Camp Meeker Water System

51 Cal. 3d 845 (1990), 799 P.2d 758

The Court affirmed the Commission order at issue, concluding that the Commission had properly exercised its jurisdiction under Sections 451, 454, 701, 728 and 851 when it resolved certain issues of property law related to the transfer of utility assets.  The case may have turned on a representation by counsel for the Commission (at oral argument) that the determination of property ownership was only for ratemaking purposes and would not bind the parties at issue in any future civil actions involving title to the property.  In a footnote (fn. 3) the court held that § 1709 is only implicated when the Commission has acted in a judicial (rather than ratemaking) capacity.  Camp Meeker held that the scope of review of Commission decisions was limited to whether the Commission “has regularly pursued its authority”.  The Camp Meeker holding was expressly overruled by the Legislature when it enacted the Calderon-Peace-MacBride Judicial Review Act of 1998 (Stats. 1998, c. 886, Sections 1-1.5), although the old standard remains in effect for non-adjudicatory water matters.  As the cases below suggest, however, the construction of the phrase “regularly pursued its authority” in Section 1757 (as it existed prior to SB 779) was much more expansive in practice than the Court always cared to admit.  I do not believe that the recent increase in the number of Commission cases being heard pursuant to writs of review can be legitimately ascribed, as some have, to the legislative rejection of the standard of review articulated in Camp Meeker.  If one examines the standards set forth in new Sections 1757 and 1757.1, one will find standards tacitly enforced in one or more of the decisions summarized below even as the Court applied the old (“regularly pursued its authority”) standard.  The change in reviewing court, not the change in standard, was the principal cause of the sharp increase in the number of cases being heard; the Commission did not “regularly pursue its authority” in Huntington Beach (Para. 14) and Edison (Para. 19) but it is hard to envision the Supreme Court agreeing to hear those cases.  That said, one cannot overlook the change in the standard summarized in the other statements of legislative intent found in Stats. 1998, c. 886, Section 1.5(b). In addition to expressly overruling Camp Meeker, the Legislature stated its “intent…to conform judicial review of…Commission decisions…to be consistent with judicial review of the other state agencies.”  Accordingly, one must question the present vitality of the pronouncements of near-infallibility of Commission decisions found in cases such as PG&E (Para. 7).

Download PDF