Justia Utilities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas
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The Supreme Court denied mandamus relief in this action considering whether an electric utility may compel a plaintiff who alleges a common law personal injury claim to appear before the Public Utility Commission before appearing in court, holding that the Commission may not do so unless the claim complains about the utility's rates or its provision of electrical service.This was a personal injury claim against a utility arising under duties at common law and consumer protection statutes. Plaintiff alleged well-settled elements of a negligence claim, but his allegations did not rely on a utility acting in its regulated capacity, nor on a disruption of or failure to provide electrical service. At issue was whether the action was a regulatory action within the auspices of the Commission. The Supreme Court denied the utility's petition for writ of mandamus asking the trial court to abate the case to require Plaintiff to exhaust his administrative remedies before the Commission, holding that this action was not a regulatory action within the auspices of the Commission. View "In re Oncor Electric Delivery Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Data Foundry, Inc., an internet service provider, had standing to bring its claims but affirming the trial court's dismissal of Data Foundry's claims in part on other grounds, holding that the court of appeals erred by affirming portions of the trial court's judgment.The City of Austin sets the rates that Austin Energy, an electric utility owned by the City, charged to Austin residents for retail electric services. Data Foundry, which purchased electricity from Austin Energy, brought this action alleging that the rates charged by the City were illegal. The trial court granted the City's motion to dismiss on the ground that Data Foundry lacked standing because it failed to allege it had suffered a particularized injury. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal on other grounds. The Supreme Court remanded all of Data Foundry's claims to the trial court for further proceedings, holding (1) Data Foundry had standing to bring its claims; (2) the court of appeals correctly reversed the dismissal of some of Data Foundry's claims, including its common-law and constitutional claims; and (3) the court of appeals erred by affirming portions of the trial court's judgment on other grounds. View "Data Foundry, Inc. v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court upholding the determination of the Public Utility Commission that Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) met its burden of establishing that its decision to build a power plant was a prudent one and allowing SWEPCO to include the plant's construction costs in its utility rates, holding that the court of appeals erred.In reversing, the court of appeals concluded that the Commission had used an improper standard for assessing SWEPCO's decision to complete construction of the plant and that, because SWEPCO did not produce independent expert testimony, the Commission's decision was without a proper basis. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Commission properly applied its standard in evaluating SWEPCO's decision to complete construction; and (2) substantial evidence supported the Commission's decision. View "Public Utility Commission of Texas v. Texas Industrial Energy Consumers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed these two petitions - one for writ of mandamus and the other for review - arising from a lawsuit that thirteen Panda Power companies (collectively, Panda) filed against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT), holding that this Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the petitions.Panda sued ERCOT and three of its officers for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty. ERCOT filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the Public Utility Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over Panda's claims. The trial court denied the motion. ERCOT appealed and, as an alternative, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, arguing that sovereign immunity barred Panda's claims. The court of appeals (1) dismissed ERCOT's interlocutory appeal for want of jurisdiction, holding that ERCOT was not a governmental unit under the Tort Claims Act; but (2) granted ERCOT's mandamus petition, holding that sovereign immunity applied and barred Panda's claims. The Supreme Court dismissed both the mandamus petition and the petition for review, holding that the trial court's entry of a final judgment rendered this causes arising from the interlocutory order moot. View "In re Panda Power Infrastructure Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court affirming the conclusions of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that CPS Energy violated both Tex. Util. Code 54.204(c)'s uniform-charge requirement and section 54.204(b)'s prohibition of discrimination, holding that the PUC could reasonably have concluded, as it did, that CPS Energy violated the plain terms of section 54.204(b).The PUC concluded that a utility that invoices different telecommunications providers a uniform rate nevertheless violates section 54.204(b) if it fails to take timely action to ensure that all pole attachers actually pay the uniform rate it invoices. The court of appeals reversed, holding that if a telecommunications provider does not pay the rate the utility uniformly charges, any discriminatory effect is the telecommunication provider's fault, not the utility's. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the PUC's finding that CPS Energy failed to make any serious or meaningful effort to collect from AT&T Texas was supported by substantial evidence, and the effect on Time Warner Cable was clearly discriminatory. View "Time Warner Cable Texas LLC v. CPS Energy" on Justia Law

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The pro-forma provision in the tariff in this case, which set the rates and terms for a utility’s relationship with its retail customers, did not conflict with a prior franchise agreement, which reflected the common law rule requiring utilities to pay public right-of-way relocation costs, or the common law, and the franchise agreement controlled as to the relocation costs at issue.At issue was whether the City of Richardson or Oncor Electric Delivery Company must pay relocation costs to accommodate changes to public rights-of-way. The City negotiated a franchise agreement with Oncor requiring Oncor to bear the costs of relocating its equipment and facilities to accommodate changes to public rights-of-way, but Oncor refused to pay such costs. While the relocation dispute was pending, Oncor filed a case with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) seeking to alter its rates. The case was settled, and the resulting rate change was filed as a tariff with the PUC. The City enacted an ordinance consistent with the tariff, which included the pro-forma provision at issue. The Supreme Court held that the provision in the tariff did not conflict with the franchise contract’s requirement that Oncor pay the right-of-way relocation costs at issue. View "City of Richardson v. Oncor Electric Delivery Co." on Justia Law

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In 2002, the Public Utilities Regulatory Act (PURA) implemented a competitive retail market for electricity in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Each incumbent, vertically integrated electric utility within the market was required to unbundle its business activities into separate units, including a transmission and distribution utility (TDU). Of the units, only TDUs continued to be regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Here, several parties to a TDU ratemaking proceeding sought judicial review of the PUC’s order. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals, holding (1) PURA section 36.351, which requires electric electric utilities to discount charges for service provided to state college and university facilities, does not apply to TDUs; (2) former PURA section 36.060(a), which required an electric utility’s income taxes to be computed as though it had filed a consolidated return with a group of its affiliates eligible to do so under federal tax law, did not require a utility to adopt a corporate structure so as to be part of the group; and (3) the evidence in this matter established that franchise charges negotiated by the TDU with various municipalities were reasonable and necessary operating expenses under PURA section 33.008. View "Oncor Electric Delivery Co. v. Public Utility Commission of Texas" on Justia Law