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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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January 29th, 2015 – Today many of us participated, at the new headquarters of the Public Service Commission, in the pre-hearing on DTE’s request for a $340 million dollar general rate increase for residential customers plus a decision whether customers should continue to pay for the smart meter program and a report of status of the smart meter opt-out program that may lead to a future increase in opt-out fees.

Intervener status was granted by Administrative Law Judge Sharon Feldman to individual applicants Dan Mazurek, Richard Meltzer, David Sheldon and Paul Wilk and also to 9 other utility customers acting as a group organized by the Cusumanos and represented by attorneys Don Keskey and Brian Coyer. A schedule was adopted for further proceedings in this case that won’t be complete until next December.

Interveners will be allowed to conduct discovery, bring in witnesses to testify, participate in cross-examinations of DTE’s witnesses, and make legal arguments as to what decisions the Commission should make.

Also present were about 30 DTE customers who came to observe and, in some cases, to make short comments on the record. All these commenters, as would be expected, spoke critically of the smart meters and many told of illnesses they had experienced since installations of smart meters on their homes.

 Click here for link to our earlier article on this case.

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LET’S MOBILIZE OUR FORCES

Hall of Justice - large front viewWho Should Come? All of us who are angry about ‘smart’ meters and DTE’s unconscionable threats to turn off power to those of you who have been defending your homes!

What We Will See Tuesday: A hearing in front of a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals. The issues are whether DTE’s ‘opt-out’ plan is legal and whether the Public Service Commission (MPSC) did its job properly in evaluating that plan. There will be oral arguments presented by an attorney on our side and by attorneys representing DTE and MPSC. Most interesting will be questions that some of these judges will pose to the attorneys. This may give us an early indication, which way the wind is blowing. For a more detailed discussion of what these appeals are all about see our earlier post: Appeals of DTE Smart Meter ‘Opt-Out’ Will Be Heard!

Just Added: Full brief of the Cusumano Appeal!

Where? The Michigan Hall of Justice, 2nd Floor. This building, shown above, is at 925 West Ottawa Street, in Lansing between Ottawa Street on the north, Allegan Street on the south and Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard on the west. It is on the opposite end of the mall from the Capitol Building.

When? Tuesday, January 13th at 10 am. This session of court runs from 10 am until noon. It is likely that other appeals will be heard before ours is called.

Why Should We All Come? This will not be a forum for us all to express our discontents. It is a legal proceeding in a courtroom in which only the named parties may take an active role. But it is important the judges see that there is strong public support for the parties who have brought this case. People watching in courtJudges are supposed to rule strictly according to law, but judges are human. And judges are often feeling pressure from the political establishment and from powerful special interests to uphold policies and programs we find unacceptable. If they look out upon a mostly empty courtroom their courage to buck the establishment may falter. But if they look out upon a courtroom that is jammed with people who CARE about the issue before them, and SUPPORT those who have brought the complaint before the Court, it may make a difference!

Who Has Brought This Issue Before the Court? There are actually two appeals. One was brought by Cynthia Edwards, Linda Kurtz and Leslie Panzica-Gloppa. The other by Dominic and Lillian Cusumano. Both appeals are by people who took part, two years ago before the MPSC, in the so-called DTE ‘opt-out’ case. Both appeals argue that DTE’s ‘opt-out’ plan, as approved by that Commission, is illegal and needs to be retooled so that people have a real CHOICE.

Map, Directions and Parking: The travel time from Detroit is about 1- 1/2 hours. Longer during rush hour or if there are adverse road conditions. Parking can be a challenge for first timers. Much helpful information at this link: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/gtfcj/Directions_to_the_MI_Hall_of_Justice_184038_7.pdf

Appropriate Attire: We have been advised that we will make a better impression if we are conservatively dressed. For the men a suit and tie is recommended. Blue jeans are out!

What Can We Hope For? A decision overturning the DTE ‘Opt-Out’ plan that was approved by the Public Service Commission. The case would then likely be remanded to the MPSC for a do-over, but with specific instructions as to issues that must be considered and evidence that must be heard. The forced installations and threats we are seeing now would stop until a new plan is approved. Alternatively, the Court might uphold the DTE ‘opt-out’ plan, in which case forced installations would continue and we would have to seek a remedy by starting a new action in a trial court.

There is a tentative plan for us all to go out to lunch at a restaurant within walking distance of the Hall of Justice. Meet after hearing in rotunda, outside courtroom.

 SEE YOU THERE!

 

 

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December 10, 2014

About 300 moviegoers gathered at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak, MI this evening for a showing of Josh del Sol’s smart meter film titled ‘Take Back Your Power’. The film was very well received and was free of charge. This was made possible courtesy of organizer/backer Andrea McNinch who also arranged to fly in film producer Josh del Sol.

Following the film many stayed for a 2-hour meeting that had been billed as a question and answer session with the film producer. But as it turned out Josh turned the meeting over to another speaker, not an attorney, who outlined a very unconventional legal theory for keeping a smart meter off the home.

We understand there is to be a meeting on December 11th for those wishing to sign personal documents to apply this legal theory to their own struggle to keep a smart meter off their home..

Michigan Stop Smart Meters can readily understand the appeal of such an approach, particularly with its biblical overtones, but we are not prepared to endorse this method at this time. We have not seen or heard any evidence demonstrating that the approach ever worked in an actual courtroom.

 

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(Revised 03/12/15)

NEW: At the end of the legislative session (December 2014) all testimony submitted in 2014 was moved to an archive page. We now have the link to that page: <More>

About 200 people showed up for the December 2nd, 2014 smart meter hearing before the Michigan House Oversight Committee chaired by Tom McMillin.  72 of these filled out cards to speak.  Everyone who spoke, except for the corporate people and MPSC people, was against the new

Laurie Eboff-Milford meters. At least 45 submitted written evidence for the record that may be viewed by the public (see below).

Rep McMillin asked very astute and probing questions when the representatives of DTE, Consumers and MPSC were making their statements. The hearing did not get under way until 5:30 but continued to nearly 10 pm.

Earlier in the day there had been large demonstrations on the Capitol steps and many had participated in having the Sergeant-At-Arms call out their elected representative from the Senate and

Demonstration at state capitolHouse sessions to discuss with them the smart meter issues. Many who participated earlier were not able to attend the hearing due to the late starting time. The total number participating in the day’s events may well have reached 300.

A preliminary transcript of the hearing should be posted on the Committee’s web page soon. Those of us who participated believe this hearing will serve as a catalyst to get a smart meter bill passed in the next legislative session.

Bloomfield Twp Supervisor and Kathy

A  video (youtube) of the entire hearing can be seen now by following the two links below.

Click here for Part 1 (2 hours)

Click here for Part 2 (2 hours)

For your convenience, near the end of Part 1 a link appears on screen that will load Part 2.

NEW: Click here to access the written evidence submitted

The above link will take you to the Oversight Committee page, where you scroll down to where there is a box that says “Testimony” and “Select One”. Clicking on the down arrow next to “Select One” will display a drop down list of all the people that submitted evidence (with the exception of a few folks who submitted evidence that was too massive to scan).  Clicking on a name from this list will display that person’s submitted evidence.

Note also there is a box with a drop down list where you can select and view the minutes for any meeting of this Committee.  At this time, however, only the proposed  minutes of a very short meeting that happened earlier in the day on December 2nd are up for viewing.  We are hopeful that the proposed minutes of the much longer smart meter hearing will be up within the next few days.