Chancellor to Rule on City's Case Against DUD Within 30 Days

January 30, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle is expected to issue a ruling within 30 days in the case involving DUD ratepayers and the City of Smithville against the DeKalb Utility District.

Chancellor Lyle conducted a Judicial Review hearing today (Wednesday) in Davidson County Chancery Court in the matter which was filed as "Ratepayers of the DeKalb Utility District, Petitioners versus the DeKalb Utility District, Respondent".

The city sought the hearing after the state's Utility Management Review Board ruled against the petitioners in a DUD rate review hearing held in Smithville last April. The city joined the petitioners in mounting this legal challenge in an effort to keep the DeKalb Utility District from building its own water treatment plant.

Attorneys for all sides presented their cases during today's hearing including Nashville attorney Jason Holleman, representing the city and DUD ratepayers; Nashville lawyer Dewey Branstetter, Jr,. representing the DUD, and Jason Hale for the Utility Management Review Board.

At the conclusion of the two hour hearing, Chancellor Lyle said she would hand down her ruling within 30 days.

Last July, the aldermen voted 4-0 to hire Nashville attorneys Bill Purcell and Jason Holleman to file an appeal of the Utility Management Review Board's dismissal of a petition brought by a group of DUD ratepayers and the city who were hoping to halt DUD plans to build the water plant.

Following a hearing held April 4th, 2013 in Smithville with an administrative law judge presiding, UMRB members voted to dismiss the petition saying they (petitioners) had failed to meet their burden of proof that DUD rates or services provided were unreasonable. The UMRB entered its final order on June 5.

"I do not believe that the petitioners presented a case for water rates," said one member of the UMRB board at the April 4 hearing. "They presented a case for not wanting Smithville to lose DeKalb Utility District as a customer. What the petitioner proved was that Smithville didn't want to lose a customer, not that the rates were improper," he said.

"The hearing, I believe showed that the petition was not well founded," said Nashville attorney Dewey Branstetter, Jr. in an interview with WJLE after the April 4 hearing. Branstetter represents the DUD in this case. "There was no evidence that the DeKalb Utility District had not established sufficient rates. The district has basically done nothing wrong. I think that came out during the course of this hearing. I think it also became apparent during this hearing that even though they may have gotten the ten percent of the ratepayers to sign the petition (a requirement for forcing the UMRB hearing) that this is all really about Smithville not wanting to lose DeKalb Utility District as a customer. Fortunately, the board found that the petitioners had not met their burden of proof," said Branstetter.

Calling the UMRB's ruling "arbitrary and capricious", attorneys for DUD ratepayers and the City of Smithville filed an appeal in August, 2013 asking the Davidson County Chancery Court for a judicial review of the case.

The attorneys for the city and DUD ratepayers allege that "the UMRB acted in violation of statutory provisions and followed an unlawful procedure by failing to apply the appropriate scope of review in its deliberations and otherwise acted illegally, arbitrarily, and capriciously in the case. Further, the UMRB’s decision was unsupported by substantial and material evidence in light of the entire record."

The court is being asked to reverse the decision of the UMRB and decree that its action was illegal, arbitrary, and/or capricious and that any such further general relief be granted as the equities of this case may require and as the Court deems necessary and appropriate."

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