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1.3.2 Commission Rules and Regulations, Unpublished Orders

Many commissions have regulations governing such issues as right to service, deposits, terminations, and the like.81 In most states, all the regulations promulgated by the PUC will be found in one title or chapter of that state’s administrative code or codified regulations. These rules can often be found on the Internet,82 at law libraries, through the Secretary of State, or directly from the PUC.83 Commission staff members can be very helpful in obtaining regulations as well.

Developing good relationships with individuals on the staff of the commission is a key component of effective consumer advocacy before any commission. The clerks at the main reception desk, the staff of the Consumer Assistance Division, the people in the docketing office, all can smooth the way to finding documents and learning both the formal and informal rules and practices of the commission. Lawyers in the office of the general counsel can keep you posted on developments that are of interest to consumers. The telecommunications analyst you know by name will spend time explaining some arcane but important point of telecommunications engineering. Individual staffers may have views more in line with your client’s interest than the official policy of the commission, and those staffers can be useful in suggesting avenues for relief. The world of public utility practice is a small one, even in large states, and practitioners develop reputations quickly.

Even when a commission has promulgated broad-ranging regulations, these regulations will not cover all relevant procedural or substantive issues that arise in any given case. In every state, there will be a “common law” of the commission’s determinations that has been built up through formal “adjudicatory”84 decisions and other rulings. A commission may treat prior orders in individual cases85 as having precedential weight in a current case and may follow the earlier rulings under the administrative equivalent of stare decisis.

A major problem for advocates who do not spend a great deal of time before PUCs is that PUC decisions are often not published86 and are rarely digested or indexed. However, with the advent of the Internet, more and more decisions may be researched on commission websites. In addition, specialized legal research tools such as Westlaw and LEXIS are including an increasing number of PUC decisions in their databases, although these services are very expensive. In addition, commission staff members will often help members of the public locate relevant decisions.

Footnotes

  • 81 {81} See, e.g., Alaska Admin. Code tit. 3, r. 48.420 (deposits), r. 52.405 (business office standards), r. 52.410 (establishment of permanent service), r. 52.420 (deposits), r. 52.425 (meter readings), r. 52.430 (general billing and collection requirements), r. 52.435 (estimated billings), r. 52.440 (levelized billings), r. 52.445 (deferred payment agreements), 52.450 (disconnection), r. 52.455 (line extensions), r. 52.460 (quality of service), r. 52.465 (meter measurements, adjustment and testing); Fla. Admin. Code Ann. 25-7.071 (meter readings), 25-7.079 (information to customers), 25-7.083 (customer deposits), 25-7.085 (billing); Mich. Admin. Code r. 460.120 (general billing and collection rules), r. 460.123 (information to customers), r. 460.146 (advising customers of availability of financial assistance to pay utility bills), r. 460.109–460.112 (customer deposits).

  • 82 {82} The easiest route for finding state commission regulations is to visit the home page of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, pulling down the “About” tab, and then clicking on “State Commissions.” This brings up a map of the United States, which links to the home page for each of the fifty state commissions. In many (but by no means all) states, the regulations governing utility companies can be found on the state commission’s webpage.

  • 83 {83} See appx. A.1, infra (summaries of PUC customer service regulations from around the country).

  • 84 {84} Most commissions were established before the adoption of that state’s Administrative Procedure Act (if the state in fact has an APA). Advocates should check whether the state APA applies to commission proceedings. Even in the absence of an express exemption in the state APA, certain practices of the commission may be deemed not to be governed by the APA’s specific terms. See, e.g., Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-103(b) (public service commission statute on preparation of the official record controls; otherwise APA supersedes PSC procedural statutes).

  • 85 {85} A commission may conduct a “generic” or industry-wide investigation into, for example, service terms and conditions and issue an adjudicatory decision that strongly resembles a regulation promulgated under the commission’s rulemaking powers. As previously noted, staff can be very helpful in finding relevant decisions that are not as easily found as published regulations.

  • 86 {86} Some states, like California, have reporter systems for publishing decisions, but this is rare. Westlaw and LEXIS carry Public Utilities Reports (or PUR, a privately-published reporter of utility commission decisions), but that service is selective; PUR carries only some customer service cases. Westlaw and LEXIS carry the orders of a number of commissions (including such leading states as California, Florida, Michigan, and New York, for example), but the commissions choose the cases to be put on the system and, for monetary reasons, often choose not to include customer service cases. One avenue of advocacy could be to push for publication of customer service decisions of the utility commissions in one or more of these forums.