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Analysis of the Michigan Court of Appeals Decision
May 24th, 2017

by David Sheldon*

(This case illustrates the difficulties of fighting a utility in court over smart meters, particularly when there is
perceived to be judicial bias in our courts in favor of
large corporations. It is presented at this time in view
of the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear this case and to underscore the necessity for our present efforts to secure legislation to protect utility customers.)

NATURE OF THE APPEAL: The defendant’s in this case, Ralph and Donna Stenman, having experienced some health symptoms from installation of a DTE smart meter, and concerned about further damage to their health and loss of privacy, strenuously objected to the installation of the smart meter, asking for return of their analog meter. When DTE ignored their pleas, the couple went ahead and replaced the smart meter with an analog meter they had purchased. DTE brought suit against them, asking the Oakland County Circuit Court for a “summary judgment” against the couple. A court can legally make a summary judgment when there are ‘no material issues of fact’ that might require a trial to resolve.

The Stenmans interviewed several attorneys and were unable to find one willing to take on DTE. Accordingly they represented themselves in the original proceeding. They requested a jury trial. Circuit Judge Rudy Nichols granted the summary judgment, so that the Stenmans were denied any kind of trial or opportunity to develop their defense. An appeal was taken to the Michigan Court of Appeals, File No 321203, over the fact they had been denied a trial. The Stenmans again filed their own appellate brief. A reply brief and oral argument were presented for them by attorney Robert Igrasin. The appeals court, judges Patrick M. Meter, Mark J. Cavanagh and Kurtis T. Wilder, issued an opinion and order in favor of DTE on July 14th, 2015 and awarded DTE its costs and decided to publish their decision, which is now in all the law libraries as a precedent for similar cases in the future.

(1) STENMAN ARGUMENT ON METER DEFINITION – DISMISSED:

The Opinion of the Court: “In the trial court and on appeal, defendants assert that a “meter” installed by a regulated public utility may only perform the functions that it is authorized by law to perform, arguing that the smart meter installed by plaintiff violated the “lawful definition of meter’ ” because it was capable of performing functions other than measuring electricity use. However, based on the plain language of the definition of “meter” in R 460.3102(g), there is no indication that electricity-measuring devices that have radio transmitters or other additional capabilities do not constitute “meters.” … The mere fact that the definition does not expressly state that a meter with a radio transmitter still constitutes a meter does not indicate that a meter with such a feature is not included under the definition. … Accordingly, we conclude that reasonable minds could not differ in finding that the smart meter installed by plaintiff qualified as a “meter.”7

Comment: The Court is saying, in effect, that the definition of ‘meter’ that is in the statute does not preclude the forced installation of any device by a monopoly utility so long as that device is called a ‘meter’ and actually does, among other things, measure electricity consumed. There is, therefore, potentially no limit on what could be forcibly installed on a private home.

(2) STENMAN ARGUMENT THAT SMART METERS WERE NEVER AUTHORIZED AS A CONDITION FOR RECEIVING ELECTRICAL SERVICE – DISMISSED:

The Opinion of the Court: “First, there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the smart meter installed by plaintiff was lawful under the definition of “meter” applicable to the relevant administrative rules and tariff. Plaintiff is a public utility that is regulated by the MPSC. With regard to the regulation of public utilities, MCL 460.6(1) provides:

“The [MPSC] is vested with complete power and jurisdiction to regulate all public utilities in the state except a municipally owned utility, the owner of a renewable resource power production facility as provided in [MCL460.6d], and except as otherwise restricted by law. The [MPSC] is vested with the power and jurisdiction to regulate all rates, fares, fees, charges, services, rules, conditions of service, and all other matters pertaining to the formation, operation, or direction of public utilities. The [MPSC] is further granted the power and jurisdiction to hear and pass upon all matters pertaining to, necessary, or incident to the regulation of public utilities, including electric light and power companies, whether private, corporate, or cooperative . . . . [Emphasis added.]”

Comment: The court is arguing, in effect, that smart meters are legal as a mandatory condition for receiving electrical service because the MPSC made them so. But the panel in this case is conveniently ignoring a ruling of a different panel of the same appeals court, on February 19th, 2015, only five months earlier. In the earlier (unpublished) case, File No. 316728, consolidated appellants Kurtz, Edwards and Cusumano had argued that MPSC had erred in authorizing a type of smart meter “opt-out meter” that did not address public concerns about privacy and health. Appellants in that case had argued the MPSC had erred in authorizing this opt-out meter without allowing any evidence to be admitted concerning privacy and health issues. This was the court’s answer to that:

PSC has only the authority granted to it by statute. The PSC has broad authority to regulate rates for public utilities, but that authority does not include the power to make management decisions for utilities. … Apellants correctly point out that the PSC has no statutory authority to enable DTE to require all customers to accept an AMI meter, even if some customers choose to opt-out of the AMI program. However, no such statute exists because the decision regarding what type of equipment to deploy can only be described as a management prerogative.”

It seems to this writer that the Michigan Court of Appeals cannot have it both ways. If the earlier panel was correct that the MPSC had no jurisdiction over meter type and hence no obligation to allow evidence on privacy or health issues before approving DTE’s “opt-out” program, then the Stenman court cannot also be correct in ruling that DTE’s meter had been established as a lawful condition for receiving electrical service. Yet the Stenman court made no reference to the earlier decision, even though one of its judges had also been on the earlier panel. When one panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals overrules an earlier panel on an issue, there is a procedure for resolving the disagreement – a procedure not followed in this case.

(3) STENMAN OBJECTIONS BASED ON PRIVACY & HEALTH – DISMISSED:

Opinion of the Court: “Second, the trial court properly concluded that defendants failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to whether their privacy and health-related concerns constituted valid affirmative defenses that excused or justified their actions related to the smart meter … In the trial court, defendants failed to provide any authority (emphasis added) in support of their claim that their privacy and health-related concerns constituted valid affirmative defenses to their violations of the relevant statutes, regulations, and tariff. … “

Comment: The Court is saying, in effect, that it is not enough for a home owner to present evidence that a utility’s actions are in fact endangering privacy or health, but that these defendants, who were without an attorney in the original court, must also cite prior court precedents where it had previously been established that privacy or health concerns could be a valid reason for opposing a utility installation. This despite the fact that the utility (plaintiff) had not cited any court precedent that privacy and health concerns were NOT a valid basis for objecting to an installation. Nor did this court cite any precedent to establish that privacy or health concerns were irrelevant to a utility installation. Where there is no precedent for a legal principle a case is generally termed a “case of first impression” and does call for analysis, but none was done by this court.

“Furthermore, even if we assume, arguendo, that defendants’ privacy or health-related concerns constitute valid defenses to their failure to comply with the relevant rules and tariff provisions, defendants failed to establish the factual bases of those defenses. “ The party asserting an affirmative defense has the burden of presenting evidence to support it.” …

“In support of their privacy defense, defendants proffered a report prepared by the National Institute of Standards and Technology entitled Guidelines for Smart Grid Cyber Security: Vol. 2, Privacy and the Smart Grid (NISTIR 7628) (August 2010). Even assuming that this report constituted admissible evidence, see MCR 2.116(G)(6), this document does not demonstrate that the smart meter installed on defendants’ property posed an actual risk to defendants’ privacy; the report generally discussed the possibility of privacy risks related to smart meters and provided recommendations for entities participating in a smart grid. …

“In support of their health-related defense, defendants provided the affidavit of Dr. Hillman, discussing the health of a three–year -old child not involved in the instant case. The affidavit does not establish that the smart meter installed at defendants’ home operated in a similar fashion, emitted the same level of “electricity [that] permeat[ed] the house,” or caused similar health effects , and thus fails to be competent evidence that the smart meter installed on defendants’ property posed a risk to defendants’ health. Again, considering the evidence that was before the trial court, we conclude that reasonable minds could not differ in holding that defendants failed to provide a factual basis for their privacy and health -related defenses and, as a result, failed to demonstrate that a genuine issue of material fact exists with regard to the viability of those defenses.

Comment: The court is saying that it is never enough to show proof that a thing has harmed others or is generally acknowledged by experts to cause a risk of harm wherever installed. The court is saying that the Stenmans must wait until their health has actually been damaged or their private information has actually been sold to third parties before they can legally object to an installation (of a device never authorized by any statute and never mandated as a condition of service by our own MPSC)

(4) STENMAN OBJECTIONS BASED ON FOURTH AMENDMENT – DISMISSED:

Opinion of the Court: “Finally, defendants argue that plaintiff’s installation of a smart meter on their home constituted a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. We disagree. … The United States and Michigan Constitutions guarantee every person’s right to be free from unreasonable searches. US Const, Am IV; Const 1963, art 1, § 11. However, in order for Fourth Amendment protections to apply, the government must perform a search. “[T]he Fourth Amendment proscribes only government action and is not applicable to a search or seizure, even an unreasonable one, conducted by a private person not acting as an agent of the government or with the participation or knowledge of any government official.” … defendants have failed to establish that plaintiff’s installation of smart meters constitutes governmental action for Fourth Amendment purposes. Even if the state and federal governments have advocated or incentivized, as a matter of public policy, the use of smart meters, there is no indication that the government controls the operations of plaintiff, an investor-owned electric utility, or that plaintiff acts as an agent of the state or federal governments. Accordingly, we reject defendants’ claim that plaintiff’s installation of a smart meter violated their Fourth Amendment rights.”

Comment: There were ample citations in the Stenman case to situations where the government aided and abetted a private actor to commit an action later held to be a Fourth Amendment violation. In this case the federal government provided 50% of the initial funding for DTE smart meters and the MPSC mandated Michigan utilities to participate in a “Smart Meter Collaborative” to plan for the implementation of smart meters in Michigan. This court simply did not want to go there.

SUBSEQUENT ACTIONS: Application was made for the Stenmans by attorney Don Keskey to the Michigan Supreme Court to hear an appeal, and that application denied on March 8, 2016. Application was made, also by Don Keskey, to the U.S. Supreme Court for a Writ of Certiorari and denied by that court on May 4, 2017.

The legal brief filed by the Stenmans can be found HERE.

 The decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals on this case can be found HERE.

 The conflicting decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals on the earlier, Kurtz, Edwards and Cusumano consolidated appeals can be found HERE.

 CONCLUSION: In view of this case, other utility customers wishing to fight their utility in court over a smart meter installation will have a hard road to travel. That doesn’t mean it is impossible, but any future case will need to distinguish itself from this case by rigorous presentation of evidence with the first filing or first response or by the time of a first motion hearing. A case in which actual harm, and not only hypothetical harm, can be shown conclusively, would have a distinct advantage. All that happened in this case also illustrates the importance of securing a legislative solution, as many of us are attempting to do now with Michigan House Bill 4220, sponsored by Representative Gary Glenn with 17 cosponsors.

 Text of the Glenn bill as originally introduced can be found HERE. A subsequent admendment was approved in committee that excluded water utilities from the bill.

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* David Sheldon is not an attorney but has represented himself successfully in both federal and state courts.

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UPDATE ON MICHIGAN COURT OF APPEALS DECISIONS

by Vigilant Dave
July 26th, 2015

Justice iconsThis past week we saw first an unfortunate decision in the Sheldon smart meter appeal. That was the case in which the Court had found in April of 2012 that a Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) decision on smart meters did not have any substantial factual support. The Court had ordered the MPSC to do the case over and this time to consider all aspects of smart meters, including the “risks and burdens” on customers and the ”experience in other states.” But the Commission chose to defy the court’s order and consider only the effect of smart meters on utility rates. The Commission also chose to exclude the very interveners who could have presented evidence on the issues the appeals court wanted considered.

David Sheldon brought an appeal as one of the excluded interveners, essentially arguing that the Commission was in contempt of court. A panel of three judges heard the case, which was not the panel that had earlier ordered the Commission to consider all the aspects. This panel actually found no problem with the Commission’s conduct! They failed, in their written opinion and order, to state any logical basis for finding that the Commission had carried out the earlier order and should not be found in contempt.

That decision may be read here.

A second decision this week was on a Motion for Reconsideration filed by the MPSC on the Consumers Energy case. This was the case, known as Rison et al, filed by a group of 16 Consumers customers from the Muskegon area. The Commission had been ordered back in May to redo a contested case involving their decision to approve funding and an opt-out plan for Consumers Energy customers. The scope of the remand was  limited to rate issues, with no indication that the Commission need consider health or privacy concerns. And no requirement that the Commission need allow the Consumers customers who brought this case to participate in the remand hearings.

The MPSC wanted the Court to reverse that decision on grounds they had already thoroughly examined smart meter issues and there was no need for further inquiry. In this matter the majority of the justices simply denied the motion, so that the earlier order remained in effect and the majority made it clear that the scope of the case would remain limited as earlier ordered.

But this time something happened that was not business as usual. Judge O’Connell, who had participated in that earlier decision, filed a dissenting opinion in which he actually expressed his view that the scope of the earlier order should be expanded to specifically include health and privacy issues. He stated that due process requires that customers who have smart meter concerns have a forum in which to present evidence to back up their concerns. He also questioned the justice of charging opt-out fees, questioned the objectivity of the MPSC, questioned the propriety of the Attorney General representing both sides in a contested case and opined that it was time for the Michigan Supreme Court to get involved. It must be stressed this was a dissenting opinion and in no way was it the order of the court. But at least it gives us some reason for hope that we are beginning to change minds.

 That colorful dissenting opinion can be read here.

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Analysis by David Sheldon
(July 19th, 2015)

On July 15th, 2015, a decision was handed down by the Michigan Court of Appeals that, if not appealed, will severely constrain the rights of all Michigan utility customers. This article is written, in part, as a response to an inaccurate and misleading article published a few days ago on another smart meter website. Sadly that article unfairly characterized the efforts of a couple to defend themselves against utility bullying and implied that, if only they had hired a good lawyer, the outcome would have been different.

We know there are thousands of you, in southeastern Michigan alone, who have resisted the forced installation of a “smart” electric meter. Many of you have locked your meter enclosures or otherwise limited access by utility installers bent on replacing your traditional meters.

Thousands of others who have the new smart meters are now suffering serious health effects that limit them in the use and enjoyment of their homes. The universal experience has been that, once a smart meter is installed, the utility will not remove it for any reason. At least 20 families that we know of have found it necessary to resort to self help in order to rid themselves of an intrusive and life limiting device.

Such was the case for Ralph and Donna Stenman of Farmington Hills. In early 2012, after pleading with DTE to remove a smart meter that was making Donna ill, the couple finally resorted to removing the offending device themselves and replacing it with an industry standard calibrated analog meter. The smart meter itself was in no way tampered with. It was simply removed from the meter housing (owned by the homeowner) and safely returned to DTE.

The utility objected that the meter the couple installed was not an approved device. The couple responded that DTE was welcome to replace it at any time with an analog meter of their own specifications. The utility responded with threats and repeated attempts to re-install the smart meter. The Stenmans believed they had no choice but to notify the utility that any access to their meter would have to be by appointment only and under supervised conditions. The result was that DTE sued the Stenmans seeking, among other things, an injunction that would command the couple to allow DTE installers to enter upon their property for the purpose of re-installing the smart meter.

The lawsuit was heard by Oakland Circuit Judge Rudy Nichols in the fall of 2012. The couple wound up representing themselves after approaching a number of attorneys who refused to take the case, stating either that it was hopeless to go up against a utility or that DTE would bankrupt them if they took the case. A preliminary hearing was scheduled with DTE asking for a summary judgment.

In preparation for that hearing much research was done on the law to determine what sort of evidence the couple would need. Michigan Stop Smart Meters provided assistance. The couple filed a formal response to the suit, explaining why the smart meter had to be removed, and providing an affidavit from a doctor that an identical smart meter installed on another home had caused severe illness. Also presented was a government document explaining how these meters would invade privacy and that they should be installed only with consent of the homeowner. The couple fully expected that this preliminary evidence would be enough that the judge would schedule a trial. Instead, in December of 2012, the judge granted DTE a summary judgment with no opportunity for the couple to present any further evidence.

Judge Nichols stated in his decision that the Stenmans had not met their burden to present evidence showing that, if a trial were held, they had a reasonable chance to prevail. Yet another Oakland Circuit Judge had heard an identical lawsuit by DTE against another couple a month earlier, been presented with the identical evidence, and found that evidence sufficient to warrant scheduling a trial. Judge Nichols also ignored the fact that DTE had not presented any evidence that their smart device had ever been authorized by either the legislature or the Michigan Public Service Commission. The law is clear that a summary judgment is only legal when there are no material facts in controversy. The law is also clear that any ambiguity in the factual situation must be resolved in favor of the non moving party – in this case the Stenmans. Judge Nichols decision was clearly contrary to law.

An appeal was filed. The Stenmans filed their appeal brief without benefit of an attorney. The wheels of justice turn slowly. It took from December of 2012 until June of 2015 for oral argument to be scheduled. The Stenmans finally found an attorney to represent them at the oral argument. Some of you had the opportunity to hear that.

On July 15th a decision was finally issued that upheld Judge Nichols’ decision in all respects and provided no relief to the Stenmans. In reaching this conclusion the Court of Appeals found that:

  1. That even though the burden of proving the necessary elements of a complaint always (by law) falls on the plaintiff, that burden can be cast, when convenient, upon the defendant.
  2. That, although DTE had never presented any evidence, or even an assertion, that their smart meters were lawful, these meters were nonetheless lawful.
  3. That, even though the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) had no jurisdiction to tell a privately owned utility what kind of meters to use(*), the MPSC nevertheless had the authority to authorize the new smart meters, and the utility could rely on that authority to force installation of the new meters.
  4. That, even though a private utility is required to have its rules and conditions of service approved by the MPSC, and no such approval had actually been given for the utility to make smart meters a condition of service, that the utility could, nonetheless, mandate smart meters.
  5. That, even though the MPSC has consistently refused to hold any evidentiary hearings on the possible health dangers of smart meters, they were entitled to conclude, as a matter of law, that health effects of smart meters are negligible.
  6. That, even though the “opt-out” plan offered by DTE allows nobody to avoid having a smart meter and was not even an available plan when the Stenmans resorted to self help, this plan is cited as one of the reasons Judge Nichols was justified in his ruling.
  7. That even though there is no practical alternative to DTE service for most people in southeastern Michigan, nonetheless being a DTE customer is “voluntary”.
  8. That even though evidence was provided the court that an identical smart meter had made a child severely ill, this did not constitute evidence that it might endanger the lives of an elderly couple.
  9. That even though the issue of the “opt-out” plan being an opt-out in name only was fully discussed in the Stenmans’ original pleadings before Judge Nichols, the Court of Appeals finds that this issue was not raised in the trial court.
  10. That, although the Stenmans provided an official publication of the U.S. government in which the National Institute for Standards and Technology concluded that smart meters will violate the privacy of homeowners wherever they are installed, the Court of Appeals finds that such concerns with privacy are merely “conjectural and hypothetical”, and that there has been no showing of “actual or imminent harm”. Therefore the Stenmans “have no standing” to raise the Fourth Amendment issue.

Whether one reaches this point fully represented by an attorney or reaches it through one’s own efforts makes little difference in the end.

What we see in this Appeals Court decision is not respect for or observance of law. What we see is a politically motivated decision based on the idea that nothing should get in the way of the smart grid agenda. Or that nothing should get in the way of powerful interest groups.

This is not to say that our legal system is hopeless or that we shouldn’t try to defend our rights through lawful means. Not every panel of the Court of Appeals will be as unreasonable as this one, and not every trial judge will be as unreasonable as Judge Nichols.

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* Another panel of this same Court of Appeals so ruled in March, 2015 in the case of Cusumano v. MPSC.

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David_O_Carpenter_from_the_University_at_AlbanyGives very strong and credible testimony on the health problems caused by “smart” meters in DTE’s current rate case.

July 6th, 2015

We were and are convinced that having the testimony of a highly credible and seasoned professional could help us strike a blow against “smart” meters in this rate case. More importantly the testimony will help us to make our case before the legislature and for our upcoming battles with DTE in the regular courts.

DTE brought the current rate case to the Michigan Public Service Commission. In this case, U-17767, DTE is seeking across the board rate increases for most of its services but also requesting the Commission to approve continued customer funding of “smart meters.”

Dr. Carpenter is known in professional circles all over the world. He is known for his view that smart meters represent a real threat to the health of utility customers. Dr. Carpenter was the leader of a group of 45 doctors and scientists who signed the “Toronto Statement” warning of the dangers of smart meters in 2012. He was one of the authors of the Bio-initiative Report and about 350 articles that have been published in peer reviewed journals. He is currently the Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment, State University of New York at Albany.

The doctor generously contributed his time for this case, asking only to be reimbursed for his out-of-pocket expenses for travel from New York. Even so, Michigan Stop Smart Meters is out about $1000 for the trip expenses so that we need to appeal to you, our fellow smart meter activists. You all now have a better shot at keeping a smart meter off your own homes because of the facts this doctor got on the record this week!

In accordance with the Commission’s normal procedures, all witnesses submit their direct testimony in written form many weeks prior to a hearing. They are required to be present at the hearing so that opposing parties may cross-examine them on that testimony. Dr. Carpenter’s cross-examination gave him an opportunity to make his written testimony come alive and to establish his credibility with the judge as a seasoned and highly credible professional.

Our thanks go to all of you activists, who made the trip from Detroit to Lansing to show support for our issue and for the doctor’s testimony. About half the people in the room were activists known to us. The other half were MPSC staff people, including all of the ones directly involved in the planning of smart grid.

Our thanks also go to smart meter activist Richard Meltzer, who conducted the primary cross-examination of the doctor, lasting more than two hours. This was necessary because we had advance indications that the attorneys for DTE and MPSC staff were going to waive cross. We think they made that choice in hopes of denying the doctor an opportunity to establish his bona fides. As it turned out DTE did not cross and staff’s cross was limited to about 3 questions. But their strategy ultimately failed because of Richard’s outstanding questions.

Richard was allowed only to ask questions designed to clarify the original testimony, not to expand on it. There were many objections from the attorneys for DTE and MPSC staff. Despite all the objections we wound up getting more than enough of the critical facts developed on the record. DTE and staff did not put any evidence into the record that would establish that smart meters do not cause harm.

In the end what we got on the record was that smart meters will adversely impact about 5% of the population almost immediately following installation, and are likely to cause cancers or neurological illnesses in the long run for a much larger share of the public. We got on record that the first cause of harm is the pulse modulation of the microwave radio carrier. This makes smart meters very different than am or fm radio broadcasting. We also got on record the fact these meters, even with radio off, put dirty electricity on the wiring of homes and businesses. This is critical because it shows that the so called “opt-out” meter DTE is offering is no true opt-out at all!

Michigan Stop Smart Meters asks you to consider if you are not better off because we finally got some real testimony on the record. This event set us back about $1000. Some have already made generous contributions. If you can send in a contribution of $100, $50, $25 or whatever you can afford, we will be made whole for the expense of this event. Any excess of contributions that come in will put us in a position to undertake other projects to advance the goals we all share of protecting our health and our privacy and forcing DTE to stop the bullying.

Please mail contributions to:

Michigan Stop Smart Meters
215 West Troy #4004
Ferndale, MI 48220

 

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Dr. David O. Carpenter to Testify Against “Smart Meters”
in Utility Rate Case
before
Michigan Public Service Commission.

David_O_Carpenter_from_the_University_at_AlbanyDr. Carpenter’s position is that the current smart meter technology
poses health risks both because of the microwave radiation and
because of the low frequency “dirty electricity” these meters put
on the wiring of homes and businesses.

Cross Examination of Dr. Carpenter
Michigan Public Service Commission
7109 West Saginaw Highway
Lansing, MI

Monday July 6th, 9 AM

Dr. Carpenter is currently Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment, State University of New York at Albany. He has published some 350 papers in peer reviewed journals.

We would like to see as many as possible attend the above
hearing before the administrative judge to show support for
Dr. Carpenter and for the testimony he is providing that will
be so helpful to our cause.

Directions from Detroit area: Follow I-96 from Detroit to Lansing and continue up the west side of Lansing, then exit to Saginaw Highway
and proceed
about 3 blocks east.

If you care about putting the brakes on this harmful technology, consider making a donation of $100, $50, $25 or whatever you
can afford to cover Dr. Carpenter’s travel expenses.

The doctor is, apart from reimbursement of out of pocket expenses, receiving no payment for his testimony. It is costing about $1,000
for air fare and rental car to bring him to this hearing.
This money
has been advanced by
Michigan Stop Smart Meters. Any money
raised
in excess of these travel expenses will go toward our ongoing
legal efforts and toward cost of
travel to put on smart meter
lectures
all over the state.

Please send contributions by check or money order to:

Michigan Stop Smart Meters
215 West Troy #4004
Ferndale, MI 48220

 

 

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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 Justice icons“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

 Stenman Appeal
Oral argument Tuesday June 9th at 10 am
Detroit branch of MCOA
3020 West Grand Boulevard
Suite 14-300

Sheldon Appeal
(Two errors corrected below)
Oral argument Wednesday June 10th at 11 am
Lansing branch of MCOA
Hall of Justice
925 West Ottawa Street
2nd Floor

 (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.

 

 

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three judges panelSome of the Consumers customers who appealed may take some comfort in the Court’s decision to remand one small part of their case to the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) for reconsideration. It is with some reluctance, therefore, that I write this story. On April 30th, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals (MCOA) issued a decision concerning the twin appeals that had been filed against the decision of the MPSC that, in turn, had both approved overall funding for the smart meter system and also approved a schedule of fees for persons wishing to opt-out of a transmitting smart meter. This decision may be found under the “Legal” menu tab on this website.

One appeal was by Michigan’s Attorney General and concerned his claim that when the MPSC made a decision allowing Consumers to recover the overall costs of its smart meter program from customers, that decision had not been properly supported by evidence on the record. The second appeal was by a group of 16 Consumers customers from the Muskegon area in which this same overall cost recovery was challenged as unsupported by the evidence. Also challenged was the inadequacy of the so called Consumers ‘opt-out’ tariff which, the appeal claimed, allows Consumers to force all their customers to have a smart meter, either with radio on or radio off. The two appeals were consolidated by the court and heard during one oral argument and decided by one court order.

The Attorney General’s appeal was denied altogether on grounds that he had apparently already signed off on funding the smart meter program as part of a settlement deal. In that settlement agreement, the AG had specifically exempted questions concerning the smart meter program to be decided at a later date. But the amount of revenue approved in the settlement included the amounts needed for the smart meter program. The Court took the position that MPSC’s only authority with respect to smart meters was to approve or not approve rates and, since the rates had already been approved, the AG’s appeal was held to have no merit.

The appeal of the Consumers customers, like that of the Attorney General, raised the issue that there was wholly inadequate evidence on the record to support the MPSC’s decision to approve overall cost recovery for the smart meter program. But, unlike the AG’s appeal, the Consumers customers had not signed off on these overall program costs. They had not participated in the original hearing of the case before the MPSC. The Court did not even comment on the argument of the Consumers customers that costs for the overall smart meter program had not been supported by appropriate evidence on the record. The Consumers appeal brief may be found under the “Legal” menu tab on this website.

The Consumers appeal also challenged the very idea of opt-out fees, arguing that the MPSC should have considered an alternative opt-in approach. Regrettably, the issue that any true opt-out must allow customers to keep or get back their mechanical analog meters was not even raised in the appeal. Raising this issue would have supported another argument that Consumers customers are getting little or no benefit by joining the ‘opt-out’ program. The appeal of the Muskegon Consumers customers was denied for the most part, except for a question as to the amount of the opt-out fees. Not whether there should be opt-out fees, but just the question of the amount of those fees. For that one narrow issue the Court remanded the case back to MPSC to develop a competent body of evidence to support whatever opt-out fees it might ultimately set after such a review.

The Consumers appeal also raised a Fourth Amendment argument but left out a key point necessary to win such a point. Ordinarily the Fourth Amendment is applied to actions of law enforcement or to the actions of other government agencies. In order to have it apply to a private entity, such as an investor owned public utility, it is necessary to demonstrate that the private entity is what is called a “state actor” in the case law. Such a demonstration was not made in the appeal brief at all and not made in a convincing manner in the reply brief or the oral argument. This panel chose to ignore the Fourth Amendment argument, unlike the panel that heard the DTE opt-out case two months earlier.

Sadly the appeals court stated that the decision whether to allow the Consumers customers to participate in the remanded case would be up to the MPSC. The MPSC is already on record that these customers should not participate since they were not participants in the original hearings. The MPSC also has a track record of excluding people from a remanded DTE case on similar grounds.

So what will come of all this? The case will be sent back to MPSC for a rehearing of the opt-out fee question, but, in all likelihood, no participation by these appellants. The same folks who didn’t think the issue was all that important the first time around will be the only ones allowed to introduce evidence the second time around. The MPSC will go through the motions of fulfilling the Court’s Order and will almost certainly, in the end, again approve the same opt-out fees approved the first time. Nothing will have been gained, except perhaps to make the MPSC work harder to achieve the same outcome.

Did this appeals court make smart meters mandatory? Absolutely not! The appeals court in this case, as in the earlier reported DTE case, was constrained, when reviewing the actions of an administrative agency, to only consider whether the agency did anything wrong. They could not get into the broader issues of whether customers have a valid complaint about what they are being subjected to. The Court based its opt-out decision on the MPSC not having the authority to tell a utility what kind of meters to use. The appeals court stated, in these two cases, that MPSC only has the authority to set the rates for whatever Consumers or DTE wants to do. This is good because it deprives both utilities of the argument that their smart meter programs are mandatory because the MPSC ordered it. It leaves both utilities in the position of making their programs mandatory solely on their own say-so.

The silver lining: The door is now open for individual utility customers, acting singly or as a group, to go into one or more of the state’s circuit courts and argue that Consumers (or DTE) has no legal authority to force smart meters on non-consenting customers! If such a legal action were successful at the circuit court level it would doubtless land in front of this appeals court in due course. But the appeals court, when reviewing the decision of a circuit court has much broader discretion to look at all the issues, including constitutional issues.