Justia Class Action Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Utilities Law
Tyngsboro Sports II Solar, LLC v. National Grid USA Service Co., Inc.
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
Campbell v. Davidson
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for Defendants and denying relief in this class action, holding that the district court did not err.In 2014, over two-thirds of the members of the Try County Telephone Association, Inc., a Wyoming cooperative utility providing telecommunication services on a non-profit basis, voted to sell the Cooperative, including its for-profit subsidiaries, to entities owned by Neil Schlenker. Schlenker converted the Cooperative into a for-profit corporation (TCT). After the sale, Class Representatives filed a class action lawsuit against TCT, Schlenker and his entities, and others, alleging fraud conversion and other claims and requesting that the sale be set aside. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did nor err in granting summary judgment on all claims. View "Campbell v. Davidson" on Justia Law
Mosaic Baybrook One, L.P. v. Simien
In this dispute over a "Water/Sewer Base Fee" that Landlords billed tenants each month to recover certain amounts it had paid the municipal utility district the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment in Tenant's favor and the court of appeals' judgment affirming the trial court's order certifying a class under Rule 24 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, holding that there was no error.Tenant brought suit against Landlords challenging a fee that included not only each apartment's allocated portion of the utility's customer service charge for water and sewer service but also an undisclosed amount equivalent to a portion of the utility's charges for non-water emergency services. Tenant sued under the Water Code on behalf of a tenant class. The trial court granted Landlords' motion for partial summary judgment on liability and certified a class. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court (1) did not err in granting partial summary judgment; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class. View "Mosaic Baybrook One, L.P. v. Simien" on Justia Law
Altic USA, Inc. v. City of Gurdon ex rel. Honorable Kelley
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and dismissed in part the order of the circuit court certifying the City of Gurdon's class-action lawsuit alleging that Suddenlink Communications unlawfully charged Gurdon and other cities in the state three fees for the cities' use of Suddenlink's services, holding that there was no error.Suddenlink, which provided telephone, internet, and cable services to Gurdon, assessed a 911 fee, an Arkansas High-Cost Fund Fee, and a franchise fee. Gurdon brought this action alleging that the imposition of the fees against the City was unlawful. Gurdon then filed a motion for class certification. The circuit court granted the motion. Suddenlink appealed the certification as well as the circuit court's refusal to first address Suddenlink's pending motion to compel arbitration before certifying the class. The Supreme Court dismissed in part and affirmed in part, holding (1) the arbitration issue was not appealable on an interlocutory basis; and (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion by certifying the class. View "Altic USA, Inc. v. City of Gurdon ex rel. Honorable Kelley" on Justia Law
Plata v. City of San Jose
Appellants Raymond and Michelle Plata were property owners in the City of San Jose and customers of Muni Water. Muni Water’s annual budget was reflected each year in a document called a source and use of funds statement, which was part of the City’s annual operating budget. In 2013, the Platas filed with the City a claim pursuant to Government Code sections 910 and 910.2, accusing Muni Water of violating Proposition 218 ab initio by collecting money from customers and illegally transferring it to the City’s own general fund. The City rejected the claim, so in early 2014, the Platas brought a class action lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the City under Proposition 218, as well as recovery of the amounts overpaid. After a lengthy bench trial, the trial court issued a statement of decision finding: (1) the late fees charged by Muni Water were not a fee or charge covered by Proposition 218; (2) any claims accruing prior to November 4, 2012 were time-barred because of the statute of limitations provided under Government Code section 911.2, and there was no basis for applying any equitable tolling doctrine; (3) as for tiered water rates, the discussion of high rates in the Platas’ government claims adequate to gave notice to the City that its rate structure was being questioned; and (4) “[a] more significant complication” raised by the City in its class decertification motion. The tiered rate structure would impact different class members differently from month to month, thus making it potentially “impossible” to draw a “line between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ based on monthly water consumption[.]” The court granted the City’s motion to decertify the class, and refused to grant the Platas any relief as to their tiered rate argument. The Platas appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed judgment only as to the trial court’s findings on the tiered rate structure. In all other respects, it was affirmed. View "Plata v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law
Kilburn-Winnie v. Town of Fortville
In July 2014, Allen‐Gregory filed a putative class action alleging that Fortville violated class members’ due process rights by terminating their water service without a hearing. Fortville revised its procedures, instituting a hearing process effective November 2014. In December 2014, the plaintiffs again sought a preliminary injunction, alleging that the new procedures did not comport with due process. The parties agreed to a settlement. In September 2015, the court approved the settlement and dismissed the case with prejudice. The settlement stated that its purpose was to “fully, finally, and forever resolve, discharge and settle all claims released herein on behalf of the named plaintiffs and the entire class.” It defined the class as “[a]ll customers of the Town of Fortville ... from July 9, 2012 through October 31, 2014 who had their water service terminated and who paid a reconnection fee,” and included an expansive, global release of all claims. Kilburn‐Winnie, a member of the class, received settlement proceeds. In November 2015, Kilburn‐Winnie filed this case alleging that Fortville disconnected her water service again for failure to timely pay her water bill in March and April of 2015 and that the hearing procedures implemented in November 2014 were so complicated and burdensome that they violated her procedural due process rights. The court granted Fortville summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; res judicata barred the claim because the parties settled a prior class action that involved the same claim. View "Kilburn-Winnie v. Town of Fortville" on Justia Law
Bellermann v. Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co.
Plaintiffs lost electric power during a major winter ice storm in 2008. Plaintiffs sued Fitchburg Gas and Electric Light Company (FG&E) and sought class certification for themselves and other residential and business customers of FG&E who were injured by FG&E’s allegedly inadequate preparation for and response to the storm. The superior court judge denied Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the denial of class certification, concluding that the asserted injuries suffered by the class members were too dissimilar. Plaintiffs then filed a renewed motion for class certification premised on an alternate theory of injury. Specifically, Plaintiffs contended that they suffered economic injury by overpaying for a level of emergency preparedness that FG&E deceptively failed to provide. The superior court judge certified two classes of FG&E customers and reported the class certification order. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the order certifying the class, holding that, under the circumstances, Plaintiffs’ assertion of overpayment for FG&E’s services did not set forth a cognizable injury under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, 9(1) and 11 and therefore did not support class certification pursuant to the statute. View "Bellermann v. Fitchburg Gas & Elec. Light Co." on Justia Law
Am. Heritage Apartments, Inc. v. Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Auth.
American Heritage Apartments, Inc., a customer of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (County Authority), filed suit both individually and as a class representative asserting that the County Authority exceeded its statutory authority by imposing a monthly charge on its customers. The County Authority sought dismissal of the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, arguing that a customer who seeks to dispute the rates charged must first follow the administrative procedures provided in the Utility District Law of 1937 (UDL). The trial court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the administrative procedures in Part 4 of the UDL do not apply to a rate challenge filed by an individual customer against a water and wastewater treatment authority, and therefore, the trial court erred in dismissing the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and (2) the trial court’s alternative ruling on class certification is vacated, and that issue is remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. View "Am. Heritage Apartments, Inc. v. Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Auth." on Justia Law
Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC
Columbia stores natural gas in Medina Field, a naturally-occurring system of porous underground rock, pumping gas into the Field during summer, during low demand, and withdrawing it during winter. Medina is among 14 Ohio gas storage fields used by Columbia. Columbia received a federal Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, 15 U.S.C. 717f, and was required to compensate those who own part of the Field by contractual agreement or eminent domain. The owners allege that Columbia stored gas for an indeterminate time without offering compensation and then offered $250 per lot. Each Medina owner rejected this offer. Columbia did not bring eminent domain proceedings. Other Ohio landowners accused Columbia of similar behavior and filed the Wilson class action in the Southern District of Ohio, including the Medina owners within the putative class. The Medina owners filed suit in the Northern District. Both actions claim trespass and unjust enrichment under Ohio law, and inverse condemnation under the Natural Gas Act. The Wilson suit also seeks damages for “native” natural gas Columbia takes when it withdraws its own gas. Columbia filed a counterclaim in Wilson, seeking to exercise eminent domain over every member of the putative class and join the Medina owners. The Northern District applied the first-to-file rule and dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The rule does apply, but dismissal was an abuse of discretion given jurisdictional and procedural hurdles to having the Medina claims heard in Wilson. View "Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC" on Justia Law
Green Valley Landowners Ass’n v. City of Vallejo
The Lakes Water System (LWS), created in the late 1800s-early 1900s, provides Vallejo with potable water. After completing a diversion dam and the Green Line for transmission, the city created two reservoirs, Lake Frey and Lake Madigan, which were soon insufficient to meet demand. The city began storing water in hills above Napa County’s Gordon Valley and constructed the Gordon transmission line. The city acquired easements from some property owners by agreeing to provide “free water.” The city also agreed to provide potable water to other nonresident customers. In the 1950s, the city obtained water rights from the Sacramento River Delta and contracted for water from the Solano Project. In 1992, water quality from Lake Curry ceased to meet standards and the city closed the Gordon Line. In 1992 the city passed an ordinance shifting the entire cost of LWS to 809 nonresident customers, so that their rates increased by 230 percent. The city passed additional rate increases in 1995 and 2009. Plaintiff, representing a purported class of nonresident LWS customers, alleges the city has grossly mismanaged and neglected LWS, placing the burden on the Class to fund a deteriorating, inefficient, and costly system, spread over an “incoherent service area” and plaintiff did not become aware of unfunded liabilities until 2013 The court of appeal affirmed dismissal; plaintiff cannot state any viable claims alleging misconduct by the city. View "Green Valley Landowners Ass'n v. City of Vallejo" on Justia Law