Articles Posted in Utilities Law

by
In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the language of the utility service facilities exception ("Utility Exception") to governmental immunity contained in the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act ("Tort Claims Act"). The Commonwealth Court concluded that where a dangerous condition of the facilities of a utility system is created by the negligent action or inaction of a local agency or its employees, the Utility Exception did not apply. Because the Commonwealth Court misconstrued both the Utility Exception and the gravamen of the lawsuit in question, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Metropolitan Edison v. City of Reading" on Justia Law

by
On Friday, January 9, 2009, after business hours, an unidentified motor vehicle crashed into and felled a utility pole carrying electric lines owned and operated by Duquesne Light. Several wires were connected to Burton L. Hirsh’s Funeral Home, and at least one was stripped from the attachment point to the building’s electrical system located on the structure. In addition to the funeral home, a number of other local buildings lost power as a result of the incident, although no structure other than Hirsh’s was connected directly to the downed pole. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review, as framed by appellant, was “[w]hether the Superior Court erred in imposing upon electric utilities a burdensome and unprecedented duty to enter customers’ premises and inspect customers’ electrical facilities before restoring power after an outage” The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court, finding that Duquesne Light failed to adequately confront the common-law duties invoked by Hirsh or the warnings dynamic tempering the Superior Court’s ruling. The Superior Court did not err to the extent that it recognized a duty, on the part of an electric service provider, to take reasonable measures to avert harm in a scenario in which the utility has actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition impacting a customer’s electrical system, occasioned by fallen and intermixed electrical lines proximate to the customer’s premises. The Court offered no opinion as to whether Duquesne Light had actual or constructive knowledge of an unreasonable risk in this scenario, since the electric company’s summary judgment effort was not staged in a manner which would have elicited an informed determination on such point. View "Alderwoods (PA), Inc. v. Duquesne Light" on Justia Law

by
The primary question this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether a municipal authority could exercise its eminent domain powers to condemn an easement over privately-owned land, where the sole purpose of the easement is to supply a private developer with land to install sewer drainage facilities needed for a proposed private residential subdivision. "While this determination may seem to interfere with the ability of municipal water and/or sewer authorities to expand their operations under circumstances where, as here, there is an overarching nexus between the taking and private development, it is not this Court’s function to ameliorate such difficulties by departing from the statutory text. [. . .] The Legislature’s decision to exempt regulated public utilities, but not municipal authorities, from the preclusive rule set forth in Section 204(a) demonstrates that it intended to allow – within constitutional limitations – the continued use of eminent domain for the provision of public services such as water and sewer access in tandem with private development for a limited, defined class of condemnors. As RAWA is not within that class, its condemnation of the drainage easement is in violation of PRPA." View "Reading Area Wat Auth v. Schuyl River Grwy, et al" on Justia Law

by
The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this case centered on the limits of the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) authority to allocate costs associated with a rail-highway crossing project. The Commonwealth Court held that the Commission could not allocate costs to a transportation utility that regularly uses a railroad-crossing site and does not own real estate or properties there. The Commission and Intervenors argued that the PUC has broad discretion not only to determine the allocation of costs to "concerned parties," but also to determine which parties are "concerned" in the first instance. Counterbalancing the Commission's and Intervenors' remarks about equities, Norfolk Southern Railway questioned why it should contribute to the remediation of deteriorating infrastructure over which it had no control. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that a transportation utility need not own facilities at a rail-highway crossing to be a concerned party for purposes of the PUC's cost-allocation jurisdiction and authority, at least where the utility conducts regular operations at the crossing and may enforce an easement-based right of way. View "Norfolk Southern Railway v. PUC" on Justia Law