Articles Posted in Utilities Law

by
This was the third appeal of this case arising from the efforts of appellee Southern LNG, Inc. (“Southern”) to compel State Revenue Commissioner Lynnette Riley (“the Commissioner”) to recognize Southern as a “public utility” under OCGA 48-5-511 and to accept Southern’s ad valorem property tax returns. On remand, the trial court granted summary judgment to the Commissioner on a mandamus claim, holding that Southern had an adequate alternative remedy. In a prior appeal, the Supreme Court laid out for the parties in considerable detail the potential legal and procedural issues bearing on the question of whether the Commissioner could become a party or be bound by a judgment rendered in the tax appeals. On remand, Southern and the Commissioner filed renewed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Southern, holding that it had no “equally convenient, complete and beneficial” remedy other than mandamus, and denied the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment, and directed the Commissioner “to accept [Southern’s] ad valorem property tax returns pursuant to OCGA 48-5-511(a) instanter.” The Commissioner appealed, and the Supreme Court this time reversed, finding Southern did not show the Commissioner, in refusing to accept Southern’s ad valorem tax returns, violated a “clear legal duty,” that she failed to act, or that her actions were arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, amounting to a gross abuse of discretion, so as to entitle Southern to a writ of mandamus. View "Riley v. Southern LNG, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Appellant contended that it was a "public utility" under OCGA 48-1-2 and, as such, was required under OCGA 48-5-511 to make an annual tax return of its Georgia property to the Georgia Revenue Commissioner rather than to the Chatham County tax authorities. Appellant filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment and for writ of mandamus in superior court, seeking to have the trial court recognize appellant as a "public utility" and to order appellee to accept appellant's annual ad valorem property tax return. The trial court granted appellee's motion to dismiss the complaint based on appellant's failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the doctrine of sovereign immunity was applicable to the claims. The court reversed and held that it need not address whether sovereign immunity would act as a bar to appellant's declaratory action, as it was clear that, if the declaratory action were barred by sovereign immunity, appellant's mandamus action would still remain viable.

by
Plaintiffs filed suit against defendant seeking a declaratory injunction that defendant did not have an easement on their property, damages for trespass and conversion for a 2007 and 2008 incident, an injunction against further trespass, and attorney fees. Defendant asserted as a defense that the lawsuit was filed after the one-year statute of limitations under OCGA 46-3-204. At issue was whether summary judgment against plaintiffs was proper. The court affirmed the trial court's rejection of plaintiffs' constitutional challenges to the one-year statute of limitations. The court then affirmed in part and reversed in part the grant of summary judgment because issues of material fact remained regarding the existence of a valid prescriptive easement and plaintiffs' trespass and conversion claims based on defendant's 2008 actions were not barred by OCGA 46-3-204.

by
Appellant owned and operated the Sewell Creek Energy Facility, a "peaking" power plant that began operating in 2000. Appellees, neighbors of the power plant, filed suit in 2007 alleging that the power plant constituted a nuisance. At issue was whether appellants were entitled to summary judgment where the power plant was either a permanent nuisance or continuing nuisance that could be abated. The court found that the power plant's exhaust silencing system, which was an integral part of the gas turbines that generated power, was an enduring feature of the power plant's plan of construction and the noise emanating from the exhaust stacks resulted from the essential method of the plant's operation. Consequently, the exhaust stacks were a permanent nuisance. Thus, the court held that the Court of Appeals erred when it omitted any consideration of whether the nuisance resulted from an enduring feature of the power plant's plan of construction or an essential method of its operation and grappled only with whether the nuisance could be abated at "slight expense." The court held that appellees' action was barred under the statute of limitation for permanent nuisances because they did not file their lawsuit until almost seven years after the plant became operational, unless some new harm that was not previously observable occurred within the four years preceding the filing of their cause of action. The court also held that, to the extent the trial court found that a factual issue remained concerning whether there was an "adverse change in the nature" of the noises and vibrations coming from the plant after the start of the 2004 operating season, the denial of summary judgment was appropriate. By contrast, to the extent that the trial court found that a factual issue remained concerning whether there was an "adverse change in the... extent and amount" of the noises and vibrations after the 2004 operating season, the denial of summary judgment was inappropriate. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part.