HARRISBURG – The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has upheld a $1.8 million fine the state's Public Utility Commission levied against an energy company for overcharging consumers.
On June 5, Justice Sally Updyke Mundy wrote for the majority that fines placed against HIKO Energy were not in violation of the Excessive Fines Clause of the state and U.S. Constitution. HIKO had argued on appeal that the $1,836,125 fine imposed by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) was "grossly disproportionate." Justices finding that HIKO waived its constitutional challenge to the civil penalty in this case.
"While we acknowledge HIKO asserted in its lower pleadings that the penalty was, in its view, disproportionate to penalties in other cases, it did so only in relation to the application of the factors enumerated in Section 69.1201(c)," Mundy wrote.
According to court filings, Section 69.1201(c)(10) permits the consideration of “other relevant factors”.
Dissenting were Justice Christine Donahue and Chief Justice Thomas Saylor. Donahue wrote that the state Supreme Court should have ruled on a waiver request submitted by HIKO.
"The Commonwealth Court is well suited to address issues of waiver, for which there is already a well-established and comprehensive body of case law," Donahue wrote.
"In contrast, this court is best suited to resolve the constitutional issue of first impression on which we granted allocatur. If the court had intended to decide the issue of waiver, we could have granted allocatur to review it. We did not. The waiver issue is not encompassed within our grant of allowance of appeal and is not an issue before the court in this appeal."
The state's PUC charged HIKO after receiving numerous complaints in 2014 from customers claiming they were overcharged on electric bills between January and April 2014. The PUC claims that HIKO misled and overcharged some 5,700 customers in the territories of Duquesne Light Co. and the West Penn Power Co.