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First impression in utility fee case

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In a matter of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals had to determine whether the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission properly reviewed the rates and fees charged by a regional sewage district at the request of a campground owner.

LaGrange County Regional Utility District v. Jerry and Sandy Bubb, owners of Gordon's Campground, No. 93A02-0905-EX-442, was the first time a campground owner utilized a 2005 statute that let an owner request the IURC review the fees charged by certain regional utility districts, including regional sewage districts.

Indiana Code Section 13-26-11-2.1 also provides when a request is made, the IURC's appeals division (CAD) will conduct an informal review, including a "prompt and thorough investigation of the dispute."

The Bubbs sent a letter to the IURC in March 2006 asking for a review of rates charged by LaGrange County Regional Utility District. In April, the CAD director informed LaGrange's attorney she would be handling the review and the process would be governed by 170 Administrative Code 8.5-2-5 (the rule). Nearly a year later, the CAD director sent a letter to LaGrange saying it received the complaint from the Bubbs and would conduct an informal review pursuant to statute. LaGrange filed a motion to dismiss in April 2007 because it believed the IURC no longer had jurisdiction over the dispute because it didn't complete the review in a timely manner as required by statute or the rule. The motion was denied and in November 2008, the CAD determined LaGrange overcharged the Bubbs and the utility was ordered to reimburse them the difference between the appropriate rate and the rate paid from March 2006 until the order.

On appeal, LaGrange again argued IURC lost jurisdiction because it didn't act in a timely matter pursuant to statute and the rule. The Court of Appeals determined the rule, which specified the timeframe of a review, didn't apply to the IURC because it failed to adopt the rule. Even though the CAD director originally told LaGrange's attorney the rule would apply, the IURC isn't estopped from arguing the rule is inapplicable. LaGrange failed to show it detrimentally relied on the director's statement, wrote Chief Judge John Baker.

The Court of Appeals also found the CAD review and disposition was conducted in a timely manner pursuant to the statute. Even though the dispute could have been handled more quickly than 32 months after the Bubbs originally filed the complaint, there is no specific timeframe within the statute in which the CAD must investigate a complaint and issue an informal disposition. The statute doesn't also say the IURC loses jurisdiction if the CAD fails to resolve the dispute in a timely manner, wrote the chief judge.

The appellate court relied on Hancock County Rural Elec. Membership Corp. v. City of Greenfield, 494 N.E.2d 1294, 1295 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986), because the statutes in either case don't contain language that restrains the IURC from acting if the CAD fails to conduct a prompt investigation, wrote Chief Judge Baker. Also, the statute in the instant case doesn't provide for an adverse consequence or say that the IURC loses jurisdiction if the CAD doesn't conduct a prompt investigation.

If the IURC lost jurisdiction because the CAD failed to complete a timely investigation, that would frustrate the purpose of the statute, he continued. If the IURC was without jurisdiction in the instant case, then the Bubbs would have no recourse to recover the excessive fees.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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