Justia Government Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
Dakota Energy Coop, Inc. v. East River Electric Power Coop., Inc.
Dakota Energy Power Cooperative, Inc., a member of East River Electric Power Cooperative, Inc., sought to withdraw from East River and to terminate the parties’ long-term power contract so that it could purchase electricity from another source. When East River resisted, Dakota Energy sued for anticipatory breach of contract and sought a declaratory judgment providing that it had a contractual right to withdraw from East River by way of a buyout. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of East River, and Dakota Energy appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under the UCC, the terms of a written contract “may be explained or supplemented” by certain extrinsic evidence, including “usage of trade.” Dakota Energy’s proffered trade usage evidence would effectively add an entirely new provision to the WPC. Moreover, under the UCC, “the express terms of an agreement and any applicable . . . usage of trade must be construed whenever reasonable as consistent with each other.” Here, the express terms of the WPC—which provide that the agreement will “remain in effect” until December 31, 2075, and which contain no provision allowing for an early buyout—are inconsistent with any trade usage evidence suggesting something to the contrary. Therefore, the court concluded that the WPC unambiguously requires Dakota Energy to purchase all of its electricity from East River until December 31, 2075, and that no provision in the WPC or East River’s Bylaws allows for an earlier termination of that obligation. View "Dakota Energy Coop, Inc. v. East River Electric Power Coop., Inc." on Justia Law
Green Development, LLC v. FERC
Petitioner Green Development, LLC (Green Development) sought interconnection with the distribution system of Narragansett Electric Company (Narragansett), a public utility. Accommodation of the increased flows of electricity required certain upgrades to the transmission system owned by Respondent-Intervenor New England Power Company d/b/a National Grid (NE Power). NE Power assigned the costs of the transmission system upgrades directly to Narragansett. The newly assigned costs were reflected in a revised transmission service agreement (TSA) that NE Power and Narragansett filed for approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission or FERC). Green Development protested the revised TSA. The Commission denied Green Development’s protest. Green Development petitions for review contending that the Commission (1) erroneously concluded that Green Development’s arguments in the underlying section 205 proceeding operated as a “collateral attack” on the Complaint Order; (2) improperly applied the governing seven-factor test; (3) misinterpreted the Tariff’s definition of “direct assignment facilities”; and (4) erroneously failed to apply the filing procedures of Schedule 21-Local Service of the Tariff. The DC Circuit denied the petitions. First, the court held that Commission has cured any purportedly erroneous ruling that Green Development’s section 205 protest constituted a collateral attack on the Complaint Order. The court rejected Green Development’s fourth claim. The court wrote that the issue with Green Development’s contention is that it presumes that the procedures in Schedule 21-Local Service are “mandatory processes” that applied to the filing of the TSA. But, the SIS and associated technical arrangements “pertain to initiating transmission service” and “do not demonstrate that Narragansett as an existing transmission customer was required to request new transmission service” under the Tariff. View "Green Development, LLC v. FERC" on Justia Law
So. Cal. Gas Co. v. P.U.C.
These original proceedings involve efforts by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC or the Commission) to discover whether the political activities of Southern California Gas Company (SCG) are funded by SCG’s shareholders, which is permissible, or ratepayers, which is not. The Commission propounded several discovery requests (called “Data Requests”) on SCG, and when SCG failed fully to comply, moved to compel further responses that ultimately resulted in an order to comply or face substantial penalties. SCG seeks a writ of mandate directing the Commission to rescind its order on the ground that the discovery requests infringe on SCG’s First Amendment rights. The Second Appellate District granted the petition and held that SCG has shown that disclosure of the requested information will impact its First Amendment rights, and the Commission failed to show that its interest in determining whether SCG’s political efforts are impermissibly funded outweighs that impact. The court reasoned that because SCG demonstrated that a threat to its constitutional rights exists, the burden shifted to the Commission to demonstrate that the data requests serve and are narrowly tailored to a compelling governmental interest. However, the PAO’s discovery inquiries into all sources of funding for SCG’s lobbying activities go beyond ratepayer expenditures. Insofar as the requests seek information about shareholder expenditures, they exceed the PAO’s mandate to obtain the lowest possible costs for ratepayers and its authority to compel disclosure of information necessary for that task. The requests, therefore, are not carefully tailored to avoid unnecessary interference with SCG’s protected activities. View "So. Cal. Gas Co. v. P.U.C." on Justia Law
Newfield Exploration Company, et al. v. North Dakota, et al.
The State of North Dakota, ex rel. the North Dakota Board of University and School Lands, and the Office of the Commissioner of University and School Lands, a/k/a the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands appealed a judgment dismissing its claim against Newfield Exploration Company relating to the underpayment of gas royalties. The North Dakota Supreme Court found that the district court concluded the State did not establish a legal obligation owed by Newfield. However, the State pled N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1 in its counterclaim, which the court recognized at trial. Because the State satisfied both the pleading and the proof requirements of N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1, the Supreme Court held the district court erred in concluding the State did not prove Newfield owed it a legal obligation to pay additional royalties. Rather, as the well operator, Newfield owed the State an obligation under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1 to pay royalties according to the State’s leases. The court failed to recognize Newfield’s legal obligations as a well operator under N.D.C.C. § 47-16-39.1. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in dismissing the State's counterclaim; therefore, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for findings related to the State's damages and Newfield's affirmative defenses. View "Newfield Exploration Company, et al. v. North Dakota, et al." on Justia Law
Union de Trabajadores de la Industria Eléctrica y Riego v. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) Title III court allowing certain expenses incurred by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) under a contract entered into with LUMA Energy, LLC and LUMA Energy ServCo, LLC (collectively, LUMA) as entitled to administrative expense priority pursuant to section 503(b)(1)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code, holding that there was no error.In 2017, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (FOMB) filed for bankruptcy on behalf of PREPA. In 2020, PREPA entered into a contract with LUMA, a private consortium, to transfer the operations and management of PREPA to LUMA. At issue was whether the Title III court erred in allowing expenses incurred by PREPA under the contract as entitled to administrative expense priority. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) section 503(b)(1)(A) applies in Title III cases; (2) the Title III court did not abuse its discretion in applying the requirements of section 503(b)(1)(A); and (3) the Title III court correctly held that 48 U.S.C. 2126(e) prevents it from reviewing challenges to FOMB's certification decision. View "Union de Trabajadores de la Industria Eléctrica y Riego v. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority" on Justia Law
Campamento Contra Las Cenizas v. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the PROMESA Title III court granting the motion of the Financial Oversight and Management Board to assume certain long-term power supply contracts on behalf of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) under 11 U.S.C. 365 and 48 U.S.C. 2161, holding that there was no clear error.On appeal, Appellants - PREPA's primary labor union, an energy company that had other contracts with PREPA, and multiple environmental groups - argued that the Board abused the assumption procedure set forth in section 365 to avoid the competitive bidding process ordinarily required for long-term power supply contracts under Commonwealth law. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the Board's motion to assume was ripe for resolution by the Title III court and remained so on appeal; and (2) the Title III court properly granted the Board's motion to assume the renegotiated contracts under the customary standards of section 365(a). View "Campamento Contra Las Cenizas v. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority" on Justia Law
Shell Oil Co. v. United States
In 1942-1943, the government contracted with the Oil Companies to rapidly expand aviation gas (avgas) production facilities and sell vast quantities of avgas to the government with an artificially low profit margin. The government assumed certain risks, agreeing to reimburse “any new or additional taxes, fees, or charges” which the Companies “may be required by any municipal, state, or federal law ... to collect or pay by reason of the production, manufacture, sale or delivery of the [avgas].” The increased production led to increased amounts of acid waste that overwhelmed existing reprocessing facilities. The Companies contracted to dispose of the acid waste at the McColl site in Fullerton, California.In 1991, the United States and California sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, seeking to require the Companies to pay cleanup costs. The Ninth Circuit held that the government was 100% liable for the cost of cleaning up the benzol waste (about 5.5% of the waste) at the McColl site. The Companies have borne nearly all of the clean-up costs incurred since 1994; they submitted a contract termination claim, seeking reimbursement. The Claims Court ultimately found the government liable for all cleanup costs at the McColl site and awarded the Companies $99,509,847.32 for costs incurred through November 2015. The government paid. Remediation at McColl remains ongoing. The Companies sought damages incurred after November 2015. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the government is liable for those costs plus interest, rejecting arguments that res judicata bars the claims and that the Claims Court did not have jurisdiction under the Contract Settlement Act of 1944. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law
California Ridge Wind Energy, LLC v. United States
The plaintiffs each own a wind farm that was put into service in 2012. Each applied for a federal cash grant based on specified energy project costs, under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009. The Treasury Department awarded each company less than requested, rejecting as unjustified the full amounts of certain development fees included in the submitted cost bases. Each company sued. The government counterclaimed, alleging that it had actually overpaid the companies.The Claims Court and Federal Circuit ruled in favor of the government. Section 1603 provides for government reimbursement to qualified applicants of a portion of the “expense” of putting certain energy-generating property into service as measured by the “basis” of such property; “basis” is defined as “the cost of such property,” 26 U.S.C. 1012(a). To support its claim, each company was required to prove that the dollar amounts of the development fees claimed reliably measured the actual development costs for the windfarms. Findings that the amounts stated in the development agreements did not reliably indicate the development costs were sufficiently supported by the absence in the agreements of any meaningful description of the development services to be provided and the fact that all, or nearly all, of the development services had been completed by the time the agreements were executed. View "California Ridge Wind Energy, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law
Abbott v. BP Exploration & Production
BP built and maintained the Atlantis Platform, a semi-submersible floating oil production facility located in the Gulf of Mexico. Plaintiff Keith Abbott, employed by BP in the Atlantis administrative offices, filed suit under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3730(b)(2), claiming that BP falsely certified compliance with various regulatory requirements. While DOI was investigating Atlantis, Abbott amended his complaint to add Food & Water Watch as a plaintiff and included additional claims for violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq. On appeal, plaintiffs challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment for BP on all claims. In this case, plaintiffs' FCA claims centered on whether engineers approved the various stages of construction of Atlantis. The court explained that these facts failed to create an issue of fact as to materiality given the particular circumstances in plaintiffs' case. In light of Universal Health Servs., Inc. v. United States ex rel. Escobar, when the DOI decided to allow Atlantis to continue drilling after a substantial investigation into plaintiffs' allegations, that decision represented "strong evidence" that the requirements in those regulations were not material. In regard to plaintiffs' OCSLA claims, the court concluded that plaintiffs lack standing because they failed to plead individualized injuries. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Abbott v. BP Exploration & Production" on Justia Law
Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. United States
The power companies allege that they were overcharged for electricity during several months in 2000–2001 and sought to recover the overcharges from the federal government based on sales by the federal Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The California Power Exchange (Cal-PX) and the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) were responsible for acquiring and distributing electricity between producers and consumers in California and setting prices for the electricity. The power companies argued that a contract existed between all consumers of electricity (including themselves) and all producers of electricity (including the government agencies) in California. The government argued that the contracts were only between the middleman entities—Cal-PX and Cal-ISO—and the consumers and producers individually. The Claims Court dismissed for lack of standing. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The companies lack privity of contract or any other relationship with the government that would confer standing. Under the Tucker Act, the Claims Court has jurisdiction over contract cases in which the government is a party, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1); normally a contract between the plaintiff and the government is required to establish standing. The court noted that the companies may have claims against the parties with whom they are in contractual privity, the electricity exchanges. View "Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. United States" on Justia Law