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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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MARCH 5TH, 2017 – The Michigan House Energy Committee will hold its second hearing Tuesday March 7th at 9 am, on House Bill 4220,energymtg2-02212017 proposed legislation that would assure utility customers (electric, gas and water) of a choice to have or keep their analog meters at a minimal fee or no fee if they self read.

please-attend-hearingPlease attend the second Analog Meter Choice hearing this coming Tuesday. If you want to present testimony, please come prepared to speak and fill out a card before start of meeting. Those who come to speak should dress professionally. However, since the hearing is only 90 minutes long, know that there may not be time for your testimony to be heard this Tuesday. More hearings may be scheduled in the future. You can always email your testimony to the members of the Energy Policy Committee before House Bill 4220 Analog Meter Choice legislation is voted on in Committee.  We don’t know when this vote will take place, but we will keep you posted.

INFORMATION FOR THOSE ATTENDING

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AN EXCELLENT BILL THAT NEEDS A TWEAK
(Revised 2/27/17)

by David Sheldon

February 25th, 2017 Last Tuesday we filled the hearing room and much of the overflow room of the House Energy Committee. This was the first of two hearings for testimony on House Bill 4220, the proposed law that would guarantee meter choice to utility customers. energymtg2-02212017The second meeting on the bill will take place March 7th at 9 am, again in the House Office Building, Room 517, 124 North Capitol Avenue, Lansing, at 9 am. We urge as many as possible to attend this hearing as well.

WATCH 90 MINUTE VIDEO OF THE MEETING HERE!

The meeting began with a very strong presentation by Chairman Glenn, the bill sponsor, as to why his proposed legislation is needed. Glenn stressed “this is not a technical bill” and “does not require Committee members to have technical knowledge” of the utility business. It is, he stated, a “philosophical bill” that only requires a simple recognition that people should have control of what is done on their property. He said it is “none of our business” why people don’t want the advanced meters, whether it be privacy, health or something else.

This was followed by a number of spirited presentations by advocates for the bill that covered the health, privacy and fire issues. Included were presentations by electrical engineer William Bathgate, by retired fire chief Duane Roddy and by former Rep Tom McMillin who had chaired the smart meter hearing two years ago. Many who had signed up to speak were unable to do so in the limited time and may get their chance at the March 7th continuation of hearings on this bill. As it is possible there will again not be time for all to speak, we recommend taking your written comments or exhibits to the hearing with 25 copies to hand out. If you are not able to attend the hearing you may submit your comments by email to the Committee Clerk, kgawronski@house.mi.gov

We are optimistic about what this bill will do. The bill respects property rights and freedom of choice for utility customers. If passed in its present form it will allow utility customers to choose whether or not to give up privacy in order to gain other touted benefits of the new technology. The bill, as written, will also allow every customer who had a smart meter installed before the effective date of this legislation, to have that meter removed and replaced with a traditional meter – all at no charge. That would cover nearly all of the 3 million plus smart meters already installed. Going forward, the $150 smart meter removal fee could only be charged to customers who agreed to take a smart meter and then changed their mind after it was installed. The bill also will eliminate ongoing monthly opt-out fees for all customers who are willing to report their own meter readings.

We must acknowledge the contribution of another smart meter leader who has pointed out, correctly, that a certain ambiguity in the present language of the bill could allow some utilities to claim that digital electronic meters they were installing long before smart meters are, in some sense, “traditional”, and thereby satisfy the requirements of the legislation. While this is a concern to many of us, our legislative process provides opportunities to remove these ambiguities. Some of us who will testify on March 7th will raise this issue but we hope none will forget to emphasize what is right with the bill and our appreciation for the efforts and risks legislators have taken to bring it to this point.

At this critical time, we need to focus on building momentum for a bill that resolves many of our issues. We have lived too long without a bill that will protect us. Let’s work hard together right now to get the bill passed.

Hearings on this bill will continue on March 7th at 9 am. Consumers Energy was expecting to testify at this hearing but time ran out so that they are now scheduled to be first up at the next hearing.

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The Chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission will be making an extended presentation to the Energy Committee on February 28th. There are several proposed laws before the Energy Committee now in which MPSC has an interest. Keep in mind that the reason for our present predicament is the deceptive conduct and miserable failure of her agency to protect the utility customers. She will try to defend her agency’s performance. She might include in her testimony the view of her agency on our proposed smart meter bill. It may be worthwhile for any of our movement who can do so to attend that hearing also and to sign up to make a short public comment expressing our frustration with how her agency has dealt with us.

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PARKING INFORMATION:

Townsend parking ramp – at corner of Capitol and Allegan streets.
This one is the closest – 2 block walk to House Office Bldg, but sometimes this ramp is open to permit holders only.
http://mi-lansing.civicplus.com/Facilities/Facility/Details/Townsend-Ramp-120

North Capitol parking ramp, 316 North Capitol Ave
This one is 2 blocks north of House Office Bldg.
http://mi-lansing.civicplus.com/Facilities/Facility/Details/North-Capitol-Ramp-119

South Capitol parking ramp, 320 South Capitol Ave
This one is 4 blocks south of House Office Bldg.
http://mi-lansing.civicplus.com/Facilities/Facility/Details/South-Capitol-Ramp-118

On street (metered parking) – is available on a number of streets near House Office Bldg. But there is a 2 hour time limit and rate is $1.25/hour.

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FIRST MEETING OF THE
MICHIGAN HOUSE ENERGY COMMITTEE

February 7th, 2017 – On this day the first (organizational) meeting took place for the Energy Committee of the Michigan House of Representatives, mich-house-energy-policy-committee-2017Chaired by Rep Gary Glenn. This is a new day for meter choice legislation because the new chairman, unlike his predecessor, strongly supports our cause and the cause of energy consumers generally.

We think all Michigan smart meter activists will be heartened to watch the entire first meeting under Rep Glenn’s leadership. Clearly he intends to fight for energy consumers at all levels – residential customers, school systems and large industrial users of electricity. He makes the point that school systems, for example, will be able to hire more teachers with the money they save when they have a choice of energy provider.

Rep Glenn believes the whole matter of whether DTE and Consumers should have a full monopoly in their respective service territories should be re-evaluated, notwithstanding the legislation that was passed in December of 2016.

Glenn stresses that the smart meter issue is basically one of property rights and a monopoly utility being able to force new and unwanted technology on its customers. Smart meter activists will find his remarks on that subject 12 minutes and 30 seconds into the meeting, which can be viewed HERE.

PLEASE CHECK OUR HOME PAGE FOR OTHER NEW ARTICLES!

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(Editor’s note: Rep Gary Glenn, sponsor of
the new bill is also now Chairman of the
House Energy Committee and promises
a hearing this session)

by Clayton Cummins, WILX News 10, Lansing
(full article linked below)

February 8th, 2017 – “There’s a move in the state legislature to get rid of fees that utilities charge to customers who want to keep their “old meters”.

This bill hasn’t been formally introduced just yet and Representative Gary Glenn (R-Midland) is working to get support for it.

… In addition to waiving the opt-out fees, the legislation would allow home owners to self-read their meter by just taking a picture of it and sending it in.

The utility could check the meter quarterly to confirm they’re not being misled.

Rep. Glenn tells News 10 the choice should be up to the home owner.”

“As long as those utilities are a state privilege monopoly given the right exclusively to deliver electricity, then we are going to protect homeowners from that kind of monopoly policy,” said Rep. Glenn. “Trying to force certain technology on homeowners against their will or if they refuse to have it installed, charge them.”   More

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By James F. Tracy
(Link to original article on Memory Hole website)

Over the past several years a conspiracy of silence has surrounded the implementation of the Smart Grid across the United States, perhaps with Smart grid cartoon imagegood reason. If the public was aware of what lay behind this agenda there would likely be considerable outcry and resistance.

“Smart meters”–the principal nodes of the Smart Grid network–are being installed on homes and businesses by power utilities across the United States under the legal and fiscal direction of the United States government. In December 2007 both houses of the US Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).

This 310-page piece of legislation employs the dubious science of anthropogenic CO2-based climate change science to mandate an array of policies, such as fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and “green” energy initiatives. Tucked away in the final pages of this law is the description and de facto mandate for national implementation of the Smart Grid that the Bush administration promised …  More

Editor’s note: We have been battling smart meters in Michigan for 4 years now – in the courts, before the Public Service Commission and now in the legislature. To the best of our knowledge, Channel 4 in Detroit (WDIV), has never run a story about there being any problem or controversy surrounding smart meters.

Related Story: ‘Media Blackout on Smart Meter Dangers’ Wins Project Censored Award    More

 

 

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Poisoning of Drinking Water, Schools and Homes
By David Sheldon

There is much in the news about the Flint Water Crisis and rightly so. But the countless individuals and families who have been forced to accept a cancer causing surveillance device in their homes are not being so reported by our major news media. Nor are those who, refusing such a glass of polluted drinking waterhome invasion, have had their electric service cutoff! Even senior citizens dependent on medical machinery! What do a water crisis, a school health crisis and utility crisis have in common? A Michigan Governor we fault, not on partisan grounds, but because of his repeated tendency to make dangerous decisions through surrogates while assuming no responsibility for consequences!

News media following the water crisis are constantly asking the question about our Governor “What did he know and when did he know it?” It seems clear now that he knew for many months that the people of Flint were being poisoned with bad water and did nothing to remedy the situation. At the same time the news media is much reporting the situation with Detroit Public Schools where children are routinely exposed to mold and rats. Both of these crisis scenarios are apparently the result of decisions made by Emergency Managers our Governor appointed to make decisions that arguably should have been made by others closer to the scene, or by others democratically elected.

But there is a third crisis-in-the-making not much reported by our mass media. That is the sickness, breach of privacy and utility shutoffs caused by the so called “smart” electric meter programs. Countless individualsLogo of Liz Barris website and paper and families have had their lives turned upside down. Some by questionable devices forcibly installed on their homes without their informed consent. Other families, who refused these devices, are enduring a severe Michigan winter without electric service. Both DTE and Consumers Energy are doing this with the complicity of the Michigan Public Service Commission, the regulatory body that is supposed to protect utility customers.

The Governor’s hand can be seen in this too as the MPSC consists of commissioners appointed by the Governor who quite apparently are taking their marching orders from the Governor and his hand picked Energy Czar, Valerie Brader. The MPSC will allow no hearing on any of the health or privacy violations of the new utility meters. The Governor’s energy policies are also being advanced by the Chairman of the House Energy Committee, Aric Nesbitt, who refuses to allow any hearing concerning the new utility meters or of any energy legislation not favored by the Governor.

Where is this third crisis-in-the-making taking us? Not only to unjust utility shutoffs but to a future of ruined lives – of people who can no longer live in their own homes and those who have or will contract cancer or neurological illnesses such as Parkinsons disease or dementia. There are 12 members of the Michigan House that have cosponsored legislation to stop this violation of human rights. We think this too will lead once more to the question about our Governor “What did he know and when did he know it?”