Court Rules in Dispute between Duke Energy and Municipality

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently issued a decision in a dispute between a public utility and a local municipality that may be of interest to electric utilities.  Duke Energy Indiana filed a lawsuit against the City of Franklin after the city announced plans to improve the intersection of two streets near State Road 44.   Duke alleged that the expanded intersection would adversely impact its established transmission easement and overhead line and roadside utility pole.

After an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge denied Duke’s request for an injunction stopping the project.  The judge found that the project would not unreasonably interfere with Duke’s easement rights and that Duke was unlikely to prevail on any of its claims at trial.

In considering Duke’s appeal, a panel of the Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the trial judge’s decision.   Duke Energy Indiana, LLC v. City of Franklin, 41A01-1607-CT-1549 (December 16, 2016).   The appeals court held that “the reasonable necessity of an intersection expansion outweighed whatever injurious effect that expansion would have on an electric utility’s enjoyment of its easement.”  It considered Duke’s claim that the increased volume and speed of traffic near the utility pole would pose greater risks to its maintenance crews, but noted that the road could be closed or traffic re-routed as needed for utility work.   The court concluded that the public benefits from beautification of the corridor, improved traffic flow, and enhanced development of the area overrode any occasional inconvenience to Duke.

This decision does not mean a municipality’s interests will always take precedence over a utility easement.   But it reflects the courts’ obligation to balance the competing interests of the parties and consider the public interest in deciding these disputes.

Kent Frandsen is a partner in the law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse LLP whose practice focuses on civil litigation.  This article is for informational purposes only.  It is not to be considered legal advice and does not form an attorney-client relationship with the reader.  The facts and equities of each situation are unique, so please contact an attorney to discuss your particular circumstances.