TWO MORE SMART METER APPEALS
MAY ANSWER THE QUESTION
by David Sheldon
May 31st, 2015
Early in 2015 the Michigan Court of Appeals (MCOA) handed smart meter resisters what can only be regarded as two major setbacks, denying nearly all claims against the DTE “opt-out” plan and the Consumers Energy “opt-out” plan. We have analyzed these decisions in earlier articles on this site. Suffice it to say we think that, in the DTE case at least, it is very clear that the three judge panel hearing that case did not follow existing case law and chose instead to make new law to suit the needs of the smart grid political agenda.
Image above courtesy of digitalart.
Early in June we have oral arguments for two more smart meter appeal cases. Since different panels of judges will hear these cases we remain hopeful that we will finally see a just outcome. We are hopeful that this time the Court will finally rule according to the statutes and the existing body of case law. We encourage all of you who can to attend. We would like to pack the courtroom for both of these events. Location details and maps for both events, including parking information, can be found at this link: http://courts.mi.gov/Courts/COA/clerksoffice/Pages/Locations.aspx
Oral argument Tuesday June 9th at 10 am
Detroit branch of MCOA
3020 West Grand Boulevard
(Two errors corrected below)
Oral argument Wednesday June 10th at 11 am
Lansing branch of MCOA
Hall of Justice
925 West Ottawa Street
(1) Stenman Appeal: This case is unique among our cases in that it is the first appeal to be heard of a case that originated in a circuit court. All our other appeals have been cases that originated in the Public Service Commission. The Court of Appeals has much more latitude when reviewing a circuit court case than it does when reviewing the actions of an administrative agency.
For those of you who have changed your own meter, or have a plan to do so or have suffered a disconnection of service, this case is particularly relevant. If this appeal goes well we may finally have a way to stop DTE from forced installations all over their service territory!
Early in 2012 Ralph and Donna Stenman, of Farmington Hills, pleaded with DTE to remove a smart meter that had caused health problems for Donna, who is a cancer survivor, and was concerned, not only for her immediate symptoms, but also because the World Health Organization had rated in 2012 the type of microwave radiation that cellphones and smart meters produce “a possible carcinogen”. Their pleas to DTE were also based on a smart meter being a hazard for Ralph because the atrial fibrillation in his heart, put him at risk for blood clots and a stroke. The cause of Afib, per WebMD.com, is “rapid, disorganized electrical signals”. Smart meters put out very brief but high energy pulses about every 15 seconds that cause many people to experience irregular heartbeats.
Pleas were first made by letters to DTE – to no avail. In March of 2012, following a method that had been encouraged by Jerry Day and using a modified version of his suggested form, the couple sent DTE a document titled “Affidavit Notice and Demand for Removal of all “Smart Meters”, radiation emitting and surveillance devices.” The document stated that if DTE would not remove the smart meter within 21 days, the couple would do so, replacing it with a “safe and legally compliant meter, rated and calibrated to common metering standards”.
Upon refusal of DTE to remove the offending meter the couple found it necessary to take that action themselves. A licensed electrician was engaged for the job, readings of the smart and analog replacement meter were duly recorded and the smart meter safely shipped back to DTE. The utility responded first with threats and intimidation. Then a letter indicating that power would be disconnected, but ultimately sued the Stenmans instead in the Oakland Circuit Court. Attempts were made to find an attorney for their defense, but every attorney contacted stated that if he took on the case DTE would bankrupt him.
Ultimately the Stenmans found it necessary to represent themselves in court. Michigan Stop Smart Meters was pleased to arrange some assistance for them in the drafting of needed documents. In the fall of 2012 the case was heard by Circuit Judge Rudy Nichols.
The essence of the case was a demand for a “Partial Summary Judgment” which would include an injunction forcing the Stenmans to allow DTE employees back on their property to reinstall a smart meter. The injunction was to be permanent but the judgment would be considered partial only in the sense that a DTE claim against Stenmans for money damages would remain open to possibly be determined by a trial later.
A “Summary Judgment” is a judgment made without allowing for any trial or evidentiary hearing. There are long established legal principles that allow for this type of judgment when there are no material factual issues in controversy and the judgment can be rendered purely as a matter of law, based on facts agreed to by both sides.
We agree with the Stenmans that there were facts that had been explicitly placed in controversy that should render Judge Nichols decision contrary to law. They are:
- Whether a “smart meter” is actually a lawful device that conforms to the definition of meter in the statute and in the regulations.
- Whether the “digital meter” then being offered as an alternative would be any more lawful than the smart meter.
- Whether either a smart or digital meter would threaten the Stenmans privacy. Preliminary evidence was offered in the form of a document authored by the National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST) to establish that smart meters are a threat to customer privacy and that they should only be installed on request of the customer.
- Whether either a smart or digital meter would threaten the Stenman health. Preliminary evidence was offered in the form of an affidavit from Dr. Donald Hillman, retired MSU professor, relating the story of a little girl whose health had been severely compromised by the installation of a DTE smart meter.
Judge Nichols, in his Order of November 11th 2012, stated that the Hillman affidavit was irrelevant because it described what happened to another family, not what happened to the Stenmans. He ignored the other three arguments entirely, granted DTE’s motion for partial summary judgment and ordered the Stenmans to permit DTE employees to enter their property for the purpose of reinstalling a smart meter.
We agree with the Stenmans that Judge Nichols order was outrageous.
An appeal was filed. Again this had to be done with the Stenmans representing themselves as no attorney could be found willing to take on DTE. Again Michigan Stop Smart Meters was able to arrange some needed assistance in the preparation of an appeal brief and the drafting of other documents.
By agreement of both sides Judge Nichols put a stay on his order pending a decision by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) regarding an “opt-out tariff” proposed by DTE where the only “opt-out meter” to be provided was a smart meter with one of its two transmitters turned off. In May of 2013 the MPSC approved DTE’s proposal that opt-out customers must pay an initial fee and monthly fees and receive only a “non-transmitting meter”.
Following this DTE moved to have the stay lifted. This might have made the installation of a smart meter follow in short order. Stenmans argued that there was an appeal of the opt-out plan before the Michigan Court of Appeals and other appeals also pending. They brought in letters from their doctors to establish the harm a smart meter would cause them. Mr. Stenmans cardiologist provided a signed letter stating that installation of a smart meter “could lead to a bad outcome” for Mr. Stenman. They brought in evidence that DTE had accommodated other families in their neighborhood with analog meters. Yet Judge Nichols lifted the stay.
As it happened DTE did not enforce the court order. We suspect the company was more interested in the legal precedent this case established than in actually getting a smart meter installed.
As the time for oral argument began to draw near the Stenmans were finally able to find an attorney to file a reply brief and take on the job of oral argument.
Those interested in more details on this case will find the most important documents and briefs here: https://michiganstopsmartmeters.com/the-stenman-case/
It has taken nearly two years, including an initial period where both sides filed briefs, for this appeal to reach the stage where oral argument will be heard.
Please come and show, not only your support for the Stenmans, but your support for the principle that nobody should be forced to have a health damaging surveillance device on their home. Pack the courtroom in downtown Detroit on Tuesday, June 9th.
(2) Sheldon Appeal: This case, while originating in the MPSC, is also unique in that it is the first case in which the Court of Appeals (MCOA) is being asked to hold the MPSC in contempt of court for failing to carry out a previous order of MCOA. It is also the only case to reach MCOA where the overall funding of smart meters in DTE’s service territory is called into question.
This is the case for those of you who have been appalled that the MPSC, without ever holding an evidentiary hearing on the privacy or health implications, would give DTE permission to charge back the costs of 2.4 million smart meters to its customers!
Some of you may recall that in April of 2012 the Court of Appeals issued a decision remanding the case that allowed this funding back to the MPSC for a redo. That appeal had been brought by ABATE (an association of large business users of electricity) and by then Attorney General Cox. In the remand order to the MPSC the court directed as follows:
“… we remand this matter for the PSC to conduct a full hearing on the AMI program, during which it shall consider, among other relevant matters, evidence related to the benefits, usefulness, and potential burdens of the AMI, specific information gleaned from pilot phases of the program regarding costs, operations, and customer response and impact, an assessment of similar programs initiated here or in other states, risks associated with AMI, and projected effects on rates. In other words, a real record, with solid evidence, should support whatever decision the PSC makes upon remand. “ (Emphasis added)
This order went beyond what the appellants had asked of the court. Does it sound like the Court of Appeals was instructing the MPSC to just consider the rates that utility customers would have to pay to fund smart meters? Incredibly that is all the MPSC did, in complete defiance of the court’s order. Not only that but four smart meter resisters who wanted to participate as interveners in the reopened case were denied that right – mainly on the basis that we wanted to raise issues having to do with the risks of AMI technology which the administrative judge said were “beyond the scope” of the remand proceeding. I was one of those who tried to participate and was shut out. The others were Linda Kurtz and Dominic and Lillian Cusumano. Three of us then protested the decision of the administrative judge to the Commission and were denied again.
On October 17th 2013 the Commission issued its final decision in the reopened case. To nobody’s surprise they only re-justified the decision they had made the first time around. With no new kinds of evidence being allowed, how could the outcome be any different the second time? Michigan’s current Attorney General Bill Schuette did not appeal this decision nor did ABATE.
On November 16th 2013 David Sheldon did appeal that MPSC decision. He asked the appeals court to find that MPSC should be held in contempt of court for failing to carry out the court’s previous order, and that the case should again be sent back to MPSC for another redo – but this time allowing for the scope of the case to include the health, privacy and safety issues, and allowing new interveners to join the case and introduce evidence concerning the issues that had previously been neglected.
The issues that will be argued in this case are:
- That it was wrong of MPSC to limit the scope of the case to just determining the amount of cost recovery for DTE on this investment and thereby denying the opportunity for anyone to introduce evidence regarding health, privacy and safety issues.
- That it was wrong for MPSC to exclude the very interveners in the remanded case who would raise the issues the Court of Appeals required MPSC to address.
- That even if the MPSC’s authority be limited to setting rates (as some have argued) the Commission could still have used that rate setting authority to deny rate recovery of smart meter costs after a finding that the technology harms the customers and the public. Denial of rate recovery would almost certainly have meant no smart meter program in Michigan.
- Moreover the MPSC had jurisdiction from the legislature to directly order DTE to correct health and privacy abuses when acting in response to written complaints. And there were written complaints from 35 city and county governments and from over 400 utility customers.
As with the Stenman case, it has taken nearly two years, including the time for filing briefs, for this case to reach the stage of oral argument.
Please come and show your support for a case that seeks to have MPSC “held in contempt” for its dereliction of duty in approving the entire smart meter program without hearing the evidence. Pack the courtroom in Lansing on Wednesday June 10th.