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Bellsouth Telecommunications, LLC v. Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

August 16, 2017

BELLSOUTH TELECOMMUNICATIONS, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUISVILLE/JEFFERSON COUNTY METRO GOVERNMENT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          David J. Hale, Judge

         This case centers on a dispute over access to utility poles in Louisville, Kentucky. In February 2016, the Louisville Metro Council enacted a “one-touch make-ready” ordinance outlining new procedures for the installation of communications networks on utility poles in the city. Make-ready work generally consists of moving or rearranging existing wires and attachments on utility poles to make space for new attachments. One-touch make-ready policies, such as the one implemented by the Louisville Metro ordinance at issue here, seek to avoid delays by having all make-ready work performed at the same time by a single crew.

         Plaintiff BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC (AT&T) disputes Defendant Louisville Metro's right to permit new users of utility poles to rearrange existing attachments on the poles in order to complete their own make-ready work. Pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docket Nos. 40, 53) AT&T requests that the Court declare the ordinance unlawful and enjoin its enforcement. (D.N. 40-1, PageID # 384) Louisville Metro insists that the ordinance is a valid exercise of its authority to manage public rights-of-way. (D.N. 53-1, PageID # 498) The Court heard oral argument on the cross-motions on April 25, 2017. (D.N. 84; D.N. 85) Because the Court concludes that the ordinance is within Louisville Metro's authority to manage public rights-of-way, Louisville Metro's motion for summary judgment will be granted and AT&T's motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are set forth in the amended complaint, and are undisputed for purposes of the motions for summary judgment. AT&T is a telecommunications carrier that provides services in Louisville. (D.N. 49, PageID # 442) AT&T has invested millions of dollars to construct and maintain a communications network in Louisville. (Id., PageID # 442-43) “A significant portion of AT&T's communications network in Louisville . . . consists of aerial telephone lines and associated equipment placed upon utility poles in the public rights-of-way.” (Id., PageID # 443) The majority of the poles used by AT&T are owned by either AT&T or Louisville Gas & Electric (LG&E). (Id.) AT&T has had a contract with LG&E for joint use of the utility poles since 1917. (Id.)

         Chapter 116 of the Louisville Metro Code of Ordinances contains regulations for the construction, maintenance, and operation of cable communications systems. In February 2016, the Louisville Metro Council passed an ordinance amending these regulations. See Louisville Metro Ordinance No. 21, Series 2016. (D.N. 49-1) Before discussing the substantive provisions of Ordinance No. 21, it is important to understand some of the key terms defined by the ordinance. An “Attacher” is “[a]ny person, corporation, or other entity or their agents or contractors seeking to permanently or temporarily fasten or affix any type of equipment, antenna, line or facility of any kind to a utility pole in the right of way or its adjacent ground space.” (D.N. 49-1, PageID # 453-54) A “Pre-Existing Third Party User” is “[t]he owner of any currently operating facilities, antenna, lines or equipment on a pole or its adjacent ground space in the right of way.” (D.N. 49-1, PageID # 454) A “Pole Owner” is “[a] person, corporation or entity having ownership of a pole or similar structure in the right of way to which utilities . . . are located.” (Id.)

         Ordinance No. 21 provides that an “Attacher may relocate or alter the attachments or facilities of any Pre-Existing Third Party User as may be necessary to accommodate Attacher's Attachment using Pole Owner approved contractors.” (Id., PageID # 455) The Attacher may do so without notice to the Pre-Existing Third Party User if the Attacher “will not effectuate a relocation or alteration of a Pre-Existing Third Party User's facilities that causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a customer outage.” (Id.) The Attacher must notify the PreExisting Third Party User within thirty days of completing the work. (Id.) The Pre-Existing Third Party User and Pole Owner then have fourteen days to conduct an inspection at the Attacher's expense. (Id.)

         AT&T challenges these provisions. According to AT&T, Ordinance No. 21 permits an Attacher to “seize AT&T's property, and to alter or relocate AT&T's property, without AT&T's consent and, in most circumstances, without prior notice to AT&T.” (D.N. 49, PageID # 444) AT&T claims that this deprives it of “the opportunity to assess the potential for network disruption caused by the alteration or relocation, and to specify and oversee the work on AT&T's own facilities to ensure any potential for harm to its network . . . is minimized.” (Id.) Due to the thirty-day notification period, AT&T alleges that it “may be hampered in locating and correcting” any network trouble caused by an Attacher's alteration or relocation of AT&T's facilities. (Id.)

         AT&T seeks a declaratory judgment that: (1) the Kentucky Public Service Commission has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate pole attachments under Kentucky law; (2) the ordinance exceeds Louisville Metro's authority under Kentucky law; and (3) the ordinance is preempted by federal law. (Id., PageID # 446-48) AT&T also requests a permanent injunction restraining Louisville Metro from enforcing the ordinance or authorizing any third parties to act pursuant to the ordinance. (Id., PageID # 450)

         AT&T argues that Kentucky law deprives Louisville Metro of any authority to override the federal pole-attachment regulations and instead vests that authority in Kentucky's Public Service Commission. (Id., PageID # 445) In support of this argument, AT&T points to Ky. Rev. Stat. § 278.040(2), which states that “[t]he commission shall have exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation of rates and service of utilities.” But the statute goes on to say that “nothing in this chapter is intended to limit or restrict the police jurisdiction, contract rights or powers of cities or political subdivisions.” Ky. Rev. Stat. § 278.040(2). Louisville Metro argues that the latter provision recognizes and preserves cities' police powers, giving it authority to enact the ordinance at issue. (D.N. 53-1, PageID # 498)

         AT&T also argues that the ordinance is a “drastic departure from, and conflict[s] with, ” regulations promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). (D.N. 49, PageID # 445) The Federal Communications Act of 1934 permits the FCC to “regulate the rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments to provide that such rates, terms, and conditions are just and reasonable.” 47 U.S.C. § 224(b)(1). But Louisville Metro argues, and the FCC agrees, that the FCC's pole-attachment regulations do not apply in Kentucky. (D.N. 53-1, PageID # 490; D.N. 68-1, PageID # 928)

         II. STANDARD

         In order to grant a motion for summary judgment, the Court must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying the basis for its motion and the parts of the record that demonstrate an absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party must point to specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “[O]n cross-motions for summary judgment, ‘the court must evaluate each party's motion on its own merits, taking care in each instance to draw all reasonable inferences against the party whose motion is under consideration.” B.F. Goodrich Co. v. U.S. Filter Corp., 245 F.3d 587, 692 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Taft Broad. Co. v. United States, 929 F.2d 240, 248 (6th Cir. 1991)). Here, the parties agree that the cross-motions for summary judgment are based upon legal argument. (D.N. 40-1, PageID # 386; D.N. 53-1, PageID # 485)

         III. ...


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