own renewable systems. The court also found that the Commission had properly fulfilled the law's requirement to include specific alternatives designed for growth among residential customers in disadvantaged communities. The court affirmed the decision of the Commission. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. Public Utilities Com." on Justia Law

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Cal-Am, an investor-owned utility that supplies water to much of the Monterey Peninsula, was subject to a state order to cease its decades-long overuse of certain water sources. Cal-Am sought to comply by drawing seawater and brackish water from coastal aquifers for desalination. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), acting under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, Pub. Resources Code, 21050), certified a final environmental impact report (EIR), and granted Cal-Am a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. The City denied Cal-Am coastal development permits to install the intake wells. Cal-Am appealed to the California Coastal Commission.The County approved a permit to construct the desalination plant in unincorporated Monterey County. Marina Coast Water District challenged that approval, arguing that the County violated CEQA by failing to prepare a subsequent or supplemental EIR and adopting an unsupported statement of overriding considerations, and violated its own general plan by approving a project that lacked a long-term sustainable water supply. The trial court ruled that the County was not required to prepare another EIR and did not violate its own general plan, but unlawfully relied on the water-related benefits of the desalination plant in its statement of overriding considerations without addressing the uncertainty introduced by the City’s denial of the coastal development permit. The court of appeal reversed; the County’s statement of overriding considerations was supported by substantial evidence and any remaining deficiency in the statement was not prejudicial. View "Marina Coast Water District v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law

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Over the last five decades, California voters have adopted several initiatives limiting the authority of state and local governments to impose taxes without voter approval, including adding Article XIII C of the California Constitution, which requires local and regional governmental entities to secure voter approval for new or increased taxes and defines taxes broadly to include any charges imposed by those entities unless they fall into one of seven enumerated exceptions. The second exception covers charges for services or products that do not exceed reasonable costs. Boyd contends that the electricity rates charged by a regional governmental entity, 3CE, are invalid because they are taxes under Article XIII C that voters have not approved.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit; 3CE’s rates are taxes under Article XIII C’s general definition of taxes, but they fall within the second exception because 3CE proved that its rates do not exceed its reasonable costs. View "Boyd v. Central Coast Community Energy" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) sought extraordinary writ relief for the second time arising out of the parties’ ongoing efforts to clarify the standard of proof to be applied at trial on South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s (the District) right to take part of PG&E’s electric distribution system under the Eminent Domain Law. PG&E emphasized that it did not challenge the validity of the resolution of necessity adopted by the District. PG&E did challenge the District’s right to take its property on grounds that conflicted with various findings the District made in its resolution. Because these challenges were authorized by statute, PG&E could succeed at trial by essentially disproving one of these findings by a preponderance of the evidence. Further, the Court of Appeal agreed with PG&E that the superior court’s September 6, 2017 and November 28, 2022 orders erred in concluding that PG&E also needed to demonstrate the District abused its discretion in adopting its resolution of necessity. Therefore, the Court of Appeal issued a peremptory writ of mandate compelling the superior court to vacate its September 6, 2017 and November 28, 2022 orders, and enter a new order. View "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the trial court entered in favor of East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) on Plaintiffs' purported class action complaint, holding that the trial court did not err in finding that Plaintiffs' claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.Plaintiffs brought this complaint alleging that a tiered-rate water structure employed by EMBUD to determine the cost of residential and commercial water service in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties violated Cal. Const. art. XIII D, 6(b). The trial court sustained EBMUD's demurrer without leave to amend. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the applicable statute of limitations had run, and therefore, the trial court correctly sustained the demurrer. View "Campana v. East Bay Municipal Utility District" on Justia Law