Justia Utilities Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
Southern Ariz. Home Builders Ass’n v. Town of Marana
The Supreme Court held that the Town of Marana violated Ariz. Rev. Stat. 9-463.05 by assigning the entire cost of upgraded and expanded wastewater treatment facilities to future homeowners through development impact fees.\Applying the Home Builders Ass'n of Central Ariz. v. City of Scottsdale, 187 Ariz. 479 (1997), the court ruled that the development impact fees bore a presumption of validity and that section 9-463.05 was satisfied because the development fees resulted in a beneficial use to the development. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the court of appeals and reversed the trial court, holding (1) in applying section 9-463.05 as amended, the court of appeals erroneously applied from City of Scottsdale a presumption of validity to the Town's assessment of development fees; and (2) the Town violated section 9-463.05 by making future development bear 100 percent of the cost of acquiring the wastewater treatment facility and bearing nearly all of the cost of upgrading, modernizing, and improving the facility. View "Southern Ariz. Home Builders Ass'n v. Town of Marana" on Justia Law
State Dep’t of Natural Resources & Conservation v. Avista Corp.
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed I'm part the order of the district court granting summary judgment to the State and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (State) regarding interpretation of a settlement agreement between the parties, holding that the district court erred by reaching the merits of a nonjusticiable issue.In this case stemming from settled litigation between the parties involving the State's rent claims against utility companies for use of riverbed acreage occupied by their hydroelectric projects. On appeal, defendant Avista Corporation argued that the district court erred in concluding that the agreement's provision governing a conditional reduction of rent would not provide a retroactive credit for past rent paid by Avista. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) a portion of the district court's order must be reversed as being unripe and constituting an advisory opinion about speculative issues that may never arise; and (2) the district court properly declared that "Avista [was] required to continue to pay the annual full market rental rate as set forth in the Settlement, Consent Judgment, and Lease." View "State Dep't of Natural Resources & Conservation v. Avista Corp." on Justia Law
Ohio Power Co. v. Burns
In this dispute over whether Ohio Power Company, a private agency authorized to appropriate property under Ohio Rev. Code 163.01(B) and (C), was entitled to any of the necessary presumptions set forth in Ohio Rev. Code 163.09(B)(1) in establishing the necessity of easements through eminent domain to upgrade electric transmission lines, the Supreme Court held that the court of appeals properly reversed the trial court's determination that the appropriations at issue were necessary.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the term "appropriation" in Ohio Rev. Code 163.09(B)(1) means the appropriation of the "parcel or contiguous parcels in a single common ownership, or interest or right therein," as identified in the petition filed by an agency under Ohio Rev. Code 163.05; (2) because neither Ohio Power's board of directors nor the Ohio Siting Board reviewed the appropriations Ohio Power was not entitled to a rebuttable presumption under section 163.09(B)(1)(a) or an irrebuttable presumption under section 163.09(B)(1)(c); and (3) Ohio Power was entitled to a rebuttable presumption under section 163.09(B)(1)(b) because it provided evidence of the necessity for the appropriations. The Court remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Ohio Power Co. v. Burns" on Justia Law
Cove at Little Valley Homeowners Ass’n v. Traverse Ridge Special Service District
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court dismissing this case claiming that the Traverse Ridge Special Service District needed either to stop charging members The Cove at Little Valley Homeowners Association for services it had never provided or to start plowing snow from private roads in front of homes in the Cove, holding that the district court erred in part.The Service District filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim because the Draper City Code did not require it to service private roads and because the Homeowners Association needed to bring its challenge in a manner dictated by the Utah Tax Code. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Cove's first cause of action but reversed its dismissal of the second reversed in part, holding that the district court erred when it concluded that the assessment its members paid to the Service District was a tax as a matter of law. View "Cove at Little Valley Homeowners Ass'n v. Traverse Ridge Special Service District" on Justia Law
City of Baytown v. Schrock
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court against Landlord and in favor of the City of Baytown in this dispute over unpaid utility bills, holding that Landlord's challenge to the City's enforcement action failed to show the intentional taking or damage for public use necessary to establish a constitutional right to compensation.In this action, Landlord alleging that the City's withholding of utility service to collect payment resulted in the loss of a tenant and the disrepair of his property and was a taking in violation of the state or federal constitution. The trial court concluded that Landlord did not establish an intentional taking of private property for public use. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the City's utility enforcement actions did not establish a regulatory taking of private property as a matter of law. View "City of Baytown v. Schrock" on Justia Law
Consumers Energy Company v. Storm
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
Appeal of Town of Chester et al.
Petitioners, the Towns of Chester and Hudson (collectively, Towns), appealed a Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) order granting respondent Public Service Company of New Hampshire d/b/a Eversource Energy (PSNH) abatements of taxes assessed against its property located in Chester for tax years 2014 and 2016 and in Hudson for tax years 2014, 2015, and 2016. PSNH submitted an appraisal report prepared by its expert, Concentric Energy Advisors, Inc., setting forth the expert’s opinion of the aggregate fair market value of PSNH’s taxable property located in each municipality for each tax year. Two appraisers employed by the Towns’ expert, George E. Sansoucy, P.E., LLC (GES), used a substantially similar methodology in appraising the fair market value of the land interests. The BTLA compared the equalized market value to the aggregate assessed value for each municipality for each tax year. The BTLA concluded that an assessment was unreasonable and granted an abatement when it determined that the difference between the equalized market value and the aggregate assessed value was greater than five percent. The Towns argued that because both GES and Concentric relied upon the assessed value of PSNH’s land interests in reaching their opinions of fair market value, the values that the BTLA incorporated into its analysis “were already proportionate” and “should not have had the equalization ratio[s] applied to them.” The BTLA denied the Towns’ motion for reconsideration, noting that it based its calculations upon values that “were supplied by the [Towns] themselves in the stipulations agreed to by them” and adopting the arguments PSNH raised in its objection. Finding no reversible error in the BTLA's order, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Town of Chester et al." on Justia Law
Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo
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
PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey
Under the Natural Gas Act, to build an interstate pipeline, a natural gas company must obtain from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) a certificate of "public convenience and necessity,” 15 U.S.C. 717f(e). A 1947 amendment, section 717f(h), authorized certificate holders to exercise the federal eminent domain power. FERC granted PennEast a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a 116-mile pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. Challenges to that authorization remain pending. PennEast sought to exercise the federal eminent domain power to obtain rights-of-way along the pipeline route, including land in which New Jersey asserts a property interest. New Jersey asserted sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit concluded that PennEast was not authorized to condemn New Jersey’s property.The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that New Jersey’s appeal is not a collateral attack on the FERC order. Section 717f(h) authorizes FERC certificate holders to condemn all necessary rights-of-way, whether owned by private parties or states, and is consistent with established federal government practice for the construction of infrastructure, whether by government or through a private company.States may be sued only in limited circumstances: where the state expressly consents; where Congress clearly abrogates the state’s immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment; or if it has implicitly agreed to suit in “the structure of the original Constitution.” The states implicitly consented to private condemnation suits when they ratified the Constitution, including the eminent domain power, which is inextricably intertwined with condemnation authority. Separating the two would diminish the federal eminent domain power, which the states may not do. View "PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey" on Justia Law
In re Texas-New Mexico Power Co.
The Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of mandamus sought by Texas-New Mexico Power Co. (TNM) in this negligence action, holding that Plaintiffs' claim was not one within the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) exclusive original jurisdiction because it was not about TNM's operations and services as a utility.Plaintiffs, a larger number of homeowners near the Junemann Bayou and Las Marque, sued TNM, their electric utility, for damages due to flooding during Hurricane Harvey, alleging that TNM was negligent in not requiring its contractor to secure wooden mats to the ground during a construction project. The trial court denied TNM's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and TNM petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that the PUC's exclusive original jurisdiction did not extend to the issues underlying this tort claim. View "In re Texas-New Mexico Power Co." on Justia Law