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by David Sheldon

September 17th, 2017 – WE NEED HELP!  Michigan Stop Smart Meters has been working for more than 6 years to fight the forced installation of ‘smart’ utility meters by Michigan’s two largest utilities.

In 2015, when we brought in world renowned expert, Dr. David Carpenter, to testify before the Michigan Public Service Commission, we appealed for your financial support and many of you gave generously to make that event happen!  We are now at a juncture where there is much more to be done and we cannot do it without your support!

Our efforts to date have been in the political, educational, legal and regulatory arenas, and has resulted in much media coverage. Our efforts have also had much to do with the introduction of several bills in our legislature designed to protect utility customers – including the Opsommer bill, the McMillin bill and, most recently, the introduction of House Bill 4220 by current Michigan House Energy Chairman Gary Glenn.  But now we need to make a full court press to see that this bill is passed on by the Energy Committee to the full House. This will involve radio ads, print ads and extensive flyering. There are also some legal battles in the works. With your support we can do a lot. Without such support we cannot.

OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS SO FAR!
We at Michigan Stop Smart Meters have, in concert with others, been struggling for more than six years now to raise health, safety and privacy issues with respect to so called “smart meters” now being deployed by DTE on the east side of state, and by Consumers Energy on the west side.

OUR POLITICAL WORK: In concert with others we petitioned city and county governments to endorse our cause, put on special PowerPoint presentations before city councils and got the backing of 34 local governments.  This resulted in a sham MPSC investigation, but also led to the introduction of three proposed new meter choice laws – the Opsommer bill, the McMillin bill and now under consideration House Bill 4220, also know as the Glenn bill.  It also led to the spectacularly successful hearing before the House Oversight Committee on December 2nd, 2014 and a series of hearings before the House Energy Committee in 2017.

OUR EDUCATIONAL WORK: We sponsored this website and public educational meetings in Allen Park, Cheboygan, Clinton Township, East Detroit, Detroit, Ferndale, Fraser, Grand Blanc, Grand Rapids, Holland, Midland, Muskegon, Parchment, Plymouth, Rochester, Romeo, Romulus and Taylor   We have been interviewed by Macomb Daily, Oakland Press, Detroit News, Hometown Newspapers, by Holland radio’s “Talk of the Town” program, by Fox17 News in Grand Rapids, by Channel 13 in Grand Rapids and most recently this year by Guy Gordon on WJR Radio and by WXYZ TV.

OUR LEGAL WORK: We closely followed and supported two cases in Oakland Circuit Court where Detroit Edison had sued local couples who changed their own meters when they became ill and could get no relief from the utility.  In one of the cases the couple had suffered an unjust decision early on from a circuit judge and was in need of our help to mount an appeal. We provided that help. That was the Stenman case and is reported elsewhere on this website. In the other case the couple needed some initial assistance at the circuit court level, but the case ultimately settled without an appeal. We also assisted the Cusumanos in appealing the DTE ‘Opt-Out’ Plan. We assisted some residents of the Muskegon area in mounting a 16 person appeal of the Consumers Energy ‘Opt-Out’ Plan. This was the case known as Rison et al. Our support won for them a preliminary ruling from the Court of Appeals that allowed the case to survive a Motion for Summary Dismissal. That in turn led to the group receiving a financial donation that enabled them to hire attorneys to finish the case. The case was ultimately joined to one brought by the Attorney General and the two joined cases resulted in a remand of the opt-out plan back to MPSC for a redo.

OUR REGULATORY WORK: In 2015 we intervened in DTE’s general rate case before the Michigan Public Service Commission. This case included a review of the details of the smart meter opt-out program as well as cost justification for the overall smart meter program in Michigan. As part of that case we brought in world renowned Dr. David Carpenter of the State University of New York to testify before the commission. That case is reported elsewhere on this website. Many of you contributed generously to cover the expenses of bringing Dr. Carpenter in.

OUR PLANS GOING FORWARD: Our focus right now is primarily on educating more citizens to demand of their elected representatives that they pass meter choice legislation, such as the current House Bill 4220, introduced by Energy Chairman Gary Glenn, with 16 co-sponsors, and supported on the Senate floor by Senator Patrick Colbeck who has launched a campaign to be Michigan’s next Governor. This educational campaign will require funds for intensive flyering in many districts, and for newspaper and radio ads. How successful we will be with this will depend very much on the generosity of our activists with this fund raising effort.

Other legal efforts are also under consideration, including:

(1) an appeal of a particularly egregious harassment by a Michigan utility of a woman whose very life was threatened by a forced installation of a digital meter. This is a case that could set a crucial precedent to help all those whose health is endangered by smart or digital meters.

(2) a possible Fourth Amendment, multi-plaintiff lawsuit in federal court to defend the rights of all Michigan utility customers who have been forced to take a smart meter or have their power turned off.

Again, how much we can do will depend on your generosity in donating to us at this time.

If you are angry at what DTE, Consumers Energy and their cronies in state offices are doing to Michigan utility customers, and you appreciate all that we are doing to fight these injustices, then PLEASE HELP US by donation or by volunteering your time!

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by David Sheldon

August 27th, 2017 – New Petition Aimed at Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette Asks Him to Enforce Existing Laws Against ‘Smart’ Meters.

We are calling on all of you who have issues with smart meters – whether it be for privacy violations, health violations or reckless disregard for our safety from lightning and fires – to join our NEW PETITION TO MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL BILL SCHUETTE. He is our state’s chief law enforcer and he has so far ignored the Fourth Amendment violations, Michigan’s own felony surveillance statute, and a state law mandating that utilities deliver safe energy. He has stood idly by while senior citizens have their electricity shut off for resisting this new technology – even when they have doctor’s letters and their very lives are placed at risk.

This man is reportedly planning to run in the Republican primary as the party’s next candidate for Governor. Let’s let him know he won’t have our support if he continues to fiddle while Michiganders suffer!

Here is the petition, started by John Kurczewski: Click Here

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Movie Producer Offers False Hope to Thousands
by David Sheldon
Revised August 8th, 2017

Most of us were very impressed with the quality of the film ‘Take Back Your Power’ by Josh del Sol. It has been effective in motivating people whenever it has had a showing. This movie producer undoubtedly has a talent for dramatizing the smart meter issue.

In December of 2014 Mr. del Sol came to speak following a showing of his film at the Royal Oak Art Theater. He and an associate, Cal Washington, used this time for an illustrated presentation in some detail, of a process for (supposedly) stopping utilities from installing smart meters. Documents to be used were presented on the big screen and discussed in some detail. In these documents, liberally punctuated by biblical references, there was much about holding individual utility executives and politicians personally liable financially by using merchant law, and sending them a series of letters which would ‘notify them of their liability’.  At the end of this meeting some 20 or so individuals were persuaded to attend a follow-up meeting for the purpose of putting the process to work in their own situations.

Now Mr. Del Sol has sent out an email indicating his intention to go nationwide and perhaps even worldwide with this process. He has also setup a web site where he is soliciting funds to support his activities. He indicates the process has been tested with three “seed groups”. Apparently the Michigan group he formed in 2014 is one of those three seed groups.

There is a problem with all this: the process does not work. Despite my own visibility in the smart meter choice movement through this website and in many other ways, I have not heard from even one of the 20 people in that Michigan seed group stating that, after following del Sol’s process, they were successful in keeping a smart meter off their home.

The process is inherently flawed because it is based on the assumption that officials can be forced to deal with us on our terms and become individually liable just because we assert in letters that they are individually liable. The process also assumes that one can form a binding contract with officials by making an offer which they refuse or neglect to answer. Contract law does not work that way. A valid contract requires an offer and an acceptance. Ignoring an offer does not constitute acceptance. And for the process to mean anything there would have to be some real concern by the officials that courts would, in fact, hold them personally liable for their actions.

There is a problem with that as well. From what we have seen so far, the courts here in Michigan are not about to rule against the utilities no matter what arguments are presented to them. We have had four cases now reach the Michigan Court of Appeals. Issues such as property rights, privacy, health, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment (takings clause) and Michigan’s own felony surveillance law, and others have been argued with thorough support from the Constitution, the statutes and case law. But the appeals court has ignored all of that and ruled against us at every turn. We have seen similar disregard of the law in some other states and in the federal court system.

Smart meters are clearly a world wide threat, being forced on people in every industrialized country. This, despite the fact these meters are not “green” but actually increase overall energy usage and add to the amount of carbon dioxide being produced. There is clearly an agenda in play, emanating from policy makers at the international level, through our federal government to our state government. Policy makers at the federal and state level are driving the agenda, essentially bribing utilities by creating vast opportunities for the utilities and the technology companies that supply them to participate in this bonanza. And our judges are not going to get in the way of that agenda. Perhaps they have been bribed or warned of consequences to themselves if they side with us.

All that said, there may still be opportunities for individuals whose very lives have been placed in jeopardy to obtain limited relief from our courts – providing they seek remedies that only carve out very narrow exceptions to the program, leaving the overall agenda intact.

Now if our courts are not going to uphold the Fourth Amendment, or the Fifth Amendment, or Michigan’s own felony surveillance law because of an agenda from on high, then why on earth would they enforce merchant law when it conflicts with the same agenda? It makes no sense whatever. The officials who are supposed to be scared straight by the various documents and letters in this process will simply laugh at them.

I believe it is important for me to publish an article exposing this process, which is akin to the Emperor’s Clothes in the old fable, because I believe that otherwise many in our Michigan smart meter resistance movement will be tempted to sign on, invest heavily of their time, and make donations to a process that is not going to help them in their individual situations and certainly not help our movement.

Why is Mr. del Sol promoting a process that he must know does not and cannot work? Who can say? His intentions may be the best but perhaps he has been misled in some way.

Our focus as a movement now needs to be on getting meter choice legislation passed. Those who can afford to make a donation or do volunteer work should be directing their time and money to help the various Michigan groups that are working toward that goal.

Those groups are:

Smart Meter Education Network                           smartmetereducationnetwork.com

Michigan Stop Smart Meters                                  michiganstopsmartmeters.com

Analog Meter Choice                                              analogmeterchoice@gmail.com

Utility Meter Choice 4 Michigan                           mysmartmeterdoeswhat.com

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from the Center for Electrosmog Prevention

July 20th, 2017 – People with disabilities and medical conditions may feel they are being discriminated against – involuntarily exposed to RF radiation from smart meters on their property or neighboring properties that may cause harm, risk, exacerbate an existing condition, or are being charged fees to opt-out of smart meters for medical reasons (illegal surcharge). Accommodations may be requested of the PUC or utility for qualifying disabilities or medical conditions. A discrimination complaint may be filed if accommodations aren’t met.

Each state and local gov’t, including a municipal utility (run by local gov’t)  is required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act under Title II .  Privately-owned utilities may be covered under Title III (see below). The ADA (more at http://www.ada.gov) is enforced by the US Dept of Justice (US DOJ). Privately-owned utilities that accepted federal funding for smart meter and smart grid projects also must follow certain additional federal discrimination laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended), as it applies to equal access to program benefits and services (equal access to essential utilities such as electricity and gas or water)**, with enforcement by the US Dept of Energy.

People with qualifying disabilities**** under the ADA*** may wish to file a complaint against the state Public Utility Commission and the utility company involved, if they feel their rights have been violated through denial of accommodations for their disability or medical condition.  More

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Editor’s Note: Helpful supporting evidence for a discrimination complaint may soon be available from new genetic screening procedure.

 

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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.