Northern States Power Co. v. National Gas Co.
Citation: 30 ELR 20280
No. No. 99-1486, 606 N.W.2d 613/(Wis. Ct. App., 12/30/1999)
The court upholds a contract between a gasoline corporation and the owner of a mobile home park in Shelby, Wisconsin, that requires the residents of the park to purchase their propane and natural gas from the corporation at its customary rates. A public utility filed suit against the corporation, claiming that the contract interfered with the utility's obligation to provide service to the public and, therefore, is against public policy. The court first holds that neither the public utility statute nor any of the cases relied on by the utility establish a clear expression of public policy that is applicable in the context of this case. There is no contention that the mobile home tenants do not have service, or are receiving inadequate service, or are being charged unreasonable rates for the service. Further, neither the public utility statute nor the case law provides a clear statement of public policy requiring a public utility to provide service to everyone requesting it in the utility's area of undertaking, nor do they express a public policy of allowing persons to choose to have a public utility, rather than a non-public utility, provide them with services. Next, the court holds that a consumer protection statute issued by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) expressly allows owners of mobile home parks to enter into agreements such as the one at issue. This statute does not conflict with the public utility statute or with the case law relied on by the utility. In addition, the consumer protection statute is not beyond the authority of the DATCP because it is not aimed at the rights or obligations of public utilities, but rather the rights and obligations of mobile home park operators and tenants, which the DATCP has the statutory authority to regulate. The court, therefore, holds that the contract between the corporation and the mobile home park owner is not void as against public policy.
The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (7 pp., ELR Order No. L-161).
Counsel for Plaintiff
John R. Mirr
Garvey, Anderson, Johnson, Gabler & Geraci
402 Graham Ave., Eau Claire WI 54702
Counsel for Defendant
Thomas A. Lockyear
Law Offices of Thomas A. Lockyear
131 W. Wilson St., Ste. 501, Madison WI 53703