News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

PUC delays decision on PacifiCorp lawsuit limits

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) has delayed acting on a request by PacifiCorp that would limit customer lawsuits, with a possible decision to be issued in the near future.

An April 9 deadline to act on the request passed without a decision by PUC. Spokesperson Kandi Young said the deadline was not binding on the commission and they still plan to take action.

“I’m told the PUC is finalizing the order and plans to issue it soon,” Young told The Canyon Weekly on April 15. “No exact date was provided.”

As of press time, no new orders from PUC had been filed in the matter.

The deadline had been set Dec. 20, 2023, in a scheduling memorandum by Administrative Law Judge Katharine Mapes. PUC was asked to approve or deny the request by April 9 or to set a later approval date to allow further investigation.

PacifiCorp filed the request Oct. 24, 2023, to change its user contract to only allow lawsuits for “actual damages” resulting from the use of electric services. This would bar noneconomic and punitive damages, and damages resulting from wildfires.

If approved, the changes would go into effect immediately and apply to all existing and future customers. The proposal also leaves open the possibility PacifiCorp may apply the limits to pending wildfire lawsuits, according to a Jan. 12 ruling by Mapes.

An original approval deadline of Nov. 29, 2023, was postponed the day before after PUC staff said they would need time to investigate the legal and policy implications of the request. 

A staff analysis filed Feb. 27 said PacifiCorp’s request may violate protections in the Oregon Constitution guaranteeing a person’s right to seek adequate legal remedies. The report also said PUC itself may be in violation of the constitution if it approved the proposal.

Briefs from numerous intervenors in the matter echoed this analysis and asked PUC to deny the request.

In a March 12 reply brief, PacifiCorp argued the staff analysis only said its proposal might violate the law, not that the proposal will violate the law. It also argued the Oregon Constitution does not stop PUC from approving the proposal, and that if any constitutional conflicts exist they should be sorted out by the courts after the fact.

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