decided: December 23, 1983.
REYNOLDS DISPOSAL COMPANY, PETITIONER
PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT. DEWAYNE E. SHREFFLER ET AL., PETITIONERS V. PENNSYLVANIA PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION, RESPONDENT
Appeals from the Order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in case of DeWayne Shreffler and Pamela J. Shreffler, his wife; Gerald Plowman and Dolores Plowman, his wife; Thomas L. Mowry and Bessie M. Mowry, his wife; William H. Riggle and Karen L. Riggle, his wife; Arthur J. Harvey and Doris Harvey, his wife, and Roderick T. Daugherty and Jenny S. Daugherty, his wife et al. v. Reynolds Disposal Company, No. C-812545, dated July 23, 1982.
Cyril T. Garvey, for petitioner, Reynolds Disposal Company.
William G. McConnell, Cusick, Madden, Joyce and McKay, for petitioners, DeWayne E. Shreffler et al.
Robert P. Meehan, Assistant Counsel, with him Louise R. Knight, Deputy Chief Counsel, and Charles F. Hoffman, Chief Counsel, for respondent.
President Judge Crumlish, Jr., and Judges Craig, MacPhail, Doyle and Barry. Opinion by Judge Doyle.
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 223]
This case arises from two separate appeals taken from an order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) which directed that the Reynolds Disposal Company (Reynolds) correct inadequacies in its sewage system.
Reynolds owns and operates a sewer system which services a residential area in Pymatuning Township, Mercer County. Although the sewer system performs adequately under normal conditions, the system overloads during wet weather, causing sewage to back up into the basements of a number of residences. Several
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 224]
homeowners*fn1 experiencing such sewage backups brought a trespass action against Reynolds in the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas, alleging that Reynolds was negligent in allowing the backups to occur. Reynolds responded by joining additional homeowners alleging that the backups were caused by improper connections of french drains into the sewer system at their residences.
On April 29, 1981 this action was stayed by an order of the court of common pleas pending a determination by the PUC as to whether Reynolds was in violation of its requirement to provide adequate service.*fn2 Subsequently, the homeowners*fn3 filed a complaint with the PUC, and after extensive testimony had been taken, an administrative law judge issued an initial decision containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. On July 27, 1982 the PUC adopted the judge's initial decision and his ruling on exceptions, and entered an order requiring Reynolds to prepare and implement a plan to eliminate surface water infiltration of its sewer system. Both Reynolds and the homeowners have appealed from the decision of the PUC, and their appeals have been consolidated by order of this Court dated October 21, 1982.
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 225]
In their petition for review, the homeowners contend that the PUC erred in not including in its conclusions of law the finding that Reynolds had failed to provide reasonable service and was in violation of its tariffs. Section 703(e) of the Public Utility Code*fn4 requires that the decisions of the PUC include findings which are of sufficient detail to enable the court on appeal to determine the controverted question presented by the proceeding, and whether proper weight was given to the evidence.
The findings in this case are more than adequate in this respect. The initial decision of the administrative law judge contains 132 findings of fact and eight conclusions of law. Among the conclusions of law were the findings that Reynolds is under an ongoing duty to inspect sewer connections, and had an affirmative obligation to correct any conditions which were in violation of regulations. Although the judge made no specific conclusion of law stating that Reynolds violated this duty, such a conclusion may be readily inferred from the findings of fact, which indicate that Reynolds had, on numerous occasions, failed to inspect or correct faulty sewer connections.*fn5 It is clear that the PUC implicitly made this conclusion when it framed its order requiring Reynolds to correct improper
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 226]
conditions in its system.*fn6 The lack of a specific conclusion of law that there has been a violation is of no moment when, as here, the decision read in its entirety can lead to no other conclusion.*fn7
The PUC made findings which were sufficient and supported by the evidence. The PUC is under no additional obligation to make every possible conclusion of law which might be drawn from the facts.*fn8 Their failure to do so was not error.
The Appeal of Reynolds
In its petition, Reynolds contends that the PUC erred in its interpretation of Reynolds' Tariff Rule No. 6 which states:
LEAKS, STOPPAGES AND/OR DEFECTIVE PLUMBING
The Company shall not be liable for any damage or expense resulting from leaks, stoppages, or defective plumbing or from any other cause occurring to any premises or within any house or building; and it is expressly stipulated by and between the Company and the Customer that no claims shall be made against the said
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 227]
Company on account of the breaking, stoppage or any damage or expense to any service lines on said property, when the cause thereof is found to be in that part of the service line lying on said property.
The administrative law judge interpreted this rule to say "nothing more than Reynolds accepts no responsibility for defects or conditions existing on the customer's property which result in harm to the customer." Reynolds, on the other hand, contends that the literal meaning of the rule confers upon it immunity from liability for any sewer-related damage to any building or premises.
In evaluating the tariffs filed with it, the PUC may determine their reasonableness, fairness, and consistency with established policy. Behrend v. Bell Telephone Co., 242 Pa. Superior Ct. 47, 363 A.2d 1152 (1976), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 473 Pa. 320, 374 A.2d 536 (1977). Reynolds contends that the PUC erred by rejecting the literal meaning of Rule No. 6 as unreasonable and substituting its own interpretation, in light of the Behrend decision which held that a rule limiting liability of a public utility is not unreasonable. Behrend; see also, opinion on remand, 257 Pa. Superior Ct. 35, 390 A.2d 233 (1978) (holding such rule also to be constitutional). We need not decide whether the interpretation of the rule advanced by Reynolds is reasonable under the Behrend decision, for we find that the PUC's interpretation does not offend the literal meaning of the rule. This is simply not a case in which the PUC has rejected the plain meaning of a rule as being unreasonable.*fn9 Rather, the rule in question contained ambiguous language which conveyed
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 228]
no clear, literal meaning; the rule was susceptible of a number of interpretations.*fn10 In light of this ambiguity, we find that the PUC interpreted the rule in a most reasonable fashion. The second portion of Rule No. 6 contains language which limits the utility's liability for damages when the damage to the service lines occurs on the customer's property. This portion of the rule would have no meaning if the rule as a whole were interpreted, as Reynolds suggests, to limit the utility's liability for damages regardless of the location of the damage. The PUC's interpretation gives meaning to all provisions of the rule, and is therefore more reasonable than the interpretation advanced by Reynolds. See Cerceo v. De Marco, 391 Pa. 157, 137 A.2d 296 (1958).
Reynolds also contends that the PUC erred by placing the burden upon Reynolds to show the reasonableness of the rule in question. This contention again assumes that Reynolds' interpretation of the rule represents its plain meaning which has been, in turn, rejected by the PUC as being unreasonable. Instead, we have found that the rule conveyed no plain meaning.
For these reasons, we find that the PUC committed no error, and accordingly affirm their decision with respect to both Petitions.
Now, December 23, 1983, the Order of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in the above referenced matter, dated July 27, 1982, is hereby affirmed.