A customer who signs a form requesting electric service from a particular provider is bound by that selection of provider even if the request-for-service form lacks the detail and formality of a contract, according to the Georgia Public Service Commission (the Commission) and the Georgia Court of Appeals.

In the case of Georgia Power Company v. Jackson Electric Membership Corporation, Docket No. 15832-U (Final Decision May 4, 2007), the Commission affirmed the Hearing Officer’s finding that the customer—Free Chapel Worship Center, a large church located in Gainesville, Georgia—was not entitled to select Jackson EMC as its preferred electric supplier, because the church administrator previously signed a request-for-service form asking Georgia Power to serve the premises.

Jackson EMC argued that, under the Territorial Act, the church was entitled by virtue of its large load size to select the electric supplier of its choosing. Free Chapel, which was in the process of building a new church structure, attempted to take advantage of the “large load” exception. After soliciting proposals from both Georgia Power and Jackson EMC, Free Chapel signed an agreement in July 2002 to accept service from Jackson EMC upon completion of the new building. Georgia Power filed a petition with the Commission challenging the selection.

The focus of the dispute was a request-for-service form that Free Chapel’s administrator signed on October 25, 1999, shortly after the church bought the Gainesville property and before the church building was constructed. The church administrator testified that he signed the request-for-service form only after a representative of Georgia Power informed him that the church would be too small to qualify under the “large load” statute and thus had no right to elect a different supplier.

Jackson EMC argued that the two-sentence request-for-service form was too indefinite to constitute a contract binding Free Chapel to its choice of Georgia Power; the document lacked essential terms, such as price; and the document contained no language committing Georgia Power to do anything.

The Commission held that nothing in the Territorial Act requires that a customer actually sign a contract to indicate its choice of electric suppliers. Rather, the choice could be evidenced by something short of a formal contractual agreement, such as the request-for-service form. Further, the Commission found that the request-for-service form plus the utility’s publicly available tariffs contained, between them, all of the elements necessary to make a binding contract; the request-for-service form indicated the customer’s intent to select Georgia Power; and Georgia Power’s tariffs (of which the customer was presumed to be aware) contained the pricing information and other key terms of service.

The Commission discounted the argument that the church was misled into accepting service by Georgia Power’s representation that the church had no other choice. The Commission noted that the church had expressed an intent to select Georgia Power on multiple occasions, not just in the request-for-service form. Further, the Commission found that the church’s administrators did not take advantage of opportunities to inform themselves of the church’s status as a “large load” customer eligible to choose its supplier.

Jackson EMC appealed to the Fulton County Superior Court on June 4, 2007. On October 18, 2007, the Superior Court denied the appeal and affirmed the decision of the Commission.

Jackson EMC appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which issued its decision on October 27, 2008. Reversing the Commission and Superior Court, the Court of Appeals held that the choice of electric provider under the Territorial Act requires a contract. Relying on North Georgia Electric Membership Corp. v. Dalton, 197 Ga. App. 386 (1990), the court stated, “We find that Dalton rests on sound logic and that it would be unfair if large load customers could be bound to receive service from an allegedly chosen supplier absent a binding agreement reached through mutual assent and meeting the other requirements for contract formation under Georgia law.”

The Court of Appeals, however, affirmed the Commission’s and Superior Court’s decisions that execution of the two-sentence request-for-service form resulted in a binding contract between Free Chapel and Georgia Power. The Court of Appeals stated that a contract may be contained in several writings and that “the Request Form, together with GPC’s publicly-available rates, rules, and regulations, are sufficiently definite to comprise a contract.” The Court of Appeals further considered “other documents and correspondence between the parties.”

The Court of Appeals upheld the Commission’s and Superior Court’s decisions regarding Jackson EMC’s claim of misrepresentation, holding that “[t]he language in the Request Form refutes Free Chapel’s contention that it was misled.”

The Supreme Court of Georgia denied Jackson EMC’s Petition for Writ of Certiorari on February 23, 2009.

Status: Final