Bob Strong and Sean Gallagher recently achieved a reversal in the Michigan Court of Appeals of the Michigan Public Service Commission’s denial of summary disposition on a claim that the Commission exceeded its statutory authority when it authorized the defendant regulated utility company to raise electrical rates for Clark Hill’s client, a significant North American industrial energy transporter, generator, and distributor, at its facility in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Arguing the settlement resolved a disputed legal issue, the Commission approved the rate increases in 2012 under guise of approval of a settlement agreement from 2009 that included a rate-increasing accounting mechanism. The Commission approved the rate increase despite a prior Court of Appeals opinion holding that the statutory authority of electric utilities did not allow for use of the accounting mechanism. Under Bob’s direction, Sean drafted the brief and handled oral argument before the Court of Appeals panel, which included the judge who authored the prior opinion. In a published opinion, the unanimous panel decided the rate increases were ultra vires based on interpretation of clear statutory language and the prior Court of Appeals decision interpreting the Commission’s authorizing statute. The Court of Appeals ordered the case remanded for further proceedings before the Commission, which are expected to involve determination of the amount of refund owed to Clark Hill’s client, likely in excess of $200,000, and potentially all of the ratepayers of the utility, which could exceed $10,000,000.
Sean P. GallagherSean Gallagher Clark Hill
Sean P. Gallagher
Sean P. Gallagher is a Senior Attorney in Clark Hill’s Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Practice Group. He regularly litigates matters before state and federal courts and administrative bodies, particularly the Michigan Public Service Commission. Sean’s practice focuses on energy utility regulatory matters, commercial disputes, and public pension and municipal compliance issues.
Energy & Public Utility Litigation: Sean regularly serves clients as counsel in electricity and natural gas public utility ratemaking proceedings before the Michigan Public Service Commission, and on related appeals before the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court. Sean serves as counsel to the Association of Businesses Advocating Tariff Equity (ABATE), a group consisting of the largest industrial energy consumers in the state of Michigan. He advises on strategic and tactical legal issues concerning all facets of public utility regulation, ratemaking, and related proceedings, including pre-case intervention analysis, discovery, evidentiary presentations, briefing, and settlement.
Public Pension Fund and Municipal Law: Sean recently served with Clark Hill’s public pension team aiding both the General Retirement System of the City of Detroit and the Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit concerning matters related to the City of Detroit’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings, the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act (Act 436 of 2012), and the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act (Act 4 of 2011). He continues to represent the Retirement Systems of the City of Detroit, as he has since 2009, in various matters, including ongoing implementation- and compliance-related matters concerning the City of Detroit’s confirmed Chapter 9 Plan for Adjustment of Debts. Sean’s practice includes advising public bodies regarding compliance with statutes and regulations affecting public bodies, including fiduciary and other duties required by the Michigan Public Employee Retirement System Investment Act, and governmental transparency laws such as the Michigan Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act.
Commercial Litigation: Sean has litigated numerous contract claims, business torts, constitutional claims, environmental claims, and related discovery issues before state and federal courts. He has particular experience in the area of investment-side litigation involving public pension funds. Sean frequently assists clients on matters related to electronic discovery, motion practice, attorney-client privileges and trial preparation.
Sean earned his J.D. magna cum laude at MSU College of Law. He was awarded Jurisprudence Achievement Awards for courses in Contracts and Contract Theory Seminar. During law school, Sean served as an extern with the Honorable William E. Collette, Ingham County Circuit Court. Sean’s curriculum included the Fieger Trial Practice Institute Certificate Program, an intensive program covering fundamentals of litigation, trial skills, and professional decorum. He was also a member of the MSU Law Moot Court and Trial Advocacy Board.
Prior to law school, Sean worked in the retail auto leasing and professional association management industries in Chicago, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. He is native to the Metro Detroit area and a proud graduate of Detroit Catholic Central High School. Sean and his family make their home in mid-Michigan.