Summary of California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Opinions Reviewing Decisions of the California Public Utilities Commission
May 20, 2020 (Revised)
Provided by Downey Brand’s Public Utility Regulation Practice
Since 1950 the California Supreme Court has issued 70 opinions in response to a Petition for Writ of Review of a Commission Decision or a Petition for Writ of Mandate directed at the Commission. Most of the decisions of the Court reversed the Commission decision in whole or in part. The balance affirmed the order, dismissed the matter as moot or otherwise disposed of the dispute in a manner leaving the Commission’s order undisturbed.
The Court of Appeal has issued 36 such opinions since the enactment of SB 1322 and SB 779 in the late 1990s. Just over half of the opinions of the Court of Appeal affirmed the Commission order at issue in its entirety; the rest reversed the Commission’s order in whole or in part. None of the 36 opinions of the Court of Appeal have been accepted for review by the California Supreme Court.
The advent of review in the Court of Appeal has resulted in a far greater number of written opinions reviewing Commission decisions than was the case prior to the enactment of the Calderon-Peace-MacBride Judicial Review Act of 1998 (SB779). By way of illustration, six opinions were issued in 2004 alone, more than any year since 1979 when the Supreme Court issued eight opinions reviewing Commission decisions. Four opinions were again issued in 2013 and three were issued in 2014. In the last ten years, the Court of Appeal has issued 16 opinions in Commission writ matters. The California Supreme Court has issued one. (See Para. 5 infra). By contrast, only eight opinions were issued by the California Supreme Court in the fourteen-year period from 1983 to 1996 (and only one after 1995).
The California Supreme Court has largely declined to review Commission decisions, whether review is sought by a petition for writ of review of a Commission decision or by a petition for review of a decision of the Court of Appeal. Over the last twenty-five years, the Court has only issued two full opinions in response to a petition for writ of review of a Commission decision. (See Para. 5 and 38, infra).
Of course, California appellate courts may also decide writ petitions by summarily denying them without a full written decision; those summary denials have res judicata, but not stare decisis, effect. (See Para. 49, infra).
In reverse chronological order, the published decisions rendered in those cases are summarized (briefly) below. A table of cases and other authorities is provided at the end of the Summary. All statutory references are to the California Public Utilities Code unless otherwise indicated.