Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utilities Law
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The case involves East Ohio Gas Company, doing business as Dominion Energy Ohio ("Dominion"), and J. William Vigrass, individually and as executor of Virginia Vigrass’s estate. Dominion had requested access to Virginia's residence to inspect the gas meter located inside. However, due to Virginia's immunocompromised state and susceptibility to COVID-19, she denied Dominion access. Despite her account being paid in full, Dominion disconnected its natural-gas service to Virginia’s residence in January 2022. The disconnection resulted in freezing temperatures inside the residence, causing the water pipes to burst and damage the property. Virginia was later found dead in her residence.In the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Vigrass sued Dominion on claims relating to the shutoff of its natural-gas service to Virginia’s residence. Dominion moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, arguing that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio had exclusive jurisdiction over the claims as they related to a service issue. However, Judge Peter J. Corrigan denied Dominion’s motion, reasoning that he had jurisdiction over the complaint because Vigrass had asserted common-law claims.Dominion then filed an original action in prohibition in the Supreme Court of Ohio, asserting that Judge Corrigan patently and unambiguously lacks jurisdiction over Vigrass’s action. Dominion sought an order to prevent Judge Corrigan from exercising jurisdiction and to vacate the orders he has issued in the underlying case.The Supreme Court of Ohio granted the writ of prohibition, ordering Judge Corrigan to cease exercising jurisdiction over the underlying case and directing him to vacate the orders that he had previously issued in the case. The court concluded that both parts of the test set forth in Allstate Ins. Co. v. Cleveland Elec. Illum. Co. were met, indicating that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio had exclusive jurisdiction over the case. The court also granted in part and denied in part Dominion's motion to strike certain parts of Vigrass's brief. View "State ex rel. E. Ohio Gas Co. v. Corrigan" on Justia Law

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This case involves an appeal from the Tenth District Court of Appeals of Ohio. The appellant is the State of Ohio, represented by the Attorney General, and the appellees are FirstEnergy Corporation, Samuel Randazzo, and a consulting company controlled by Randazzo. Randazzo, the former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), allegedly received a $4.3 million bribe from FirstEnergy Corporation. The state of Ohio filed a civil action against Randazzo and his consulting company to recover the proceeds of the bribe. The state sought attachment orders to prevent Randazzo from draining his bank and brokerage accounts. The trial court granted the state’s motion ex parte, without notice to Randazzo and his attorneys. After learning about the court's decision, Randazzo requested a hearing and moved to vacate the orders. The court held a hearing with both sides present and declined to discharge the orders of attachment. Randazzo appealed to the Tenth District Court of Appeals, which found the orders of attachment had been improperly granted. The Court of Appeals determined that the state had failed to meet its burden at the ex parte hearing to establish the irreparable injury requirement.Upon appeal by the state, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstated the orders of the trial court. The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals erred by basing its decision on the ex parte requirements. The Supreme Court ruled that the court of appeals should have reviewed the trial court's denial of the motion to vacate the attachment rather than the irreparable injury requirement for an ex parte order. The Supreme Court concluded that the proper remedy for a party dissatisfied with an ex parte attachment order is to request a hearing on the order at which both parties may be heard. It also concluded that Randazzo failed to demonstrate any prejudice from the use of improper garnishment forms. View "State ex rel. Yost v. FirstEnergy Corp." on Justia Law

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In this dispute, two renewable-energy generating companies, Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC and 201 Oak Pembroke Solar LLC, appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit after their class-action lawsuit was dismissed by the District Court for the District of Massachusetts due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The plaintiffs had a longstanding disagreement with defendants, utility companies National Grid USA Service Company, Inc. and Massachusetts Electric Company, over certain tax-related fees charged to them. The plaintiffs sought redress in federal court after unsuccessful petitions to state authorities.The plaintiffs argued that the district court had jurisdiction due to the case's connection to federal tax law, however, the appellate court disagreed, stating that the plaintiffs' complaint did not bring any claim that arose under federal law. The plaintiffs had brought forth four claims against National Grid, including a request for declaratory relief, a state-law claim for a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, a state-law claim for restitution and unjust enrichment, and a state-law claim for violating a statutory requirement that public utilities assess only just and reasonable charges.The appellate court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case, finding that the plaintiffs could not establish federal-question jurisdiction simply by asserting a state-law claim to which there was a federal defense. The court noted that the state-law claims did not necessarily raise a federal issue, and to the extent that one did, the issue was not substantial. As such, the court concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the claims. View "Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC v. National Grid USA Service Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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EBMUD, a municipal utility, provides water and wastewater services to the residents of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The plaintiffs have paid for EBMUD water service since before July 2018. In 2017, EBMUD adopted the water rates for fiscal years 2018 and 2019; in July 2019, EBUMD adopted the rates for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The plaintiffs alleged EBMUD determines the cost of service based on the volume of water used. There are three tiers of water usage; each successive tier is charged a higher rate than the previous tier. They allege that this rate structure violates the requirement of the California Constitution article XIII D, 6(b)(3) that the amount charged for water service shall not exceed the proportional cost of the service attributable to the parcel.In July 2019, plaintiffs mailed EBMUD a claim under the Government Claims Act, seeking a refund of service charges collected in violation of section 6(b) since July 17, 2018. In January 2020, after the statutory time period for response had lapsed, plaintiffs filed suit. The court of appeal affirmed dismissal without leave to amend, citing the 120-day statute of limitations (Public Utilities Code section 14402). Plaintiffs cannot avoid the statute of limitations by characterizing their claim as merely seeking a refund of excess fees. The complaint frames a challenge to the “disproportionate rate structure.” Any time requirements imposed by the Government Claims Act did not extend the limitations period. View "Campana v. East Bay Municipal Utility District" on Justia Law

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Otter Tail Power Company provided electric service to the City of Drayton, North Dakota under a franchise agreement. In August 2019, Drayton annexed to the city property known as McFarland’s Addition. In November 2019, an entity purchased a portion of McFarland’s Addition with the intention of building a truck stop. In April 2020, Drayton passed a resolution requiring Otter Tail to provide electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak Electric Coop provided service to rural customers outside of Drayton, and did not provide services to customers in McFarland’s Addition. Nodak did not have a franchise from Drayton to provide electric service in the city. Nodak filed suit against Otter Tail, requesting the Public Service Commission to prohibit Otter Tail from extending electric service to McFarland’s Addition. Nodak alleged Otter Tail’s service would interfere with Nodak’s existing service and be an unreasonable duplication of services. In response, Otter Tail claimed the PSC lacked jurisdiction over Drayton’s decision on which provider could extend service within the city. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the PSC lacked jurisdiction to rule on Nodak’s complaint, and reversed and vacated the PSC’s order: Otter Tail’s motion to dismiss should have been granted. View "Nodak Electric Coop. v. N.D. Public Svc. Commission, et al." on Justia Law

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The Adorers, an order of nuns whose religious beliefs require them “to protect and preserve Earth,” own property in Pennsylvania. When Transco notified them that it was designing a 42-inch diameter interstate gas pipeline to cross their property, the Adorers explained that they would not sell a right-of-way through their property. Transco sought a certificate of public convenience and necessity. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) published notices and hosted open meetings to discuss the pipeline. The Adorers neither provided comments nor attended meetings. When FERC contacted the Adorers directly, they remained silent. Transco altered the pipeline’s route 132 times in response to public comment. FERC issued the requested certificate, which authorized Transco to use eminent domain to take rights-of-way 15 U.S.C. 717f(c)(1)(A). Transco sought an order of condemnation to take rights-of-way in the Adorers’ property. The Adorers failed to respond to the complaint.Days after the district court granted Transco default judgment, the Adorers sought an injunction under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-1(c). The Third Circuit rejected the Adorers’ contention that RFRA permitted them to assert their claim in federal court rather than before FERC. After the pipeline was put into service, the Adorers sought damages under RFRA. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. To permit a party to reserve a claim, the success of which would imperil a FERC decision to certify an interstate pipeline, by remaining silent during the FERC proceedings and raising the claim in separate litigation would contravene the Natural Gas Act’s exclusive review framework. View "Adorers of the Blood of Christ United States Province v. Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) ordered Altice, a cable service provider, to prorate its bills for the month in which a cable customer cancels his service, as required by New Jersey law. In federal court, Altice argued that the Proration Requirement is preempted by the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984.The district court granted Altice judgment on the pleadings, concluding that “Younger” abstention was not warranted and that the Proration Requirement was preempted. The Third Circuit vacated. The Younger ruling was incorrect. BPU’s civil enforcement proceeding was quasi-criminal in nature and, thus, the type of proceeding to which Younger applies. BPU commenced the action against Altice by filing a formal complaint, a Show Cause Order with attributes similar to the filing of formal charges, and did so in its sovereign capacity. The proceeding was judicial in nature and ongoing when the federal complaint was filed; the proceeding implicates important state interests; and Altice has an adequate opportunity to raise its federal claims in the state proceeding. View "Altice USA Inc v. New Jersey Board of Public Utilities" on Justia Law

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Following severe cold weather in January 2014, Old Dominion, a nonprofit electric utility that serves customers in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, unsuccessfully sought to recover certain electricity generation costs from PJM, a “regional transmission organization” that operates the electrical grid in a defined geographic area, in an administrative proceeding before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Old Dominion filed suit in Virginia state court, pursuing four putative state law claims, seeking the same relief unsuccessfully claimed before FERC. PJM removed the case, arguing that the complaint contests electricity transmission rates set forth in PJM’s federally filed tariff and that the district court was vested with federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1331.The district court denied Old Dominion’s remand motion and dismissed each of its claims with prejudice, as effectively challenging the terms of PJM’s federal tariff. The court concluded that the “filed-rate doctrine” barred it from awarding damages on Old Dominion’s claims. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Old Dominion’s claims necessarily present a substantial question of federal law by seeking relief precluded by the PJM Tariff, asking a state court to fix a reasonable tariffed rate applicable only to the utility’s 2014 losses, and effectively challenging the terms and enforceability of the Tariff’s rate cap. The district court correctly dismissed those claims. View "Old Dominion Electric Cooperative v. PJM Interconnection, LLC" on Justia Law