Dobson Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma Corporation Comm.

Dobson Telephone Company appealed the Oklahoma Corporation Commission's denial of its application for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Universal Services Fund for expenses incurred when it was ordered by the State Department of Transportation to relocate its telephone lines within the public right-of-way of a State construction project. The issue in this appeal concerned the Commission's legal interpretation of the Oklahoma Universal Service Fund ("OUSF") statute and the alleged arbitrary and capricious denial of funding in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution. In support of its decision to deny Dobson's requested funding, the Commission's majority found that Dobson failed to produce sufficient evidence into the record. Despite acknowledging that its "Administrator was afforded, and took advantage of, the opportunity to perform a 'review of the Application, contractor's invoices, internal invoices, construction drawings, pre-engineering plans, work orders, plans and maps, timesheets, reimbursement checks, contracts, responses to data requests, relevant Oklahoma Statutes,' its own administrative rules regarding the OUSF," the Commission ignored the Administrator's finding that the documents provided by Dobson supported its request for funding. Dobson argued, and the Commission did not dispute, that the Commission's own rules and long-standing practices encouraged applicants to retain its confidential supporting materials on site, making such materials available for review and inspection as needed to support an application. In fact, Commission rule, OAC 165:59-3-72(d), specifically contemplates that "documentation not contained in the public record and not filed in the cause" may nevertheless be "relied upon by the OUSF Administrator in approving or denying an application." The Administrator disclosed that the Commission does not even have procedures in place that would allow it to handle "the responsibility or liability" of receiving such confidential materials. The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined the Commission majority's disapproval of the policy behind the OUSF legislation had no bearing on the validity of an applicant's request for funding. The Court agreed with the dissenting Commissioner that it was the Court's duty to uphold legislation as it was enacted: although the Commission was not bound by the Administrator's recommendation, the Supreme Court found the record reflected ample evidence with which to support the Administrator's determination. The Administrator, as well as the dissenting Commissioner, both agreed Dobson was entitled to reimbursement of the increased costs it incurred as a result of ODOT's mandate to relocate the telephone lines. The Commission's wholesale denial of Dobson's request was in error. View "Dobson Telephone Co. v. Oklahoma Corporation Comm." on Justia Law