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City of Torrington v. Smith

Supreme Court of Wyoming

December 28, 2016

CITY OF TORRINGTON, a Wyoming municipal corporation, Appellant (Petitioner),
v.
LEROY P. SMITH, Z & W MILL INC., RUSSELL ZIMMER, TORRINGTON CONSERVATIVE CITIZENS, a Wyoming corporation, and WYOMING PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION, Appellees (Respondents).

         Appeal from the District Court of Goshen County The Honorable Steven K. Sharpe, Judge

          Representing Appellant: James A. Eddington, Jones & Eddington Law Offices, Torrington, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee Public Service Commission: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; John G. Knepper, Chief Deputy Attorney General; Ryan T. Schelhaas, Division Deputy Attorney General; Karl D. Anderson, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Michael M. Robinson, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Robinson.

          Representing Appellees Leroy P. Smith, Z & W Mill Inc, Russell Zimmer, and Torrington Conservative Citizens: No appearance.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, and FOX, JJ, and Donnell, D.J.

          FOX, Justice.

         [¶1] The City of Torrington (the City) sought judgment declaring that it has the authority to set rates for electricity it provides to customers outside its corporate limits, and that it has broad discretion to utilize revenues from the provision of electricity for other City expenses. The district court determined that the Public Service Commission (PSC) has the exclusive jurisdiction to set rates for electricity provided by municipalities to customers outside the municipality's limits and declined to rule on the question of the City's expenditure of electricity revenues, holding that there was no justiciable controversy regarding that issue. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] 1. Does the Public Service Commission have the exclusive jurisdiction to set rates for electricity provided to customers outside the municipality's limits?

         2. Is there a justiciable controversy regarding the City's use of revenues from the sale of electricity?

         FACTS

         [¶3] The City owns and operates an electric utility that provides electrical service to approximately 3, 500 customers. Twenty-three percent of those customers are outside the City limits.

         [¶4] The City sued Appellees Leroy P. Smith, Z & W Mill Inc., Russell Zimmer, and Torrington Conservative Citizens (collectively, the Citizens Group), seeking judgment declaring that it was authorized to set rates for electrical services it provided to customers outside the City limits, and that it had discretion to use revenue from the sale of electrical services for other City expenses. The Citizens Group moved to dismiss the action, arguing that the City had not presented a justiciable controversy. The district court denied the motion and ordered that the PSC be joined in the action

         [¶5] On cross motions for summary judgment, the City claimed that the laws authorizing municipalities to enact ordinances and enter into contracts to provide electricity outside municipal limits, Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 15-7-201, 15-7-203, and 15-7-204(a)(iii) (LexisNexis 2015), grant it the power to set rates for all of its customers, whether in or out of its municipal borders. The PSC claimed that the power to set rates outside municipal borders is exclusively vested in the PSC pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 37-1-101(a)(vi)(C) and (H)(II) (LexisNexis 2015). The district court found that the PSC "has jurisdiction over the rates and aspects of the City's electric utility service provided to customers outside the City's corporate limits . . . ." The district court also concluded that there was not a justiciable controversy between the City and the Citizens Group and declined to rule on the question of whether the City was properly utilizing revenues from the sale of electricity. The City timely filed this appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶6] We review a grant of summary judgment deciding a question of law de novo and afford no deference to the district court's ruling. In re Estate of Meyer, 2016 WY 6, ¶ 15, 367 P.3d 629, 634 (Wyo. 2016); Mont. Food, LLC v. Todosijevic, 2015 WY 26, ¶ 10, 344 P.3d 751, 754-55 (Wyo. 2015). Interpretation of statutory language is a question of law, which we also review de novo. Best v. Best, 2015 WY 133, ¶ 8, 357 P.3d 1149, 1151 (Wyo. 2015).

         DISCUSSION

         I.Does the Public Service Commission have the exclusive jurisdiction to set ratesfor electricity provided to customers ...


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