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Amedee Geothermal Venture I v. Lassen Municipal Utility District

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 26, 2013

AMEDEE GEOTHERMAL VENTURE I, Plaintiff,
v.
LASSEN MUNICIPAL UTILITY DISTRICT, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MORRISON C. ENGLAND, Jr., Chief District Judge.

Through the present action, Plaintiff Amedee Geothermal Venture I ("Amedee Geothermal"), a California Limited Partnership, seeks redress against Defendant Lassen Municipal Utility District ("LMUD") for damages allegedly arising from Defendant's reduction of the voltage of the electricity it provided Plaintiff's power plant, from 34.5 kv to 12.47 kv. Specifically, Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges the reduction of the electricity voltage amounted to an unconstitutional deprivation and taking of property without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, (Second Amended Compl. ("SAC") 5:7-26, ECF No. 13), and an unconstitutional seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, (id. at 6:1-8). Plaintiff also asserts several state law claims for, in essence, breach of contract, tortious interference, and negligence. (See id. at ¶¶ 27-67.)

Presently before the Court are three Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment: two filed by Plaintiff Amedee Geothermal, (ECF No. 76, 78), which Defendant LMUD opposes, (ECF No. 85); and one filed by Defendant LMUD, (ECF No. 77), which Plaintiff opposes, (ECF No. 84). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 77) is GRANTED as to Plaintiff's federal claims, and Plaintiff's Motions for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 76, 78) are DENIED as moot.[1]

BACKGROUND[2]

Plaintiff Amedee Geothermal is a private entity that runs a geothermal power plant in the Amedee area of Lassen County. (SAC ¶ 3.) Defendant Lassen Municipal Utility District (LMUD) is a local government agency that procures and distributes electrical power within its service area. (Id. ¶ 4.) As such, Plaintiff Amedee Geothermal relies on Defendant to provide it the electrical power it needs to operate the motors at its geothermal power plant which it then uses to generate geothermal electricity. (Id. ¶ 6.) Moreover, Amedee Geothermal relies on LMUD's transmission lines to deliver the electricity its geothermal power plant generates to Pacific Gas & Electric, Co. ("PG&E"). (Pl. AGVI's Statement of Disputed & Undisputed Facts ("Pl.'s SUF") ¶ 2, ECF No. 84-1.)

The controversy in this case centers on the terms of two agreement between Lassen Municipal Utility District and Amedee Geothermal executed in 1987 and 1988. Under the terms of these agreements, essentially, LMUD agreed to supply Amedee Geothermal the electricity it needed, and to transmit the electricity the geothermal power plant produced to PG&E, in exchange for a fee. (See generally SAC, Exs. A & B, ECF Nos. 13-1, 13-2.) These terms are not in dispute. (See Separate Statement of Facts in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s SUF") ¶¶ 7-8.)

The parties dispute, however, whether the agreements required LMUD to continuously supply Amedee Geothermal 34.5 kv electricity, and a controversy arose in 2009 when LMUD converted the electricity supply line from 34.5 kv to 12.47 kv. (Def.'s SUF ¶ 34.) Naturally, Plaintiff asserts that by changing the voltage, the Utility District breached its contractual obligations under the agreement, (SAC ¶¶ 27-29); whereas, Defendant counters the agreement did not obligate the Utility District to continuously provide electricity at the particular 34.5 kv level. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. 23:17-24:7, ECF No. 77-1.) For reasons set forth below, the particulars of this contract dispute are not decided in this order.

Plaintiff filed suit in federal court, and asserted in its initial complaint various state law contract claims for damages, but asserted no federal claims therein. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-67, ECF No. 1.)[3] After Defendant moved to dismiss the initial complaint for lack of federal question subject matter jurisdiction, (ECF No. 8), Plaintiff filed its Second Amended Complaint (the operative complaint) in which it therein asserts two federal constitutional claims against the Lassen Municipal Utility District, (SAC ¶¶ 20-26, ECF No. 13). These federal constitutional claims-for violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments-then formed Plaintiff's asserted basis for federal question subject matter jurisdiction, (see id. ¶ 1), and these claims are discussed in detail below.

STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary judgment when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).[4] One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. , 477 U.S. at 325.

In a summary judgment motion, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying the portions in the record "which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co. , 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

In attempting to establish the existence or non-existence of a genuine factual dispute, the party must support its assertion by

citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits[, ] or declarations... or other materials; or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Owens v. Local No. 169, Ass'n of W. Pulp & Paper Workers , 971 F.2d 347, 355 (9th Cir. 1987).

The opposing party must also demonstrate that the dispute about a material fact "is genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. In other words, the judge needs to answer the preliminary question before the evidence is left to the jury of "not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson , 81 U.S. 442, 448 (1871)) (emphasis in original). As the Supreme Court explained, "[w]hen the moving party has carried its burden under Rule [56(a)], its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita , 475 U.S. at 586. Therefore, "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 587.

In resolving a summary judgment motion, the evidence of the opposing party is to be believed, and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines , 602 F.Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D.Cal.1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898 (9th Cir.1987).

ANALYSIS

Defendant moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's federal claims and asks that the Court decline to continue to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over this case- which, Defendant argues, is essentially a state law contract case. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. 1:15-19, ECF No. 77-1.) Plaintiff moves-in two separate motions-for partial summary judgment on several of its state law claims. (ECF Nos. 76, 78.) For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's federal claims, declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims, and denies Plaintiff's motions for partial summary judgment as moot.

A. Defendant's Monell Argument

Defendant argues summary judgment should be granted on Plaintiff's federal constitutional claims because Plaintiff "has no evidence to show that any illegal conduct of LMUD employees may fairly be said to represent LMUD's official policy or that execution of an LMUD policy or custom inflicted its injuries-a seizure and a taking, " and therefore, "Monell does not give [Plaintiff] a Section 1983 cause of action against LMUD...." (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. 11:6-12, ECF No. 77-1.)[5] Plaintiff counters that its proffered "evidence is clear that... LMUD itself... implement[ed] or execute[d] a policy statement, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by LMUD's officers.'" (Pl.'s Opp'n 5:14-18, ECF No. 84 (internal alteration omitted) (quoting Monell v. N.Y. City Dep't of Social Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)).) Specifically, Plaintiff contends "the activity complained of... was perpetrated by the Board and Officers of LMUD." (Id. at 5:19-20.) Defendant, for its part, concedes the LMUD Board had policymaking authority, (Def.'s Reply 2 n.1, ECF No. 88 ("In this case, the Board is ...


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