Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Class Action
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In July 2014, Allen‐Gregory filed a putative class action alleging that Fortville violated class members’ due process rights by terminating their water service without a hearing. Fortville revised its procedures, instituting a hearing process effective November 2014. In December 2014, the plaintiffs again sought a preliminary injunction, alleging that the new procedures did not comport with due process. The parties agreed to a settlement. In September 2015, the court approved the settlement and dismissed the case with prejudice. The settlement stated that its purpose was to “fully, finally, and forever resolve, discharge and settle all claims released herein on behalf of the named plaintiffs and the entire class.” It defined the class as “[a]ll customers of the Town of Fortville ... from July 9, 2012 through October 31, 2014 who had their water service terminated and who paid a reconnection fee,” and included an expansive, global release of all claims. Kilburn‐Winnie, a member of the class, received settlement proceeds. In November 2015, Kilburn‐Winnie filed this case alleging that Fortville disconnected her water service again for failure to timely pay her water bill in March and April of 2015 and that the hearing procedures implemented in November 2014 were so complicated and burdensome that they violated her procedural due process rights. The court granted Fortville summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; res judicata barred the claim because the parties settled a prior class action that involved the same claim. View "Kilburn-Winnie v. Town of Fortville" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs lost electric power during a major winter ice storm in 2008. Plaintiffs sued Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light Company (FG&E) and sought class certification for themselves and other residential and business customers of FG&E who were injured by FG&E’s allegedly inadequate preparation for and response to the storm. The superior court judge denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the denial of class certification, concluding that the asserted injuries suffered by the class members were too dissimilar. Plaintiffs then filed a renewed motion for class certification premised on an alternate theory of injury. Specifically, Plaintiffs contended that they suffered economic injury by overpaying for a level of emergency preparedness that FG&E deceptively failed to provide. The superior court judge certified two classes of FG&E customers and reported the class certification order. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order certifying the class, holding that, under the circumstances, Plaintiffs’ assertion of overpayment for FG&E’s services did not set forth a cognizable injury under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9(1) and 11 and therefore did not support class certification pursuant to the statute. View "Bellermann v. Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co." on Justia Law

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American Heritage Apartments, Inc., a customer of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (County Authority), filed suit both individually and as a class representative asserting that the County Authority exceeded its statutory authority by imposing a monthly charge on its customers. The County Authority sought dismissal of the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, arguing that a customer who seeks to dispute the rates charged must first follow the administrative procedures provided in the Utility District Law of 1937 (UDL). The trial court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the administrative procedures in Part 4 of the UDL do not apply to a rate challenge filed by an individual customer against a water and wastewater treatment authority, and therefore, the trial court erred in dismissing the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and (2) the trial court’s alternative ruling on class certification is vacated, and that issue is remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. View "Am. Heritage Apartments, Inc. v. Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Auth." on Justia Law

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American Heritage Apartments, Inc., a customer of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (County Authority), filed suit both individually and as a class representative asserting that the County Authority exceeded its statutory authority by imposing a monthly charge on its customers. The County Authority sought dismissal of the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, arguing that a customer who seeks to dispute the rates charged must first follow the administrative procedures provided in the Utility District Law of 1937 (UDL). The trial court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the administrative procedures in Part 4 of the UDL do not apply to a rate challenge filed by an individual customer against a water and wastewater treatment authority, and therefore, the trial court erred in dismissing the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and (2) the trial court’s alternative ruling on class certification is vacated, and that issue is remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. View "Am. Heritage Apartments, Inc. v. Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Auth." on Justia Law

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Columbia stores natural gas in Medina Field, a naturally-occurring system of porous underground rock, pumping gas into the Field during summer, during low demand, and withdrawing it during winter. Medina is among 14 Ohio gas storage fields used by Columbia. Columbia received a federal Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, 15 U.S.C. 717f, and was required to compensate those who own part of the Field by contractual agreement or eminent domain. The owners allege that Columbia stored gas for an indeterminate time without offering compensation and then offered $250 per lot. Each Medina owner rejected this offer. Columbia did not bring eminent domain proceedings. Other Ohio landowners accused Columbia of similar behavior and filed the Wilson class action in the Southern District of Ohio, including the Medina owners within the putative class. The Medina owners filed suit in the Northern District. Both actions claim trespass and unjust enrichment under Ohio law, and inverse condemnation under the Natural Gas Act. The Wilson suit also seeks damages for “native” natural gas Columbia takes when it withdraws its own gas. Columbia filed a counterclaim in Wilson, seeking to exercise eminent domain over every member of the putative class and join the Medina owners. The Northern District applied the first-to-file rule and dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The rule does apply, but dismissal was an abuse of discretion given jurisdictional and procedural hurdles to having the Medina claims heard in Wilson. View "Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Lakes Water System (LWS), created in the late 1800s-early 1900s, provides Vallejo with potable water. After completing a diversion dam and the Green Line for transmission, the city created two reservoirs, Lake Frey and Lake Madigan, which were soon insufficient to meet demand. The city began storing water in hills above Napa County’s Gordon Valley and constructed the Gordon transmission line. The city acquired easements from some property owners by agreeing to provide “free water.” The city also agreed to provide potable water to other nonresident customers. In the 1950s, the city obtained water rights from the Sacramento River Delta and contracted for water from the Solano Project. In 1992, water quality from Lake Curry ceased to meet standards and the city closed the Gordon Line. In 1992 the city passed an ordinance shifting the entire cost of LWS to 809 nonresident customers, so that their rates increased by 230 percent. The city passed additional rate increases in 1995 and 2009. Plaintiff, representing a purported class of nonresident LWS customers, alleges the city has grossly mismanaged and neglected LWS, placing the burden on the Class to fund a deteriorating, inefficient, and costly system, spread over an “incoherent service area” and plaintiff did not become aware of unfunded liabilities until 2013 The court of appeal affirmed dismissal; plaintiff cannot state any viable claims alleging misconduct by the city. View "Green Valley Landowners Ass'n v. City of Vallejo" on Justia Law

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Sanitary and Improvement District No. 1, Butler County, Nebraska (SID #1) filed two class action lawsuits in Cass County, Nebraska, alleging that various county treasurers unlawfully deducted an incorrect percentage of assessments of municipal improvements collected on behalf of SID #1 and other sanitary and improvement districts. The county treasurers filed motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The district court granted those motions, concluding that the sanitary and improvement districts are not municipal corporations and therefore do not create municipal improvements. SID #1 appealed. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeals and reversed, holding that SID #1 stated a cause of action because a sanitary and improvement district can levy municipal taxes and make municipal improvements. Remanded. View "Sanitary & Improvement Dist. No. 1 v. Adamy" on Justia Law

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In 2005, a limited liability company and its owners (plaintiffs), on behalf of other similarly situated telephone customers, filed a complaint seeking to certify a class action lawsuit against United Telephone Company of Ohio (UTO), which provided Plaintiffs with telephone service. Plaintiffs claimed that their phone bills from UTO contained unauthorized charges from third parties. The trial court ultimately denied Plaintiffs' amended motion for class certification. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the order of the trial court, holding (1) a trial court must conduct a rigorous analysis to ensure the prerequisites of Ohio R. Civ. P. 23, under which plaintiffs must establish seven prerequisites in order to certify a class action, are satisfied; and (2) even though the trial court's consideration of the merits in this case was improper, its order denying certification of the class was correct because Plaintiffs' proposed amended class did not satisfy the prerequisites of Rule 23. View "Stammco, LLC v. United Tel. Co. of Ohio" on Justia Law

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This case was remanded to the district court for determination of whether a class should be certified and for determination of what, if any, part of the City's franchise fees for gas and electricity services are related to its administrative expenses in exercising its police power. The district court certified a class, found the franchise fees cannot exceed $1,575,194 per year for the electric utility and $1,574,046 for the gas utility, entered judgment in favor of the certified class against the City in the amount by which such fees exceeded that amount for an approximately ten-year period, and retained jurisdiction to determine the amount of money to be refunded to members of the class. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment as modified, concluding that certain amounts allocated or not allocated by the district court as proper components of the franchise fees should be modified. Remanded.View "Kragnes v. City of Des Moines" on Justia Law