Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Otter Tail Power Company provided electric service to the City of Drayton, North Dakota under a franchise agreement. In August 2019, Drayton annexed to the city property known as McFarland’s Addition. In November 2019, an entity purchased a portion of McFarland’s Addition with the intention of building a truck stop. In April 2020, Drayton passed a resolution requiring Otter Tail to provide electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak Electric Coop provided service to rural customers outside of Drayton, and did not provide services to customers in McFarland’s Addition. Nodak did not have a franchise from Drayton to provide electric service in the city. Nodak filed suit against Otter Tail, requesting the Public Service Commission to prohibit Otter Tail from extending electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak alleged Otter Tail’s service would interfere with Nodak’s existing service and be an unreasonable duplication of services. In response, Otter Tail claimed the PSC lacked jurisdiction over Drayton’s decision on which provider could extend service within the city. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the PSC lacked jurisdiction to rule on Nodak’s complaint, and reversed and vacated the PSC’s order: Otter Tail’s motion to dismiss should have been granted. View "Nodak Electric Coop. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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The Adorers, an order of nuns whose religious beliefs require them “to protect and preserve Earth,” own property in Pennsylvania. When Transco notified them that it was designing a 42-inch diameter interstate gas pipeline to cross their property, the Adorers explained that they would not sell a right-of-way through their property. Transco sought a certificate of public convenience and necessity. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) published notices and hosted open meetings to discuss the pipeline. The Adorers neither provided comments nor attended meetings. When FERC contacted the Adorers directly, they remained silent. Transco altered the pipeline’s route 132 times in response to public comment. FERC issued the requested certificate, which authorized Transco to use eminent domain to take rights-of-way 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A). Transco sought an order of condemnation to take rights-of-way in the Adorers’ property. The Adorers failed to respond to the complaint.Days after the district court granted Transco default judgment, the Adorers sought an injunction under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1(c). The Third Circuit rejected the Adorers’ contention that RFRA permitted them to assert their claim in federal court rather than before FERC. After the pipeline was put into service, the Adorers sought damages under RFRA. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. To permit a party to reserve a claim, the success of which would imperil a FERC decision to certify an interstate pipeline, by remaining silent during the FERC proceedings and raising the claim in separate litigation would contravene the Natural Gas Act’s exclusive review framework. View "Adorers of the Blood of Christ United States Province v. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Consumers Energy Company filed an action against Brian and Erin Storm, and Lake Michigan Credit Union, seeking to condemn a portion of the Storms’ property for a power-line easement. The Storms challenged the necessity of the easement under the Uniform Condemnation Procedures Act (UCPA). The trial court concluded that Consumers had failed to establish the public necessity of the easement on the Storms’ property and entered an order dismissing Consumers’ action and awarding attorney fees to the Storms. Consumers appealed that order as of right to the Court of Appeals. The Storms moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that under MCL 213.56(6), Consumers could only appeal the trial court’s public-necessity determination by leave granted. The Court of Appeals initially denied the motion by order, but the order was entered without prejudice to further consideration of the jurisdictional issue by the case -call panel. The Court of Appeals case-call panel issued an opinion in which it agreed with the Storms that the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction; the Court of Appeals therefore dismissed the portion of Consumers’ appeal challenging the trial court’s determination of public necessity. Despite dismissing the public-necessity portion of Consumers’ appeal, the Court of Appeals addressed Consumers’ challenge to the trial court’s award of attorney fees and vacated the attorney-fee award. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals should have considered the condemning agency’s appeal as of right and reached the ultimate question of whether the trial court erred by holding that there was no public necessity for the proposed acquisition. “Therefore, it is not yet apparent that the proposed acquisition was improper such that the property owners would be entitled to reimbursement so as to avoid being ‘forced to suffer because of an action that they did not initiate and that endangered, through condemnation proceedings, their right to private property.’” Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the analysis construing MCL 213.66(2) in Part III of the Court of Appeals’ opinion, and remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Consumers Energy Company v. Storm" on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) ordered Altice, a cable service provider, to prorate its bills for the month in which a cable customer cancels his service, as required by New Jersey law. In federal court, Altice argued that the Proration Requirement is preempted by the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984.The district court granted Altice judgment on the pleadings, concluding that “Younger” abstention was not warranted and that the Proration Requirement was preempted. The Third Circuit vacated. The Younger ruling was incorrect. BPU’s civil enforcement proceeding was quasi-criminal in nature and, thus, the type of proceeding to which Younger applies. BPU commenced the action against Altice by filing a formal complaint, a Show Cause Order with attributes similar to the filing of formal charges, and did so in its sovereign capacity. The proceeding was judicial in nature and ongoing when the federal complaint was filed; the proceeding implicates important state interests; and Altice has an adequate opportunity to raise its federal claims in the state proceeding. View "Altice USA Inc v. New Jersey Board of Public Utilities" on Justia Law

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Following severe cold weather in January 2014, Old Dominion, a nonprofit electric utility that serves customers in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, unsuccessfully sought to recover certain electricity generation costs from PJM, a “regional transmission organization” that operates the electrical grid in a defined geographic area, in an administrative proceeding before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Old Dominion filed suit in Virginia state court, pursuing four putative state law claims, seeking the same relief unsuccessfully claimed before FERC. PJM removed the case, arguing that the complaint contests electricity transmission rates set forth in PJM’s federally filed tariff and that the district court was vested with federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1331.The district court denied Old Dominion’s remand motion and dismissed each of its claims with prejudice, as effectively challenging the terms of PJM’s federal tariff. The court concluded that the “filed-rate doctrine” barred it from awarding damages on Old Dominion’s claims. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Old Dominion’s claims necessarily present a substantial question of federal law by seeking relief precluded by the PJM Tariff, asking a state court to fix a reasonable tariffed rate applicable only to the utility’s 2014 losses, and effectively challenging the terms and enforceability of the Tariff’s rate cap. The district court correctly dismissed those claims. View "Old Dominion Electric Cooperative v. PJM Interconnection, LLC" on Justia Law

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In the first action ("the 2014 action"), The Gardens at Glenlakes Property Owners Association, Inc., Lake View Villas Association, Inc., Lake View Estates Property Owners Association, Inc., Glenlakes Unit One Property Owners Association, Inc., and Glenlakes Master Association, Inc. ("the Associations"), sued Baldwin County Sewer Service, LLC ("BCSS"), challenging a sewer-service rate increase. In the second action ("the 2017 action"), Dan Gormley, Mike Willis, Janet Maxwell, Larry Morgan, David Vosloh, and Dick Dayton ("the individual plaintiffs") sued BCSS, challenging the same rate increase. The trial court ultimately consolidated the actions in 2020, and it entered an order determining that the Associations and the individual plaintiffs were the real parties in interest in the actions. BCSS appealed that order. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the order was nonfinal, and could not support an appeal. View "Baldwin County Sewer Service, LLC v. Gardens at Glenlakes Property Owners Association, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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The 1954 Atomic Energy Act allowed private construction, ownership, and operation of commercial nuclear power reactors for energy production. The 1957 Price-Anderson Act created a system of private insurance, government indemnification, and limited liability for federal licensees, 42 U.S.C. 2012(i). In 1988, in response to the Three Mile Island accident, federal district courts were given original and removal jurisdiction over both “extraordinary nuclear occurrences” and any public liability action arising out of or resulting from a nuclear incident; any suit asserting public liability was deemed to arise under 42 U.S.C. 2210, with the substantive rules for decision derived from state law, unless inconsistent with section 2210.The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant enriched uranium for the nuclear weapons program and later to fuel commercial nuclear reactors. Plaintiffs lived near the plant, and claim that the plant was portrayed as safe while it discharged radioactive material that caused (and continues to cause) them harm.Plaintiffs, seeking to represent a class, filed suit in state court asserting claims under Ohio law. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the removal of the case on the grounds that the complaint, although it did not assert a federal claim, nonetheless raised a federal question under the Price-Anderson Act, and affirmed the subsequent dismissal. The Act preempted plaintiffs’ state law claims and the plaintiffs did not assert a claim under the Act but asserted that their “claims do not fall within the scope of the Price-Anderson Act.” View "Matthews v. Centrus Energy Corp." on Justia Law

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Portland Street Solar LLC appealed a Public Utility Commission order denying Portland Street’s petition for a certificate of public good (CPG) to install and operate a 500-kW solar group net-metering system adjacent to a previously permitted solar array owned by Golden Solar, LLC. Interpreting the definition of “plant” set forth in 30 V.S.A. 8002(18), the Commission determined that the proposed Portland Street project would be part of a single plant along with the already-approved adjacent Golden Solar project and thus would exceed the 500-kw energy-generating-capacity limit applicable in the net-metering program. On appeal, Portland Street argued the Commission’s decision was inconsistent with the Vermont Supreme Court’s controlling precedent, as well as prior Commission decisions involving similar cases, and that the Commission exceeded its statutory authority by expansively construing the component parts of section 8002(18) that defined the characteristics of a single plant. Applying the appropriate deferential standard of review, the Supreme Court concluded the Commission’s self-described expanded and refined interpretation of what constituted a single plant under section 8002(18) was not arbitrary, unreasonable, or discriminatory and did not amount to compelling error that would require the Court to intervene in matters the Legislature has delegated to the Commission’s expertise. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commission’s decision denying Portland Street’s petition for a CPG to install and operate its proposed facility under the net-metering program. View "In re Petition of Portland Street Solar LLC" on Justia Law

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The Utilities Board of the City of Roanoke ("the Utilities Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Circuit Court to vacate an order purporting to reinstate a case that the circuit court had previously disposed of. Because the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to issue the order purporting to reinstate the case, it granted the petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Roanoke." on Justia Law

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A reverse validation action was brought by petitioners Bonnie Wolstoncroft, William Unkel, and Michael Wilkes against the County of Yolo (County) to challenge the County’s plan to continue water service to 95 residences within the North Davis Meadows County Service Area (County Service Area) by replacing two aging groundwater wells with the City of Davis’s (City) water supply. Under this plan, North Davis Meadows residents would pay substantially higher water rates to pay for the project. The County considered the increased water rates to be property-related fees and noticed a Proposition 218 (as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 5, 1996)) hearing. More than five months after the County adopted its resolution, but before the deadline contemplated by the parties’ tolling agreement, petitioners filed their action in superior court. The trial court rejected petitioners’ argument that the increased levy constituted an assessment for which majority approval was required by Proposition 218. The trial court also rejected petitioners’ contentions that the County wrongfully rejected protest votes it claimed not to have received or received in an untimely manner. After review of petitioners' arguments on appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly determined that the levy constituted a property-related fee under Proposition 218. "The fact that maintaining adequate water supply requires switching water sources does not turn the fee into an assessment. Thus, the County properly employed the majority protest procedure under article XIII D, section 6." Further, the Court concluded that even if the trial court erred in denying petitioners’ motion to augment the record with declarations regarding two mailed protest votes, petitioners’ evidence would not prove timely compliance with the protest procedure. Without the protest votes for which only evidence of mailing was tendered, the protest lacked a majority. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo" on Justia Law