Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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Until 1997, Illinois residents could only purchase power from a public utility, with rates regulated by the ICC. The Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law allows residents to buy electricity from their local public utility, another utility, or an Alternative Retail Electric Supplier (ARES). The ICC was not given rate-making authority over ARESs, but was given oversight responsibilities. The Law did not explicitly provide a mechanism for recovering damages from an ARES related to rates. Zahn purchased electricity from NAPG, after receiving an offer of a “New Customer Rate” of $.0499 per kilowatt hour in her first month, followed by a “market-based variable rate.” Zahn never received NAPG’s “New Customer Rate.” NAPG charged her $.0599 per kilowatt hour for the first two months, followed by a rate higher than Zahn’s local public utility charged. Zahn filed a class-action complaint, claiming violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. The court dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, or for failure to state a claim. After the Illinois Supreme Court answered a certified question, stating that the ICC does not have exclusive jurisdiction to hear Zahn’s claims, the Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court had jurisdiction and Zahn alleged facts that, if true, could constitute a breach of contract or a deceptive business practice. View "Zahn v. North American Power & Gas, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Randy Howard sought to bring a class action suit against Ferrellgas Partners, LP in federal district court for allegedly overcharging him and other customers. Ferrellgas moved to force plaintiff to pursue his individual claim alone, in arbitration, arguing that arbitration was the procedure the parties had agreed to. The district court was unable to conclude that the parties agreed to arbitrate. Rather than proceed to trial as the Federal Arbitation Act required, the district court entered an order denying arbitration outright. The Tenth Circuit concluded that denial was error: "When it's apparent from a quick look at the case that no material disputes of fact exist, it may be permissible and efficient for a district court to decide the arbitration question as a matter of law through motions practice and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing arbitration. . . . Parties should not have to endure years of waiting and exhaust legions of photocopiers in discovery and motions practice merely to learn where their dispute will be heard. The Act requires courts process the venue question quickly so the parties can get on with the merits of their dispute in the right forum. It calls for a summary trial — not death by discovery." View "Howard v. Ferrellgas Partners, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, on behalf of an asserted class, brought this action in state court against MFA, Casey's General Stores, and Quicktrip Corporation (the operators) under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, Mo. Rev. Stat. 407.020, alleging that defendants misrepresented the grade of gas pumped at their stations. Casey's General Stores removed the case to the federal district court asserting that plaintiff's claim was completely preempted by the Petroleum Practices Act (PMPA), 15 U.S.C. 2801 et seq., or alternatively, that there was diversity jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1711 et seq. The court concluded that the absence of a federal cause of action in Subchapter II meant that plaintiff's claim was not completely preempted and that there was no federal jurisdiction over that claim. Since the question of whether there was jurisdiction under CAFA would benefit from full development and adversarial briefing, the court remanded those issues in order for the district court to consider whether there was federal jurisdiction over this case under CAFA. Accordingly, the court reversed the ruling that plaintiff's state claim was completely preempted and remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. MFA Petroleum Co., et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) of their putative consumer class action against defendants. Plaintiffs also appealed the district court's denial of leave to amend their second amended complaint, alleging that the design of defendants' retail gasoline dispensers was fundamentally flawed due to a residual fuel occurrence: when plaintiffs purchased premium grade fuel, they received between two and three-tenths of a gallon of residual fuel from the previous transaction, and therefore were overcharged when the previous purchaser had selected mid-range or regular grade fuel. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs' well-pleaded factual allegations, accepted as true, did not give rise to a reasonable inference that defendants have committed any misconduct for which the court could grant relief. Accordingly, further amendment would be futile and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend. View "Alvarez, et al. v. Chevron Corp., et al." on Justia Law

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The trial court dismissed a third amended class action complaint filed in connection with power outages during severe storms. The complaint alleged negligence, breach of contract, and violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (815 ILCS 505/1). The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The electric utility's tariff precludes an award of damages; even if such claims were not barred, jurisdiction over matters relating to the utility's service and infrastructure lies with the Illinois Commerce Commission. The Consumer Fraud Act claim alleged that that the company knew or should have known that it failed to sufficiently establish policies and procedures to prevent controllable interruptions of power and to timely respond to those interruptions, in order to protect the health, safety, comfort and convenience of its customers, including those on the life support registry. The claim failed because the company is not required to prioritize those on the life support registry and does not intend that those on the registry rely on it doing so.

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Appellants challenged a district courtâs discovery order that directed them to disclose what they called privileged information. To achieve this end, the Appellants filed an interlocutory appeal and a petition for writ of mandamus with the Tenth Circuit. The Appellants in this case include motor fuel retailers and the retail motor fuel trade associations to which the retailers belong. The Plaintiffs in this case are consumers and other interested parties. Collectively they filed twelve putative class action cases in seven federal district courts. The Plaintiffs alleged that the retailersâ âvolumetric pricing systemâ for retail motor fuel overcharges customers. When the temperature of the fuel rises, the fuelâs volume expands, but the actual energy content stays the same â customers pay for âmoreâ fuel but half the energy. Plaintiffs allege that the temperature fluctuations and fuel volumes are accounted for in every aspect of the Appellantsâ âvolumetric pricing systemâ except at the retail level, thus overcharging retail customers. The Tenth Circuit held that Appellants devoted a majority of their appellate brief to their contention that a First Amendment privilege should be presumed with respect to the information Plaintiffs sought to discover. However, Appellants made an âunwise strategic decisionâ by seeking a presumption when they failed to prove the information was indeed privileged. The Court dismissed Appellantsâ interlocutory appeal and denied their application for writ of mandamus.