ILNews

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. 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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