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Circuit Court rules utility contract falls in state jurisdiction

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A dispute between a power generator and an electricity wholesaler should be heard in the state court, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled after finding the central issues did not arise under federal law.

The appeal involves two Indiana organizations and the issue of whether a claim for breach of a long-term requirements contract for wholesale electricity is governed by federal law or state law.

Since entering into a contract in 1977, Northeastern has purchased electricity from Wabash Valley. Under terms of a contract, Northeastern agreed to pay for the electricity at rates set by the Wabash Valley board of directors, subject to approval from what is now the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.  

When Wabash Valley took action in 2004 to transfer regulation of its rates from the IURC to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Northeastern filed suit in Indiana state court seeking a declaration judgment that Wabash materially breached the original contract.

Wabash Valley removed the case to federal court on the theory that the claim for breach of contract necessarily arises under the Federal Power Act. Subsequently, the district court granted Wabash Valley’s motion for a preliminary injunction, agreeing that federal jurisdiction exists because Northeastern’s suit raises a question of federal law.

In Northeastern Rural Electric Membership Corp. v. Wabash Valley Power Association, Inc., 12-2037, the Circuit court found the dispute to be a question of state law. It vacated the preliminary junction granted by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and remanded the case so the District court may remand it to state court.

The Circuit court found Wabash Valley’s alleged breach took place before the filing of a federal tariff which means the complaint is not a federal question.

“For Northeastern to obtain its requested declaratory judgment it must show only that it has a valid contract and that Wabash Valley’s submission to the regulatory jurisdiction of FERC breached on the contract,” wrote Judge David Hamilton.. “Federal law is not at issue in either of these questions. The duty Northeastern claims Wabash Valley breached was not created by federal law or a filed tariff. And Northeastern does not seek to directly alter any duty or liability created by a filed tariff.”

 

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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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