ILNews

Court rules in favor of municipal utilities

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The state's eminent domain statute allows Indiana municipalities to acquire operations of privately owned water and sewer utilities that serve recently annexed portions of that community, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled today.

The split 3-2 decision came in Utility Center, Inc., d/b/a Aquasource v. City of Fort Wayne, Indiana, 02S04-0706-CV-248.

This case from Allen Circuit Judge Thomas Felts involves Fort Wayne's initiation of condemnation proceedings against a company operating a competing public water utility in and around the city, which also owns its own water and sewer utility. The trial court granted the city's motion for relief and denied Utility Center's, though the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in 2005.

However, the justices decided to grant transfer and have now affirmed the trial court's judgment with respect to its decision in granting summary judgment in favor of the city.

In its opinion, the court dissects specific portions of Indiana's eminent domain statute applying to utilities, weaving through history of the law and how it's organized.

Justice Frank Sullivan authored the opinion, and Justices Ted Boehm and Brent Dickson dissented. Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard concurred with a separate, two-page opinion that shows the divided court almost could have gone the other way.

"The complicated order of events in this case and the way in which the litigants have positioned themselves makes the task of statutory interpretation more difficult than usual," the chief justice wrote. "There are grounds on which I anticipated that Utility Center might prevail, but those grounds turn out not to have been part of how the situation or the litigation evolved."

Justice Boehm wrote the dissent with Justice Dickson concurring. The two justices believed the lower appellate judges ruled correctly and would have denied transfer.

"Distressed utilities would seem to be the best candidates to be acquired by a governmental entity to assure stable service," Justice Boehm wrote. "On its face, it is odd that the legislature would choose to prevent governmental acquisition of this perhaps imaginary class distressed utilities but permit it as to healthy ones."

Ten water and utility companies were amici curiae parties on this case, including Indiana-American Water Co. and Indiana Association of Sewer Companies.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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