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Court rules in favor of steel company in dispute

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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed Tuesday the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission's grant of summary judgment in favor of a steel production facility in a contract dispute involving a public utility. Before ruling on the summary judgment, the high court first had to decide which standard of review to use.

In Northern Indiana Public Service Co. v. United States Steel Corp., No. 93S02-0809-EX-489, the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. and United States Steel Corp. disagreed on the application of a price adjustment provision based on a 1999 contract. NIPSCO believed it applied to both an energy charge and demand charge; U.S. Steel believed it only applied to the energy charge. The IURC approved the original contract based on a settlement agreement and contract for electric industrial power service submitted to the agency. U.S. Steel filed a complaint seeking to enforce its interpretation of the contract in 2006 and filed for summary judgment; the commission granted the motion. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.

NIPSCO wanted the Supreme Court to apply a de novo standard because the case involves summary judgment and a question of law. It argued the appeal isn't the product of a regulatory settlement but a contract dispute between two private parties.

The commission approved the contract, effectively making it an order of the commission, so when ruling on the summary judgment motion, that means the IURC interpreted its own order, not a contract, wrote Chief Justice Randal T. Shephard. Approving such contracts and resolving disputes is intrinsic to the commission's regulation of utility rates, he wrote.

Agencies, such as the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, aren't judicial bodies, but are executive branch institutions which the General Assembly has empowered with delegated duties. Adjudication by an agency deserves a higher level of deference than a summary judgment order by a trial court falling squarely within the judicial branch, so the high court applied the established standard for judicial review of commission orders, he wrote.

Using that standard of review, the high court ruled 4-1 the IURC didn't err in interpreting the contract. The commission determined that other documents the parties executed at the same time as the contract, but didn't submit to the commission, couldn't be used to explain, expand, or vary the contract's terms because the contract wasn't ambiguous.

NIPSCO argued adjustment applies to both the energy charge and demand charge, but the commission rejected its argument, finding the utility misapplied the adjustment based on the agreed upon contract terms and rates approved by the commission. NIPSCO's argument on appeal doesn't persuade the justices that the IURC's interpretation of the contract was unreasonable. Justice Frank Sullivan dissented without an opinion, because he would have denied transfer believing the Court of Appeals' conclusion was correct.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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