Justia Utilities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Gantner v. PG&E Corp.
The Supreme Court held, in response to a request by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, that Cal. Publ. Util. Code 1759 bars a lawsuit that seeks damages resulting from public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) events where the suit alleges that a utility's negligence in maintaining its grid necessitated shutoffs but does not allege that the shutoffs were unnecessary or violated the regulations of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).To reduce the risk that its utility infrastructure would ignite a wildfire during extreme weather conditions Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) conducted a series of emergency power shutoffs that Plaintiff alleged were necessitated by PG&E's negligence in maintaining its power grid. Plaintiff filed a class action complaint against PG&E requesting class damages of $2.5 billion. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether section 1759 barred this lawsuit. The Supreme Court answered the question in the positive, holding that allowing suit under the circumstances here would interfere with the PUC's comprehensive regulatory and supervisory authority over PSPS. View "Gantner v. PG&E Corp." on Justia Law
Appeal of Liberty Utilities (EnergyNorth Natural Gas) Corp., D/B/A Liberty
Petitioner Liberty Utilities (EnergyNorth Natural Gas) Corp., d/b/a Liberty (Liberty), appealed a New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission order denying Liberty’s request to recover development costs related to a proposed natural gas pipeline and tank system, the Granite Bridge project. This case arose from an unrealized construction project. Liberty relied solely on Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., LLC (Tennessee Gas Pipeline) for its gas supply in southern and central New Hampshire. Liberty executives testified that Liberty sought more supply from Tennessee Gas Pipeline because Liberty was facing increased demand. Liberty and Tennessee Gas Pipeline agreed to an arrangement whereby Liberty would receive additional gas from a second pipeline, but Tennessee Gas Pipeline cancelled that arrangement. In response, Liberty began to explore other options, and eventually decided to construct its own pipeline and tank system, the Granite Bridge project. Liberty estimated that $7.5 million of that amount consisted of engineering, environmental, consulting, internal labor, commission related costs, and land costs. Despite those costs, according to Liberty, it would have been years before Liberty broke ground on Granite Bridge. Later, Tennessee Gas Pipeline offered Liberty more space on its pipeline at a cheaper rate than the projected cost of Granite Bridge. Liberty accepted that offer, and then cancelled the Granite Bridge project. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded Liberty could not recover its costs when it cancelled the project and consumers derived no benefit. The Commission's order was thus affirmed. View "Appeal of Liberty Utilities (EnergyNorth Natural Gas) Corp., D/B/A Liberty" on Justia Law
City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc.
The Illinois Cable and Video Competition Law requires operators to obtain statewide authorization and become a “holder” and requires anyone who wants to provide cable or video service to obtain permission from state or local authorities and pay a fee, as a condition of using public rights of way. In recent years traditional cable services have been supplemented or replaced by streaming services that deliver their content through the Internet. East St. Louis, contending that all streaming depends on cables buried under streets or strung over them, sought to compel each streaming service to pay a fee. None of the defendants were “holders.” A magistrate dismissed the complaint, concluding that only the Attorney General of Illinois is authorized to sue an entity that needs but does not possess, “holder” status.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first concluding that it had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Normally the citizenship of any entity other than a corporation depends on the citizenship of its partners and members but, under section 1332(d), part of the Class Action Fairness Act, an unincorporated entity is treated like a corporation. The court then held that the statutory system applies to any “cable service or video service” and the defendants do not offer either. If “phone calls over landline cables, electricity over wires, and gas routed through pipes are not trespasses on the City’s land— and they are not—neither are the electrons that carry movies and other videos.” View "City of East St. Louis v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law
Floridians Against Increased Rates, Inc. v. Clark
In this review of a decision of the Public Service Commission relating to rates charged by Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) for the provision of electric service, the Supreme Court held that the Commission had not supplied a basis for meaningful judicial review of its conclusion that the settlement agreement provided a reasonable resolution of the issues, established reasonable rates, and was in the public interest.The settlement agreement at issue was between FPL and seven parties that intervened in the matter and permitted FPL to increase its base rates and service charges. After hearing arguments in favor of and against the settlement agreement the Commission concluded that the agreement "provides a reasonable resolution of all issues raised, establishes rates that are fair, just, and reasonable, and is in the public interest." The Supreme Court reversed, holding that remand was required because the Commission failed to perform its duty to explain its reasoning. View "Floridians Against Increased Rates, Inc. v. Clark" on Justia Law
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Super. Ct.
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
In re Application of East Ohio Gas Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio approving a stipulation that authorized Dominion Energy Ohio to implement its capital expenditure program rider (CEP Rider), holding that the Commission's orders were not unlawful or unreasonable.Dominion filed an application to recover the costs of its capital expenditure program by establishing the CEP Rider at issue. Dominion and the Commission jointly filed a stipulation asking the Commission to approve the application subject to the staff's recommendations. The Commission modified and approved the stipulation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission did not violate an important regulatory principle in adopting the 9.91 percent rate of return; (2) the Commission did not inconsistently apply its precedent; (3) the Commission did not violate Ohio Rev. Code 4903.09; and (4) Appellants' manifest-weight-of-the-evidence argument failed. View "In re Application of East Ohio Gas Co." on Justia Law
Deer Creek Water Corporation, et al. v. City of Oklahoma City, et al.
Plaintiff Deer Creek Water Corporation filed suit against Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust (together, the City) seeking a declaratory judgment that the City could not provide water service to a proposed development on land owned by Thomas and Gina Boling (together, the developers), who later intervened in the action. In support, Deer Creek invoked 7 U.S.C. § 1926(b), a statute that generally prohibited municipalities from encroaching on areas served by federally indebted rural water associations, so long as the rural water association made water service available to the area. The district court granted the developers’ motion for summary judgment after concluding that Deer Creek had not made such service available, and Deer Creek appealed. Although the Tenth Circuit rejected Deer Creek’s arguments related to subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court agreed that the district court erred in finding it dispositive that Deer Creek’s terms of service required the developers to construct the improvements necessary to expand Deer Creek’s existing infrastructure to serve the proposed development, reasoning that because Deer Creek itself would not be doing the construction, it had not made service available. The Court found nothing in the statute or in caselaw to support stripping a federally indebted rural water association of § 1926(b) protection solely because it placed a burden of property development on the landowner seeking to develop property. The district court therefore erred in placing determinative weight on Deer Creek’s requirement that the developers construct the needed improvements. The judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings on whether Deer Creek made service available. View "Deer Creek Water Corporation, et al. v. City of Oklahoma City, et al." on Justia Law
Q Link Wireless LLC v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm’n
Q Link Wireless LLC (Q Link) petitioned the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission) for designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC). The designation would have made Q Link eligible to access certain federal funds for providing telecommunications services to underserved communities in New Mexico. Following lengthy and protracted proceedings before the Commission’s hearing examiner, Q Link filed a motion to withdraw its petition. The hearing examiner filed an Order Recommending Dismissal of Proceeding with Prejudice (Recommended Decision). The recommendation was to dismiss the petition and to ban Q Link from ever again filing a petition to obtain an ETC designation. The Commission adopted the Recommended Decision in full. Q Link appealed, and the New Mexico Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the Commission lacked express or implied statutory authority to ban Q Link from ever again seeking an ETC designation. View "Q Link Wireless LLC v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n" on Justia Law
Daufuskie v. SC Office of Regulatory Staff
Daufuskie Island Utility Company (DIUC) again appealed decisions by the Public Service Commission (PSC) regarding DIUC's 2015 application for ratemaking. In the PSC's first two decisions, it granted only part of the 109% rate increase requested by DIUC. DIUC appealed both decisions, and both times, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the PSC for further consideration. On the final remand, the parties entered a settlement agreement allowing DIUC to recover rates equivalent to the 109% rate increase it initially requested in 2015. However, the parties continued to disagree over the propriety of DIUC's additional request to retroactively recover the 109% rate increase from the date of the PSC's first order, rather than from the date of the PSC's acceptance of the settlement agreement. The PSC rejected DIUC's request for the "reparations surcharge," finding it would amount to impermissible retroactive ratemaking. The propriety of the reparations surcharge was the only matter at issue in this appeal. The Supreme Court found the General Assembly did not authorize the PSC to grant utilities relief via a reparations surcharge, and the PSC therefore correctly rejected DIUC's request. The Court found DIUC chose not to avail itself of South Carolina Code section 58-5-240(D)'s statutory remedy prior to this final appeal. Accordingly, the PSC's decision was affirmed and the Court "end[ed] this lengthy ratemaking process." View "Daufuskie v. SC Office of Regulatory Staff" on Justia Law
Washington County Water Co., Inc. v. City of Sparta
The Agriculture Act of 1961 authorized the USDA to provide loans to rural water associations; 7 U.S.C. 1926(b) prohibits municipalities and others from selling water in an area that a USDA-indebted rural water association has “provided or made available” its service. To be entitled to section 1926(b) protection, the rural water association must have the physical capability to provide service to the disputed area and a legal right to do so under state law.Washington County Water Company (WCWC), a rural water association, sells water to several southern Illinois counties adjacent to Coulterville. In 2019, due to the deteriorating state of its water treatment facility, Coulterville considered buying water from either WCWC or the City of Sparta. Coulterville decided to buy water from Sparta because it was not convinced that WCWC could provide enough water to satisfy its residents’ demand.WCWC filed suit, alleging that section 1926(b) prohibited Sparta from selling water to Coulterville because WCWC had made its service available to Coulterville. The district court granted Sparta summary judgment, holding that WCWC was not entitled to section 1926(b) protection because it did not have a legal right to provide water to Coulterville under Illinois law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. WCWC’s contractual capacity is less than its maximum average daily demand plus the required 20 percent reserve as required by state law. WCWC’s failed to secure admissible evidence of its ability to expand its water supply capabilities. View "Washington County Water Co., Inc. v. City of Sparta" on Justia Law