|Consumer’s Guide to Utility Complaint Hearings
When do I file a formal complaint?
If you have an unresolved billing or service dispute with your utility company, and the PUC’s Consumer Services staff has been unable to facilitate a solution, you may file a formal complaint with the Commission.
You may request a complaint form from Consumer Services. Fill it out completely and return it to Consumer Services. The Administrative Hearings Division (AHD) will give your complaint a docket number and send a copy to the utility company. The company will respond within 15 days. After the company responds, AHD will schedule either a prehearing conference (to clarify issues and see if the matter can be settled) or set the case for a hearing.
If the utility has discontinued your service, or proposes discontinuing it, you may request that the Commission intervene. Depending on the circumstances of your complaint, the Commission may direct the company to continue service or reconnect it while the dispute is pending.
Questions should be directed to Consumer Services staff at (800) 522-2404, or to the Administrative Hearings Division at (503) 378-6678. TTY users please call through the Oregon Relay at 1-800-735-2900.
What is a formal complaint hearing?
A consumer complaint hearing is a formal proceeding where you and the utility company present evidence to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The hearing is similar to a trial before a judge without a jury.
Who’s who at the hearing?
The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) The ALJ, an attorney employed by the Commission, presides over the hearing in an impartial way, and recommends a decision to the Commission.
The Parties You and the utility company are called "parties." As parties, you both may present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, object to evidence, and argue points of law. All testimony must address the issues in the case. Witnesses testify under oath and are there to provide information. The utility company may have an attorney and witnesses present to testify and answer questions.
What happens at the hearing?
Order of Presentation With an ALJ presiding, testimony and exhibits are marked and received into the official case record. Everything that takes place at the hearing is either tape-recorded or recorded by a court reporter. You present your evidence first. When you have finished, the company will present its evidence. You will then have an opportunity to "rebut" the company’s evidence. When appropriate, the ALJ will permit additional evidence after rebuttal. You will have the last opportunity to present evidence.
The conclusion of the hearing will not be postponed to give you time to obtain additional evidence unless you show that you could not have produced the evidence at the hearing. A postponement must not have an unduly adverse effect on the company.
After all the evidence is presented, both you and the company will usually have an opportunity to make an argument. Arguments tell the Commission how it should apply the law to the facts. You can make your argument first. The company will argue next. You will then have the opportunity to rebut the company’s argument.
Witnesses Testimony is given under oath and witnesses are subject to cross examination. The hearing normally will not be delayed for lack of evidence or witnesses. To ensure that witnesses attend, you may request, prior to the hearing, that your witnesses be subpoenaed. Requests for subpoenas should be made in writing to the ALJ assigned to the case. If there is a dispute, the ALJ decides whether a witness attends.
Evidence Evidence can be oral (testimony) or written (documents). In either case, it should be factual. If you want to use documentary evidence (such as bills, receipts, letters or other papers), bring the original and three copies to the hearing.
Objections If you have reason to believe that evidence presented by the company should not be used, you may object to the admission of the evidence. Similarly, the company may object to your evidence. The ALJ will rule on the objection. Only evidence which is admitted will be used by the Commission in making its decision.
If the party offering excluded evidence wants to appeal a ruling, the party may make an "offer of proof." The evidence will be taken, but will not be considered unless the Commission reverses the ALJ’s ruling.
The Burden of Proof The burden is on you to prove that the relief you requested should be granted.
The ALJ’s Role The ALJ may ask questions of you, the company or the witnesses. The ALJ’s questions are to provide the Commission with enough information to make a decision. The information produced by the ALJ’s questions may have the effect of helping or hurting your position. Part of the ALJ’s job in conducting the hearing is to make rulings on objections and motions.
If you do not agree with a ruling, and the ruling either terminates your involvement or the ALJ certifies that the ruling is an important one, you may appeal to the Commission. The Commission may uphold, modify or reverse the ruling.
Legal Representation You do not need to be represented by an attorney. If you want legal representation, you should arrange for it prior to the hearing. You are responsible for finding and hiring your own attorney. If you decide during the hearing that you need an attorney, you may ask the ALJ for a continuance to obtain legal counsel. However, a continuance is not normally granted during the hearing unless you have a good reason for not getting an attorney prior to the hearing.
Transcripts A word-for-word written transcript can be made of the record. Transcripts are used to assist the parties in filing briefs (written legal arguments), assist the Commission in reviewing orders proposed by the ALJ, and to permit the courts to review the Commission’s decision, if necessary.
If you request a transcript, you must pay the cost of preparing the transcript unless:
1) You ask for reconsideration or appeal to the courts. In these cases, you pay only the cost of copying the transcript;
2) You cannot afford to pay for the transcript. You must provide a statement explaining why you cannot afford to pay. This statement, called an "Affidavit of Indigency," must be provided at the time you request the free copy.
Briefs The ALJ may ask you to submit a "brief." Briefs contain written arguments. The ALJ may indicate which points should be discussed in the brief, or leave that decision to you.
What happens after the hearing?
The Decision The ALJ will prepare a recommended final order for the Commission’s consideration. The Commission will review the order, and, on occasion, may change the ALJ’s recommendation. The final order is always issued by the Commission. You will receive a copy of the final order.
After the Order There are two options if you do not agree with the Commission’s order. First, you may ask the Commission to rehear the case or reconsider the decision.
Second, you may also directly appeal the decision to the courts. Appeals go to the Court of Appeals, and then possibly to the Supreme Court.
Either option must be done within 60 days of the date of service of the final order.
Note: The Commission cannot grant money damages or attorney fees.