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Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission v. Seder

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

December 3, 2014

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Petitioner
v.
Andrew Seder/The Times Leader, Respondent Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Petitioner
v.
Scott Kraus/The Morning Call, Respondent

Argued October 6, 2014

Page 194

Appealed from No. AP 2013-1858 and AP 2013-1986. State Agency Office of Open Records.

Steven K. Bainbridge, Assistant Counsel, Harrisburg, for petitioner.

David B. MacGregor, Philadelphia, for intervenor PPL Electric Utilities Corporation.

Craig J. Staudenmaier, Harrisburg, for respondents.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 195

LEADBETTER, JUDGE

The Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) and intervenor, PPL Electric Utilities Corp. (PPL) (collectively Petitioners), petition for review of two final determinations of the Office of Open Records (OOR) entered November 4, 2013, at Docket No. AP 2013-1858 and November 20, 2013, at Docket No. AP 2013-1986. Pursuant to Section 335(d) of the Public Utility Code, 66 Pa. C.S. § 335(d), these orders granted public access to documents related to an informal investigation of PPL conducted by PUC's Bureau of Investigation & Enforcement (I& E). We reverse.

On October 29, 2011, a snowstorm resulted in power interruptions for approximately 388,318 customers, primarily due to the accumulation of heavy, wet snow on tree foliage. PPL records show that a total of 176,652 customers were without service for more than 12 hours, a total of 131,493 customers were without service for

Page 196

24 hours or longer, and service was fully restored 12:00 p.m. on November 5, 2011. Due to the number of outages, PPL was required to prioritize the order in which service would be restored. Storm utility crews were assigned to restore power to the highest priority areas first, and then reassigned to the next highest priority area.

On November 8, 2011, the PUC's Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS) received an anonymous letter (Tip Letter) from a person representing him/herself as an employee of PPL. The Tip Letter alleged that a restoration crew was transferred from a higher priority job to first restore service to a lower priority job. Based on the allegations in the Tip Letter, I& E initiated an informal investigation to determine whether PPL violated PUC regulations, the Public Utility Code, 66 Pa. C.S. § § 101-3316, and/or other applicable statutes.

On March 29, 2013, I& E and PPL filed a settlement agreement, together with the parties' respective statements in support of the settlement, for approval by the Commissioners of the PUC. The settlement was reached without a formal complaint, hearing, or evidentiary record, and without any findings of fact or conclusions of law. The settlement agreement provided that PPL would pay a $60,000 civil penalty, but did not disclose the details regarding the Tip Letter nor most of the investigative information. At a public meeting on August 29, 2013, the PUC issued a tentative order requesting public comments on ...


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