The UCL Practitioner
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Supreme Court Allows 17200 Action to Proceed Against Telephone Utilities
Yesterday the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a 17200 action brought by several district attorneys against Pacific Bell and other telephone utilities could proceed even though a parallel administrative enforcement proceeding was pending before the PUC. The ruling, although tethered to a statute (Pub. Util. Code sec. 1759) governing the PUC's jurisdiction, may be significant in similar cases in which defendants argue that the activities of various regulatory agencies should preclude private civil actions under section 17200. The Supreme Court determined that whether the PUC's parallel administrative action barred the 17200 claim depends on "the extent to which the remedies in the two proceedings were likely to be inconsistent and thus were likely to undermine any ongoing authority or regulatory program of the PUC." The court further observed: "Enforcement of the vast array of consumer protection laws to which public utilities are subject is a task that would be difficult to accomplish by a single regulatory agency, and the applicable statutes clearly contemplate that other public law enforcement officials, in addition to the PUC, must be involved in the effort to enforce such laws." (The court specifically declined to extend its holding to 17200 suits brought by private parties rather than public officials.) The court concluded that the claims against the telephone utilities do "not involve ratemaking or any other matter assigned to the exclusive jurisdiction of the PUC." The opinion, People ex rel. Orloff v. Pacific Bell, ___ Cal.4th ___ (Dec. 15, 2003), can be accessed here.
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