Florida Power Corp. v. Garcia, No. SC94665.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtLEWIS, J.
Citation780 So.2d 34
PartiesFLORIDA POWER CORPORATION, Appellant, v. Joe GARCIA, etc., et al., Appellees.
Decision Date01 March 2001
Docket NumberNo. SC94665.

780 So.2d 34

FLORIDA POWER CORPORATION, Appellant,
v.
Joe GARCIA, etc., et al., Appellees

No. SC94665.

Supreme Court of Florida.

March 1, 2001.


780 So.2d 35
Rodney Gaddy and James A. McGee, Florida Power Corporation, St. Petersburg, FL; Jodi L. Corrigan and Marylin E. Culp of Annis, Mitchell, Cockey, Edwards & Roehn, P.A., Tampa, FL; and Sylvia H. Walbolt, Chris S. Coutroulis, Robert L. Ciotti, and Joseph H. Lang, Jr. of Carlton, Fields, Ward, Emmanuel, Smith & Cutler, P.A., for Appellant

Robert D. Vandiver, General Counsel, and Richard C. Bellak, Associate General Counsel, Florida Public Service Commission, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellee.

John Beranek and Lee L. Willis of Ausley & McMullen, Tallahassee, FL, for Lake Cogen, Ltd., Intervenor/Appellee.

Robert Scheffel Wright and John T. Lavia, III, Tallahassee, Florida; and Gail P. Fels, Office of the County Attorney, Miami, FL, for Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Montenay-Dade, Ltd., Intervenors/Appellees.

LEWIS, J.

This case involves an appeal from a decision of the Public Service Commission (the "Commission," or the "PSC") denying Florida Power Corporation's petition for declaratory statement on the basis of res judicata. In re Petition of Florida Power Corp., 98 F.P.S.C. 12:65 (1998) (Docket No. 980509-EQ, Order No. PSC-98-1621-FOF-EQ, Dec. 4, 1998). We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(2), Fla. Const. The narrow question presented is whether the 1995 determination by the Florida Public Service Commission regarding its jurisdiction to entertain a certain petition for declaratory statement filed in 1994 by appellant, Florida Power Corporation (FPC), had a preclusive effect as applied to its later determination of jurisdiction to entertain a substantially similar petition for declaratory statement filed by FPC in 1998. Based upon the unique circumstances of this case, we affirm the PSC's determination that it did because the concept of administrative finality applies.

I. MATERIAL FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW

In March, 1991, FPC and certain qualifying facilities1 ("QF"s) entered into negotiated contracts for the purchase of electrical power. One of these contracts involved the cogenerator who is the appellee here, Lake Cogen, Limited ("Lake Cogen"). All of the contracts contain the following provision, set forth as section 9.1.2:

Except as otherwise provided in Section 9.1.1 hereof, for each billing month beginning with the Contract In-Service Date, the QF will receive electric energy payments based on the Firm Energy Cost calculated on an hour-by-hour basis as follows: (i) the product of the average monthly inventory chargeout price of fuel burned at the Avoided Unit Fuel
780 So.2d 36
Reference Plant, the Fuel Multiplier, and the Avoided Unit Heat' Rate, plus the Avoided Unit Variable Q & M, if applicable, for each hour that the Company would have had a unit with these characteristics operating; and (ii) during all other hours, the energy cost shall be equal to the As Available Energy Cost.

This provision makes apparent allowance for the fact that electric utilities such as FPC typically have a number of electricity-generating facilities, not all of which may be "on line" at the same time, but which may be cycled into operation as appropriate to meet the customers' fluctuating energy demands. See generally Leonard S. Hyman, America's Electric Utilities: Past, Present and Future 22-30 (4th ed.1992). Thus, the contract provision establishes the method to determine, on a monthly basis, when the cogenerator will be entitled to receive higher "firm" energy payments for electricity pursuant to subsection (i) (when FPC would have operated the "avoided unit"—the facility which a utility such as FPC, by purchasing electrical power from a QF, avoids having to build to meet customer demand for electricity) or lower "as-available" payments pursuant to subsection (ii) (when such unit would not have been operated).

On July 1, 1991, in In re Petition for Approval of Contracts, 91 F.P.S.C. 7:60 (1991) (Docket No. 910401-EQ, Order No. 24734, July 1, 1991), the PSC reviewed the negotiated contracts and found them to be cost-effective for FPC's ratepayers (that is, not requiring payment to the cogenerators in excess of FPC's "avoided cost") under the criteria established in Rules 25-17.082 and 25-17.0832(2), Florida Administrative Code (providing that "[n]egotiated contracts will be considered prudent for cost recovery purposes if it is demonstrated by the utility that the purchase of firm capacity and energy from the qualifying facility pursuant to the rates, terms, and other conditions of the contract can reasonably be expected to contribute towards the deferral or avoidance of additional capacity construction or other capacity-related costs by the purchasing utility at a cost to the utility's ratepayers which does not exceed full avoided costs, giving consideration to the characteristics of the capacity and energy to be delivered by the qualifying facility under the contract"). As stated by this Court in Panda-Kathleen, L.P. v. Clark, 701 So.2d 322, 324 (Fla.1997), "`[a]voided cost' is the cost that a utility avoids by purchasing electrical power from a QF rather than generating the electrical power itself or purchasing the power from another source." In arriving at the estimated energy payment structure which the Commission approved, the contract used simplified assumptions regarding the "avoided unit."

During the first three years of the contract, FPC paid cogenerators firm energy prices at all hours of the day (thus, at the very least, implying that FPC would have operated the "avoided unit" at all times). However, thereafter (according to representations made to the Commission by FPC), FPC reviewed the operational status of the "avoided unit" described in section 9.1.2 of the contracts during minimum load conditions (that is, times of minimum customer demand for energy), and determined that the "avoided unit" would be scheduled off during certain minimum load hours of the day.

Based upon this review, on July 18, 1994, FPC unilaterally notified the parties to the contracts that, effective August 1, 1994, FPC would begin implementing section 9.1.2 as a basis for making certain "as available" energy payments for electricity (i.e., assuming that the "avoided unit" would not be operating during those hours) instead of the "firm" energy payments which it had previously been making (i.e., assuming, at least by implication, that the "avoided unit" would be operating during those hours). Three days later, on July 21, 1994, in an apparent attempt to justify its planned change in payments, FPC filed a petition with the Commission seeking a declaratory statement that section

780 So.2d 37
9.1.2 of its negotiated cogeneration contracts (including the contract with appellee here) was consistent with Rule 25-17.0832(4)(b), Florida Administrative Code.2

The appellee cogenerator, Lake Cogen, petitioned for leave to intervene and questioned whether the declaratory statement procedure was appropriate. In addition, Lake Cogen filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the PSC did not have jurisdiction to consider FPC's petition. Lake Cogen also initiated a lawsuit in state court at this time, alleging breach of contract based upon FPC's planned change in payments, and seeking declaratory judgment.

On November 1, 1994, FPC amended its petition, asking the PSC to determine whether its manner of implementing the pricing mechanism set forth in section 9.1.2 of the negotiated contracts for the purchase of firm capacity and energy from certain QFs (to determine the period when as-available energy payments were to be substituted for firm energy payments), which would result in a planned change in payments, was lawful under section 366.051, Florida Statutes (1993), and complied with Rule 25-17.0832(4)(b), Florida Administrative Code, and the orders of the Commission approving the negotiated contracts. Thereafter, Lake Cogen filed an additional motion to dismiss the amended petition.

In In re Petition by Florida Power Corp., 95 F.P.S.C. 2:263 (1995) (Docket no. 940771-EQ, Order No. PSC-95-0210-FOF-EQ, Feb. 15, 1995), the Commission granted the motion to dismiss. In so ruling, the Commission found that, although FPC had phrased its petition in terms of seeking a rule interpretation, it was really asking the Commission to adjudicate a contractual dispute,3 a matter over which the Commission did not have jurisdiction. The order provided, in pertinent part:

FPC has asked us to determine if its implementation of the pricing provision is lawful and consistent with Commission Rule 25-17.0832(4), Florida Administrative Code. We believe that FPC's request is really a request to interpret the meaning of the contract term. FPC is not asking us to interpret the rule. It is asking us to decide that its interpretation of the contract's pricing provision is correct. We believe that endeavor would be inconsistent with the intent of PURPA to limit our involvement in negotiated contracts once they have been established. Furthermore, we agree with the cogenerators that the pricing methodology outlined in Rule 25-17.0832(4), Florida Administrative Code, is intended to apply to standard offer contracts, not negotiated contracts. We have clearly said that we would not require any standard provisions, pricing or otherwise, for negotiated contracts. Therefore, whether FPC's implementation of the pricing provision is consistent
780 So.2d 38
with the rule is really irrelevant to the parties' dispute over the meaning of the negotiated provision. In this case, we will defer to the courts to resolve that dispute. We note however, that courts have the discretion to refer matters to us for consideration to maintain uniformity and to bring the Commission's specialized expertise to bear upon the issues at hand.
We disagree with FPC's proposition that when the Commission issues an order approving
...

To continue reading

Request your trial
14 practice notes
  • Tracey v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Case No. 2D16-5091
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 27, 2019
    ...id., is very strong, reflecting the prominence that finality has always held in our system of law. See also Fla. Power Corp. v. Garcia, 780 So.2d 34, 44 (Fla. 2001) ("The doctrine of decisional finality provides that there must be a ‘terminal point in every proceeding both administrative an......
  • Crapo v. Acad. for Five Element Acupuncture, Inc., No. 1D17-1895
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • July 8, 2019
    ...the applicant." Id. (citing Doheny v. Grove Isle, Ltd. , 442 So. 2d 966, 976 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983) ); see also Fla. Power Corp. v. Garcia , 780 So. 2d 34, 44 (Fla. 2001).This case involved new facts, new circumstances, and additional submissions, as well as an uber-equivocal exemption decisio......
  • Bondi v. Tucker, No. 1D11–5935.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • July 24, 2012
    ...the public may rely on a decision as being final and dispositive of the rights and issues involved therein.’ ” Fla. Power Corp. v. Garcia, 780 So.2d 34, 44 (Fla.2001) (quoting Austin Tupler Trucking, Inc. v. Hawkins, 377 So.2d 679, 681 (Fla.1979)). The Attorney General is in many ways no or......
  • Fla. Peninsula Ins. Co. v. Newlin, Case No. 2D17-2519
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 12, 2019
    ...to a markedly different form of civil trial practice—one that calls into question the finality of trials. Fla. Power Corp. v. Garcia, 780 So. 2d 34, 44 (Fla. 2001) ("The doctrine of decisional finality provides that there must be a ‘terminal point in every proceeding both administrative and......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • Tracey v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Case No. 2D16-5091
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • February 27, 2019
    ...id., is very strong, reflecting the prominence that finality has always held in our system of law. See also Fla. Power Corp. v. Garcia, 780 So.2d 34, 44 (Fla. 2001) ("The doctrine of decisional finality provides that there must be a ‘terminal point in every proceeding both administrative an......
  • Crapo v. Acad. for Five Element Acupuncture, Inc., No. 1D17-1895
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • July 8, 2019
    ...the applicant." Id. (citing Doheny v. Grove Isle, Ltd. , 442 So. 2d 966, 976 (Fla. 1st DCA 1983) ); see also Fla. Power Corp. v. Garcia , 780 So. 2d 34, 44 (Fla. 2001).This case involved new facts, new circumstances, and additional submissions, as well as an uber-equivocal exemption decisio......
  • Bondi v. Tucker, No. 1D11–5935.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • July 24, 2012
    ...the public may rely on a decision as being final and dispositive of the rights and issues involved therein.’ ” Fla. Power Corp. v. Garcia, 780 So.2d 34, 44 (Fla.2001) (quoting Austin Tupler Trucking, Inc. v. Hawkins, 377 So.2d 679, 681 (Fla.1979)). The Attorney General is in many ways no or......
  • Fla. Peninsula Ins. Co. v. Newlin, Case No. 2D17-2519
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • June 12, 2019
    ...to a markedly different form of civil trial practice—one that calls into question the finality of trials. Fla. Power Corp. v. Garcia, 780 So. 2d 34, 44 (Fla. 2001) ("The doctrine of decisional finality provides that there must be a ‘terminal point in every proceeding both administrative and......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT