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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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