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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ind. Decisions - "Court rules city may take utility"

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has a story today, reported by Niki Kelly and Benjamin Lanka, on yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in In Utility Center, Inc., d/b/a Aquasource v. City of Fort Wayne - see yesterday's ILB entry here. Their story begins:

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Friday that the city of Fort Wayne has the right to take Aqua Indiana’s northern utility system by eminent domain.

The 3-2 decision came after 15 months of deliberation on the case.

Attorneys for Aqua Indiana argued that Fort Wayne lost the ability to condemn healthy utilities when the General Assembly passed a law written by Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, in 1999.

ILB - In his opinion, Justice Sullivan wrote:
In this case, a municipality seeks to acquire a portion of the operations of a privately-owned utility that serves a portion of the City recently annexed. We hold that it may do so pursuant to the requirements of Indiana’s general eminent domain statute.
From the Journal Gazette story:
The city also said the utility – formerly known as Utility Center – refused to negotiate, so it became necessary to condemn the property. The city proceeded under a general state law regarding a city’s right to eminent domain, but the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled the city must follow the specific utility statute written by Long.

Long signed an affidavit saying the intent of the law was to prevent a municipal utility from using its power of eminent domain to acquire a healthy utility.

Instead, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission would have to declare the utility “troubled” – something that was true at one time of Aqua Indiana but no longer.

The Supreme Court’s decision was based solely on statutory construction and said while the court respects Long’s work in the field, the justices were “unable to conclude that his intent in this regard was enacted into law.”

This is an interesting statutory construction case, and the ILB was particularly pleased with Justice Sullivan's discussion of the structure of the Indiana Code. [see footnote]

Most important, however, was the discussion of the impact, if any, of a legislator's affidavit of what he intended as author of a provision:

Finally, we make note of the fact that Senator David C. Long, the author of chapter 30 when it was enacted by the Legislature in 1999, filed an affidavit and supporting exhibits with the trial court in this matter, explaining his “intent as the author” of the statute. The trial court declined to consider the affidavit and the Court of Appeals affirmed, reflecting this Court’s policy that “[i]n interpreting statutes, we do not impute the opinions of one legislator, even a bill’s sponsor, to the entire legislature unless those views find statutory expression.” A Woman’s Choice-East Side Women’s Clinic v. Newman, 671 N.E.2d 104, 110 (Ind. 1996) (citing O’Laughlin v. Barton, 582 N.E.2d 817, 821 (Ind. 1991)). * * * We respect Senator Long’s work in this field but, for the reasons set forth above, are unable to conclude that his intent in this regard was enacted into law.
The ILB has accessed these earlier cases. Here is the quote from O'Laughlin:
Finally, O'Laughlin argues that the trial court improperly considered Plaintiff's Exhibits 1 through 4, the affidavits of Young, Server, Becker, and Brown, respectively, as evidence that the legislature intended Senate Enrolled Act No. 15 to apply retroactively to the case at bar. When legislation is susceptible to several widely different constructions, a court may look to the journals of the two legislative bodies to infer legislative intent. County Dep't of Pub. Welfare v. Potthoff (1942), 220 Ind. 574, 44 N.E.2d 494. However, the motives of individual sponsors of legislation cannot be imputed to the legislature, absent statutory expression. Tinder v. Clarke Auto Co. (1958), 238 Ind. 302, 149 N.E.2d 808. [emphasis added]
Note that this rule is sometimes confused with the "enrolled act rule." As stated in Taxpayers Lobby of Indiana v. Orr, 262 Ind. 92, 311 NE2nd 814 (1974):
Several issues are here grouped under the central theme of unconstitutionality by reason of improper legislative procedures. With respect to this theme, we are confronted at the threshold by the "Enrolled Act Rule." The act in question bears the signatures of the presiding officers of the General Assembly, and the courts of this state have consistently held for over one hundred years that those signatures conclusively establish the due passage of an act. Our courts do not go behind or receive evidence going behind an enrolled act in order to determine if the General Assembly did, in fact, comply with the constitutional procedural requirements * * * This is a rule of substantive law and not of evidence, and there is no pleading known to the law by which the existence of an act can be put in issue and tried as a question of fact.".

Plaintiffs have cited a number of cases from other jurisdictions in avoidance of the "Enrolled Act Rule." Such cases are not persuasive with us. They are from jurisdictions following the "Journal Entry Rule," which holds that the courts may properly look to legislative journals to determine if constitutional procedural requirements were met. In Evans, Auditor of State v. Browne, supra, we expressly rejected that rule as an "essentially mischievous doctrine." [emphasis added]

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For details on the decisionmaking involving in creating the structure of the Indiana Code, see pp. 78-80 of my 1971 article, "The Indiana Code of 1971, Its Preparation, Passage, and Implications." [Warning - very large pdf]

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 23, 2007 08:46 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions