Babb v. Missouri Public Service Commission

414 S.W.3d 64 (2013)

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Babb v. Missouri Public Service Commission

Missouri Court of Appeals
414 S.W.3d 64 (2013)

Facts

In 2008, Missouri voters approved a clean-energy initiative that set targets for renewable-energy production, among other objectives. The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) (defendant) subsequently adopted regulations regarding renewable-energy sources, including regulations regarding renewable-energy-system use by Missouri residents. The regulations, and the statute under which they were promulgated, required solar-energy systems to meet all applicable safety, performance, interconnection, and reliability standards established by local code authorities. After the initiative passed, James and Frances Babb (plaintiffs) planned to install a solar-energy system for their home. In 2011, the Babbs applied to their city (defendant) for a building permit to construct the system. The Babbs’s proposed system included 100 rooftop solar panels, which was more panels than any other resident had constructed in the city. However, the Babbs’s plan otherwise complied with relevant city ordinances. Two months later, while the Babbs’s permit application was pending, the city board of aldermen (the board) (defendant) adopted new ordinances that (1) changed the permit needed for solar-energy systems from a standard building permit to a special-use permit (SUP) that required board approval and (2) imposed design specifications and general requirements regarding how solar-energy systems could be installed on or adjacent to residences. The Babbs applied for an SUP as required by the new ordinance. In proceedings before the city planning and zoning commission (P&Z), the Babbs reduced the number of proposed rooftop solar panels from 100 to 42 and agreed to install the remaining panels on freestanding poles. The Babbs submitted a revised plan to P&Z, which recommended granting the SUP. However, the board denied the Babbs’s SUP application without explanation. The Babbs sued the PSC, the board, and the city, asserting that the city’s ordinances conflicted with, and thus were preempted by, the Missouri Renewable Energy Act of 2008 and state regulations that allowed the construction of rooftop solar-energy systems. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Babbs and ordered the city to issue a permit for the Babbs’s solar-energy system. The city did not issue the permit, but the Babbs built the system anyway with the court’s approval. The trial court eventually entered a final judgment in the Babbs’s favor, and the city appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Witt, J.)

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