Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utilities Law

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Colorado law required electricity generators to ensure that 20% of the electricity they sell to Colorado consumers comes from renewable sources. Colorado's scheme may require Coloradans to pay more for electricity, but voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot initiative proposing the renewable energy mandate. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether "Colorado's renewable energy mandate survive an encounter with the most dormant doctrine in dormant commerce clause jurisprudence." The Energy and Environment Legal Institute (EELI) argued that Colorado consumers receive their electricity from an interconnected grid serving eleven states and portions of Canada and Mexico. Because electricity could go anywhere on the grid and come from anywhere on the grid, and because Colorado was a net importer of electricity, Colorado's renewable energy mandate effectively meant some out-of-state coal producers, like an EELI member, would lose business with out-of-state utilities who fed their power onto the grid. And this harm to out-of-state coal producers, EELI argued, amounted to a violation of one of the three branches of dormant commerce clause jurisprudence. Therefore, EELI sought to have the mandate declared unconstitutional. In the end, the district court disagreed with EELI's assessment and after review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed too, and affirmed that court's judgment. View "Energy & Environment Legal v. Epel" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Randy Howard sought to bring a class action suit against Ferrellgas Partners, LP in federal district court for allegedly overcharging him and other customers. Ferrellgas moved to force plaintiff to pursue his individual claim alone, in arbitration, arguing that arbitration was the procedure the parties had agreed to. The district court was unable to conclude that the parties agreed to arbitrate. Rather than proceed to trial as the Federal Arbitation Act required, the district court entered an order denying arbitration outright. The Tenth Circuit concluded that denial was error: "When it's apparent from a quick look at the case that no material disputes of fact exist, it may be permissible and efficient for a district court to decide the arbitration question as a matter of law through motions practice and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing arbitration. . . . Parties should not have to endure years of waiting and exhaust legions of photocopiers in discovery and motions practice merely to learn where their dispute will be heard. The Act requires courts process the venue question quickly so the parties can get on with the merits of their dispute in the right forum. It calls for a summary trial — not death by discovery." View "Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners, et al" on Justia Law

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Robert Madrid worked for Petitioner Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) as a bill collector. "Angered by a particularly obstinate customer," and without permission, Madrid drove to the customer's home and disconnected the customer's gas service. It would later be determined that the customer was not a customer of PNM. PNM fired Madrid. Madrid responded by filing a grievance against PNM with his union, arguing that Madrid's termination violated its collective bargaining agreement with the Company. In making its argument, the union hypothesized that PNM treated Madrid more harshly than other employees guilty of similar conduct. The union sent PNM three discovery requests for documents to prove its hypothesis. Those requests became the subject of the appeal before the Tenth Circuit, as PNM refused to comply. An ALJ determined that PNM had engaged in an unfair labor practice, and ordered the Company to comply with the discovery requests. The National Labor Relations board adopted the ALJ's decision. PNM appealed the Board's order, and the Board cross-petitioned to have its order enforced. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit was unpersuaded by PNM's arguments on appeal, and affirmed the Board's decision. View "Public Service CO of NM v. NLRB" on Justia Law