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Indiana Court Of Appeals: Statute Does Not Require Prompt Review of Rates Charged By Regional Sewage District
Posted in Litigation

In a matter of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) did not lose its jurisdiction by failing to promptly review, at the request of campground owners, the rates and fees charged by a regional sewage district. 

In LaGrange County Regional Utility District v. Bubb, the IURC reviewed the dispute and, almost a year after receiving notice of the fee challenge, found that an excessive fee had been charged and the owners of the campground were to receive a refund.  The regional sewage district moved to dismiss, asserting that the IURC lost jurisdiction by failing to conduct a prompt investigation and, alternatively, that the IURC lacked authority to order the relief granted. 

The Indiana Court of Appeals determined that Indiana Code section 13-26-11-2.1 (the statute that the utility argued required the IURC to complete its review of the challenge within a short time) did not apply because it referred to “sewage disposal companies.”  Here, the utility was a “regional sewage district” and - the Court concluded – the “definitions are not interchangeable[.]”  The Court of Appeals declined to extend the short review period to regional sewage districts. The Court of Appeals further declined to find the IURC was equitably estopped, by failing to conduct a prompt investigation, from reviewing the challenged fees and rates because such a finding would frustrate the purpose of the statute.  “From the plain language of the Statute,” the Court stated, “we can reasonably infer that the General Assembly sought to establish a method of recourse for campground owners who had been overcharged by their regional sewage district.” 

The Court found that if the IURC did not have jurisdiction in this case, the campground owners would be without recourse.  The Court of Appeals observed that nothing in the statute limits the IURC’s ability to grant relief if review of the dispute is not completed within a certain time.  “Indeed, such a rule would be illogical, inasmuch as relief would be foreclosed to an overcharged campground owner through no fault of his own.”

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