Justia Iowa Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
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The Vagts family, who own and operate a dairy farm in West Union, Iowa, filed a nuisance suit against Northern Natural Gas Company (NNG). NNG operates a natural gas pipeline that runs under the Vagts' property and uses a cathodic protection system, which runs an electrical current through the pipeline to prevent corrosion. The Vagts alleged that stray voltage from the cathodic protection system distressed their dairy herd and caused them damages. The jury awarded the Vagts a total of $4.75 million in damages. NNG appealed, arguing that the district court erred in instructing the jury on nuisance without including negligence as an element of the claim and in denying NNG’s motion for remittitur.The district court held that negligence was not an element of the nuisance claim and instructed the jury accordingly. The jury found that the stray voltage from the cathodic protection system was definitely offensive, seriously annoying, and intolerable, that the stray voltage interfered with the Vagts’ normal use of land in the local community, and that this constituted a nuisance. The jury awarded the Vagts $3 million in economic damages, $1.25 million for personal inconvenience, annoyance, and discomfort, and $500,000 for the loss of use and enjoyment of land.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that under the controlling statute and precedents, negligence is not an element of a nuisance claim. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to disturb the jury's verdict on damages. The court concluded that the jury's verdict was supported by the record when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. View "Vagts v. Northern Natural Gas Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying Appellant's petition for judicial review of an order of the Iowa Utilities Board approving a regulated public utility's emissions plan and budget, holding that the Board erred in failing to consider certain intervenors' evidence in determining whether the "Emissions Plan and Budget" (EPB) met the statutory requirements.The utility submitted an EPB - its initial plan and budget and subsequent updates - requesting approval for operations and maintenance expenditures associated with emissions controls previously approved at four coal-fueled power plants. The Board granted several motions to intervene in the contested case proceeding, including three environmental parties. Prior to the contested case hearing, the Board approved the utility's EPB. The environmental parties petitioned for judicial review, and the district court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Board erred in rejecting the evidence brought by the intervening parties that the retirement of coal-fueled electric power generated facilities was more cost effective than the utility's plan and budget as outside the scope of Iowa Code 476.6 and thus not relevant. View "Environmental Law & Policy Center v. Iowa Utilities Bd." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court denying Petitioners' petitions for judicial review of a decision of the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) approving constructing of an underground crude oil pipeline in Iowa and approving the use of eminent domain where necessary to condemn easements along the pipeline route, holding that the district court did not err in its judgment.The proposed pipeline would run from western North Dakota across South Dakota and Iowa to an oil transportation hub in southern Illinois. After the IUB approved the construction of the pipeline Petitioners, several landowners and an environmental organization, sought judicial review. The district court denied the petitions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the IUB's weighing of benefits and costs supported its determination that the pipeline served the public convenience and necessity; (2) the pipeline was not barred by Iowa Code 6A.21 and 6A.22 from utilizing eminent domain because it was both a company under the jurisdiction of the IUB and a common carrier pipeline; (3) the use of eminent domain for a traditional public use such as an oil pipeline does not violate the Iowa Constitution or the United States Constitution; and (4) the IUB's determinations regarding two of the landowners' personal claims were supported by substantial evidence. View "Puntenney v. Iowa Utilities Board" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment granting summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiffs' claims challenging the decisions of a county board of supervisors approving a wind energy ordinance and a specific wind energy project, holding that Plaintiffs' claims were matters for the board of supervisors, and not the courts, to resolve.The board unanimously passed and approved a "wind energy conversion systems ordinance" and then granted conditional approval for the wind energy project at issue in this case. Plaintiffs then filed a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief and for a writ of certiorari against the board seeking a declaration that the ordinance was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, void and unenforceable and a writ determining that the approval of the project should be set aside as illegal, arbitrary and capricious, unreasonable and void. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the board did not act illegally, arbitrarily, or capriciously. View "Mathis v. Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Eagle Point Solar proposed to enter into a long term financing agreement with the City of Dubuque that would provide the City with renewable energy. Under the agreement, Eagle Point would construct a solar energy system, and the City would purchase all of the electricity generated by the system. However, if Eagle Point was a “public utility” under Iowa Code 476.1 or an “electric utility” under Iowa Code 476.22 it would be prohibited from serving customers, such as the City, who were located within the exclusive service territory of Interstate Power and Light Company, another electric utility. The Iowa Public Utilities Board (IUB) concluded that Eagle Point would be a public utility under the proposed business arrangement. The district court reversed, concluding that Eagle Point’s proposed arrangement with the City did not make it an electric utility for purposes of the statutes. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Eagle Point was not a public utility under section 476.1 or section 476.22. View "SZ Enters., LLC v. Iowa Utils. Bd." on Justia Law

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NextEra Energy Resources, LLC appealed the Iowa Utility Board's decision to grant advance ratemaking principles to MidAmerican Energy Company for a proposed wind generation facility. The district court affirmed the Board. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Board properly interpreted and applied Iowa Code 476.53; (2) substantial evidence supported the Board's findings; (3) Iowa Code 476.43 was not applicable to this ratemaking proceeding; and (4) section 476.53 as applied to a rate-regulated public utility that may compete in the wholesale energy market did not violate the Equal Protection clauses of the Iowa or U.S. Constitutions or the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. View "Nextera Energy Res., LLC v. Iowa Utils. Bd." on Justia Law