Mobile home parks lose appeal of IURC classification

Several Kosciusko County mobile home parks lost their appeal of an Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission decision that impacted their sewer billing.

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed the IURC’s entry of summary judgment for a regional sewer district and dismissal of the parks’ appeal in Northcrest R.V. Park, et al. v. Lakeland Regional Sewer District, and Indiana Regional Sewer District Association, 18A-EX-1243.

The dispute stems from passage of an ordinance by the Lakeland Regional Sewer District in 2015, which sought to draw a distinction between “campgrounds” and “mobile home courts” for sewer billing and ratemaking purposes. The sewer district’s ordinance classified Northcrest R.V. Park, Barbee Landing Mobile Home Park, Kuhn Lakeside Resort and Pine Bay Resort as mobile home courts, but the parks sought to be classified as campgrounds.

The IURC ruled for the sewer district in an appeal filed after the first bills were issued, dismissing the challenge, and the COA agreed. The appellate court ruled that the sewer district had broad discretion and exclusive authority to classify sewer users within their regions, and that the IURC’s authority to review assessments is narrowly drawn. IURC lacks authority, for instance, to address disputes over classifications such as campgrounds.

“The Sewer District argues that, under (Indiana Code Section 13-26-11-2) and Indiana Code Section 13-26-11-4, it has exclusive jurisdiction over the definition and classification of its users for ratemaking purposes, and nothing in (Indiana Code Section 13-26-11-2.1) confers jurisdiction on the IURC to review those definitions,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the panel. “In its order on summary judgment, the IURC appeared to conclude both that it had jurisdiction to interpret ‘campground’ under Section 2.1 — and, thus, to impose its own definition on regional sewer districts — and also that the IURC was required to defer to the Sewer District’s lawfully enacted definition. We agree with the Sewer District’s reading of the relevant statutes.”

While affirming the IURC’s decision, the panel found the IURC erred “when it concluded that it had jurisdiction under Section 2.1 to independently define a ‘campground’ for purposes of ratemaking by regional sewer districts.”

“Here, the Mobile Home Parks were not classified as campgrounds by the Sewer District. Accordingly, they lacked standing to petition the IURC for review under Section 2.1, and their request to have the IURC review their classification as mobile home courts is not within the scope of jurisdiction conferred by the General Assembly on the IURC in Section 2.1. If the Mobile Home Parks are dissatisfied with the Sewer District’s narrow definition of ‘campground’ in the ordinance, they may be able to seek declaratory relief,” Najam wrote.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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