Indiana utilities and Indiana utility lawyers should be aware that the Indiana Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to consider the standard of review that courts follow in reviewing utility regulatory settlements of an administrative agency. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co. v. U.S. Steel, 907 N.E.2d 1012 (Ind. 2009). The case involved a dispute regarding a settlement agreement entered into between an Indiana public utility and a steel production facility. The agreement arose out of a previous dispute between the two parties, and had been submitted to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (“IURC”) at the time for approval. However, years later when a provision of the agreement became effective, there was a disagreement between the parties regarding its interpretation. U.S. Steel filed a complaint with the IURC seeking to enforce its interpretation of the agreement, and the IURC ultimately granted summary judgment to U.S. Steel on this issue. Id. at 1015 However, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, and the Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer. Id.
In hearing the case, the Indiana Supreme Court discussed the standards of review which apply when considering decisions of administrative agencies. Id. at 1016. The Court stated that such reviews were multi-tiered, the first level of review being “whether there is substantial evidence in light of the whole record to support the Commission’s findings of basic fact.” Id. (citing Citizens Action Coalition of Ind., Inc. v. N. Ind. Pub. Serv. Co., 485 N.E.2d 610, 612 (Ind. 1985)). The Court noted that decisions of the IURC will stand under this standard “unless no substantial evidence supports it.” Id. (citing McClain v. Review Bd. of Ind. Dept. of Workforce Dev., 693 N.E.2d 1314, 1317-18 (Ind. 1998)). Under the standard, a court does not reweigh evidence or assess witness credibility but only considers evidence in a light most favorable to the IURC’s findings. Id.