Water provider not subject to state billing, disconnection provisions, COA rules

A dispute brought by a southern Indiana residential community about whether its water provider’s bill payment and customer disconnect rules violated state law has been stopped up by the Court of Appeals of Indiana, which affirmed that the provider isn’t subject to the state provisions.

In February 2021, Amberly Pointe Manufactured Home Community, a community of residential homes located in southern Indiana, filed an informal complaint with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission’s Consumer Affairs Division. Its complaint was lodged against Stucker Fork Conservancy District, a water furnishing service that provides water to numerous Amberly Pointe homes.

Amberly Pointe sought a determination as to whether Stucker Fork’s bill payment rule violated Indiana Code § 8-1.5-3-8(l), and whether its customer disconnect rules violated 170 Indiana Administrative Code 6-1-16.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the IURC ultimately issued an order dismissing the cause for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that neither I.C. 8-1.5-3-8(l) nor 170 IAC 6-1-16 applied to Stucker Fork.

The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal.

The COA first disagreed with Amberly Pointe’s argument that I.C. 8-1.5-3-8(l) subjects Stucker Fork to the IURC’s jurisdiction because the provision “regulates charges — namely, who may be charged for water service.”

“But this argument ignores the inescapable fact that subsection (l) specifically applies only to municipal legislative bodies, and Stucker Fork is not a municipal legislative body,” Judge Terry Crone wrote.

The appellate court also concluded that Stucker Fork was not subject to 170 IAC 6-1-16 regarding water disconnection. Amberly Pointe had alleged that Stucker Fork violated that provision when it disconnected service to one of its rental properties for nonpayment after sending written notice addressed only to the tenant, then restored service after Amberly Pointe paid the tenant’s outstanding balance.

Noting that there is “more than one way to crack an egg,” the appellate court agreed with the IURC that the Legislature expressly gave conservancy districts the authority to regulate the administration of their own affairs, including billing for and discontinuing water service, by enacting I.C. 14-33-5-20 and 14-33-20-13.

“Amberly Pointe complains that this interpretation ‘leave[s] conservancy district customers without a voice or a vehicle to raise concerns regarding the district’s policies and practices,’” Crone wrote. “On the contrary, as Stucker Fork observes, ‘to the extent Amberly Pointe does not like Stucker Fork’s policies, it could attempt to change them by electing a new board.’”

The case is Amberly Pointe Manufactured Home Community v. Stucker Fork Conservancy District, 21A-EX-2805.

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