Justia Energy, Oil & Gas Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Joseph v. Sasafrasnet, LLC
Sasafrasnet, an authorized distributor of BP products, provided Joseph with notice of its intent to terminate his franchise based on three occasions when Sasafrasnet attempted to debit Joseph’s bank account to pay for fuel deliveries but payment was denied for insufficient funds. The district court denied Joseph a preliminary injunction, finding that Joseph failed to meet his burden for a preliminary injunction under the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act 15 U.S.C. 2805(b)(2)(A)(ii). After a remand, the district court found that two of Joseph’s NSFs should count as “failures” under the PMPA justifying termination, at least for purposes of showing that he was not entitled to preliminary injunctive relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Joseph’s bank account was not adequately funded for the debit on two occasions because Joseph had decided to change banks, circumstances entirely within Joseph’s control. Given Joseph’s history of making late payments in substantial amounts because of insufficient funds (each was more than $22,000), the delinquent payments were not “technical” or “unimportant.” View "Joseph v. Sasafrasnet, LLC" on Justia Law
United States v. Midwest Generation, LLC
Between 1994 and 1999 Commonwealth Edison modified five Illinois coal-fired power plants that had been operating on August 7, 1977, and were, therefore, grandfathered against a permitting requirement applicable to any “major emitting facility” built or substantially modified after that date in parts of the country subject to the rules about prevention of significant deterioration, 42 U.S.C. 7475(a), until the modification. The permit requires installation of “the best available control technology for each pollutant subject to regulation.” Commonwealth Edison did not obtain permits. There was no challenge until 2009, a decade after completion of the modifications. The district court dismissed a challenge as untimely. After finishing the modifications, Commonwealth Edison sold the plants to Midwest. The federal government and Illinois (plaintiffs) argued that the district court allowed corporate restructuring to wipe out liability for ongoing pollution. Midwest and its corporate parent (Edison Mission) filed bankruptcy petitions after the appeal was argued. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Midwest cannot be liable because its predecessor would not have been liable had it owned the plants continuously. Commonwealth Edison needed permits before undertaking the modifications. The court rejected arguments of continuing-violation and continuing-injury. View "United States v. Midwest Generation, LLC" on Justia Law
Illinois v. Chiplease, Inc.
The 1987 Public Utilities Act, 220 ILCS 5/8-403.1, was intended to encourage development of power plants that convert solid waste to electricity. Local electric utilities were required to enter into 10-year agreements to purchase power from such plants designated as “qualified” by the Illinois Commerce Commission, at a rate exceeding that established by federal law. The state compensated electric utilities with a tax credit. A qualified facility was obliged to reimburse the state for tax credits its customers had claimed after it had repaid all of its capital costs for development and implementation. Many qualified facilities failed before they repaid their capital costs, so that Illinois never got its tax credit money back. The Act was amended in 2006, to establish a moratorium on new Qualified Facilities, provide additional grounds for disqualifying facilities from the subsidy, and expand the conditions that trigger a facility’s liability to repay electric utilities’ tax credits. The district court held that the amendment cannot be applied retroactively. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The amendment does not clearly indicate that the new repayment conditions apply to monies received prior to the amendment and must be construed prospectively. View "Illinois v. Chiplease, Inc." on Justia Law
Am. Mun. Power, Inc. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm’n
Control of most of the U.S. electrical grid is divided among Regional Transmission Organizations, voluntary associations of utilities that own interconnected transmission lines. Power plants and other electrical companies involved with the regional grid can also be RTO members. An RTO sought approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to impose a tariff on its members to pay for construction of new high-voltage power lines that will primarily transmit electricity generated by remote wind farms. Every state in the region, except Kentucky, encourages or mandates that utilities obtain a percentage of their electricity supply from renewable sources. The cost of the project is to be shared by utilities drawing power from the grid according to each utility’s share of the region’s total wholesale consumption of electricity. The RTO previously allocated the cost of expanding or upgrading the grid to utilities nearest a proposed transmission line, on the theory that they would get the most benefit. FERC approved the rate design and pilot projects. The RTO negotiated a rate with another RTO to share the costs of some upgrades with mutual benefits. Members of the RTO challenged the approval and the agreement and some announced their departure from the RTO. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the orders, but dismissed as premature the claims of departing members concerning their liability and remanded with respect to export pricing in connection with the agreement. View "Am. Mun. Power, Inc. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n" on Justia Law
Bickett v. Fed. Mine Safety & Review Comm’n
Under the Federal Mine Safety & Health Act of 1977, the Secretary of Labor protects the health and safety of miners, acting through the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Regulations under the Act require mine operators to report all mine-related injuries and illnesses suffered by employees. In 2010, MSHA acted on a new and broader interpretation and informed 39 mine operators that they would be required to permit MSHA inspectors to review employee medical and personnel records during inspections. Two operators refused to provide the records. MSHA issued citations and imposed penalties. An ALJ and the Review Commission found that the demands and enforcement were lawful under 30 U.S.C. 813(h) and 30 C.F.R. 50.41. Mine employees intervened to raise personal privacy challenges. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review, rejecting arguments that MSHA does not have authority for the requirement; that 30 C.F.R. 50.41 is not a reasonable interpretation of the Act and was not properly promulgated; that the requirement infringes operators’ Fourth Amendment right not to be searched without a warrant; that the demands violate the miners’ Fourth Amendment privacy rights in their medical records; and that penalties imposed for noncompliance violate the operators’ Fifth Amendment due process rights. View "Bickett v. Fed. Mine Safety & Review Comm'n" on Justia Law
Sec. & Exch. Comm’n v. First Choice Mgmt Servs., Inc.
In 2000 the SEC charged violation of securities law. The court appointed a receiver to distribute assets among victims of the $31 million fraud. The receiver found that assets had been used to acquire oil and gas leases. SonCo claimed an interest in the leases. In 2010, the district court issued an “agreed order,” requiring SonCo to pay $600,000 for quitclaim assignment of the leases and release of claims in Canadian litigation. Alco operated the wells and had posted a $250,000 cash bond with the Texas Railroad Commission. Alco could get its $250,000 back if replaced by new operator that posted an equivalent bond. The $250,000 had come, in part, from defrauded investors. Alco was incurring environmental liabilities, with little prospect of offsetting revenues. SonCo was to replace Alco, but failed to so, after multiple extensions. The district judge held SonCo in civil contempt, ordered it to return the leases, and allowed the receiver to keep the $600,000. The Seventh Circuit upheld the finding of civil contempt. Following remand, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the sanction; considering additional environmental compliance costs and receivership fees, a plausible estimate of the harm would be $2 million. ”SonCo will be courting additional sanctions, of increasing severity, if it does not desist forthwith from its obstructionist tactics.” View "Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. First Choice Mgmt Servs., Inc." on Justia Law
NE Rural Elec. Membership Corp. v. Wabash Valley Power Assoc.
Wabash is a power generation cooperative. Northeastern purchases electricity from Wabash and resells it. In 1977, they entered into a contract: Northeastern agreed to purchase electricity from Wabash for 40 years at rates to be set by the Wabash board of directors “[s]ubject to the approval of the Public Service Commission of Indiana.” Revised rates would not be effective unless approved by the “applicable regulatory authorities,” and the federal Rural Electrification Administration. In 2012 Northeastern sought a state court declaratory judgment that Wabash breached the contract by taking action in 2004 that had the effect of transferring regulation of its rates from the Indiana Commission to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Wabash removed the case under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), arguing that the claim arises under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a. The district court denied remand and granted a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit vacated, holding that federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction. Northeastern’s claim is limited to construction of the contract and does not necessarily raise a question of federal law. While Northeastern may eventually use a favorable state court judgment to seek permission to terminate its obligations under the tariff filed with FERC,that cannot be achieved in this suit View "NE Rural Elec. Membership Corp. v. Wabash Valley Power Assoc." on Justia Law
Muscarello v. Winnebago Cnty. Bd.
Plaintiff owns three tracts, zoned agricultural, and challenged a 2009 amendment to the Winnebago County zoning ordinance that makes it easier to obtain permission to build a wind farm. She claimed that a wind farm on adjacent land would deprive the property “of the full extent of the kinetic energy of the wind and air as it enters the property, subjecting it to shadow flicker and reduction of light, severe noise, possible ice throw and blade throws, interference with radar, cell phone, GPS, television, and other wireless communications, increased likelihood of lightening damage and stray voltage. increased electromagnetic radiation, prevention of crop dusting, drying out her land, and killing raptors. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, characterizing the claim as simply that a wind farm adjacent to plaintiff’s property would be a nuisance. There is no merit to the claim that the amendment violates plaintiff’s constitutional rights. It is a “modest legislative encouragement of wind farming,” within the constitutional authority, state as well as federal, of a local government.View "Muscarello v. Winnebago Cnty. Bd." on Justia Law
Vulcan Constr. Materials, L.P. v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm’n
In 2010, Dunne filed a discrimination complaint under 30 U.S.C. 815(c)(2), with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, a division of the Department of Labor, claiming that had terminated his employment for engaging in protected safety-related. The Secretary of Labor determined that the complaint was not frivolously brought, and Vulcan agreed to a temporary (economic) reinstatement pending a determination on the merits. The Secretary later determined not to prosecute Dunne’s complaint before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission and Vulcan moved to dissolve the reinstatement order. The Commission denied Vulcan’s motion. The Seventh Circuit reversed, in favor of Vulcan, which argued that the term “complaint” in the statutory phrase “final order on the complaint,” refers only to the complaint brought by the Secretary after she determines that section 815(c) has been violated. Placement of the temporary reinstatement provision in the same subsection that describes the Secretary’s investigation, merits determination, and complaint, suggests that Congress meant for temporary reinstatement to continue only during the Secretary’s involvement. View "Vulcan Constr. Materials, L.P. v. Fed. Mine Safety & Health Review Comm'n" on Justia Law
Joseph v. Sasafrasnet, LLC
Joseph purchased the BP franchise in 2006 for $400,000. In 2009, Sasafrasnet purchased BP’s interests in the land and a Dealer Lease and Supply Agreement, becoming lessor and franchisor. The DLSA authorizes Sasafrasnet to terminate if Joseph fails to make payment according to EFT policy, causing a draft to be dishonored as NSF more than once in 12 months; Sasafrasnet is not obligated to extend credit, but did deliver fuel before collecting payment. There were several instances of NSF EFTs; Sasafrasnet began to require payment in advance. Later, Sasafrasnet allowed Joseph to resume paying by EFT within three days of delivery, but established a $2,500 penalty for any NSF and stated that pre-pay would resume if he incurred two more NSFs. There were additional NSFs, so that Joseph had incurred nine for amounts over $20,000 and three for amounts over $45,000. Sasafrasnet gave Joseph 90 days’ notice that it was terminating his franchise, listing the NSFs and failing scores on a mystery shopper inspection as bases for termination. Joseph sued under the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 2801. The district court denied a preliminary injunction to prevent the termination. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the statute requires additional findings.View "Joseph v. Sasafrasnet, LLC" on Justia Law