With today’s orders list, the Texas Supreme Court issued one opinion, dismissed a case that had been set for argument, and granted a motion to permit an amicus to argue.

Next week is a short week, so the next full list should be released on December 2. The next round of oral arguments begins December 6.

Cities could not directly challenge gas-rate increases under the GRIP statute

Atmos Energy Corporation, Centerpoint Energy Resources Corporation, and Texas Gas Service Company v. The Cities Of Allen, et al. and Railroad Commission of Texas, No. 10-0375 (Wainwright, J.) PDF

The narrow question here is the validity of rate increases by some gas utilities under a special statute providing for interim repayments of certain costs (referred to by the shorthand “GRIP”). The utilities filed these rate increases, and these 51 cities took formal action to refuse the increases. But the applicable statute gave the Railroad Commission exclusive appellate jurisdiction. The utilities took those appeals, and the Commission set aside the city’s objections to the rate increases.

With today’s holding, the Texas Supreme Court concluded:

  1. The statute’s grant of exclusive appellate jurisdiction gave the Commission power to override city determinations.

  2. No evidentiary hearing (“contested case”) was required here because the GRIP statute did not contemplate that detailed factual review. Instead of that normal process, the Court explained, the GRIP statute provided different protections, including possible refunds in later rate cases. (( See page 12: “[A] municipality could file a rate case on its own motion whenever it perceives the need after a GRIP filing. Tex. Util. Code § 104.151. These protections further reinforce our view that the interim GRIP filings are subject only to a ministerial review of the statutory requirements by the Commission.” ))

The latest wrongful-imprisonment case has been settled

In re Larry Charles Fuller, No. 11-0018

The Court had agreed to hear oral argument in a new challenge to how the Comptroller handled a compensation claim for wrongful imprisonment. The parties reached a settlement and, with today’s orders list, the Court has formally dismissed the case.

Amicus argument in a (potentially) big products-liability case

Centocor, Inc. v. Patricia Hamilton and Thomas Hamilton, No. 10-0223 (to be argued Dec. 8, 2011)

Today, the Court granted leave for an amicus to appear at argument in this case about how advertising interacts with the normal tort duties for makers of prescription drugs. One question is the extent to which drug makers can still rely on a doctor (the “learned intermediary”) to provide disclaimers when the maker has directly advertised the drug to consumers.

The amicus brief was a joint filing by the Texas Medical Association, Texas Medical Liability Trust and Texas Alliance for Patient Access. The Court’s order does not say which amicus group is appearing (I’ll update this post when I know), but it does suggest that And extra time is being devoted to this case. The order shows a time division of 20/20/10 rather than the usual 40 minutes total.