Old electric utility case may be reopened

Hannah Grover
Electrical lines running along the north side of U.S. Highway 64 in Bloomfield are shown in December. City officials in Bloomfield are trying to acquire local electrical assets as part of an attempt to start their own electric utility.

AZTEC – Officials from Farmington and Bloomfield have two weeks to decide how they will proceed with a legal dispute between them after a judge told them Thursday that a 1960s electric utility acquisition case could be reopened, despite what Bloomfield officials had maintained.

Judge Bradford Dalley told representatives of both municipalities on Thursday that the court staff had assured him that the so-called Culpepper case — which unfolded in the 1960s after the city of Farmington acquired an electric utility system from Basin Light & Power Co. — could be reopened, allowing Bloomfield to file a motion with that case. Bloomfield officials have said they tried to file under the former case, but the docket from 1960s was unable to be reopened because the case was so old and the technology has changed.

Dalley has asked Farmington and Bloomfield to provide him with a joint letter detailing their decision.

The issue of whether the Culpepper case could be reopened is important because Bloomfield has filed a lawsuit against Farmington alleging breach of contract in regard to Bloomfield's efforts to create its own electric utility. Bloomfield hopes to purchase the electric utility assets located within its borders that is currently owned by Farmington, a move the latter opposes. Farmington has filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that Bloomfield should have reopened the Culpepper case and filed a motion within it.

Bloomfield officials have alleged that Farmington breached its contract based on a 1960 court ruling in the Culpepper case.

The court ruling in the Culpepper case outlined Farmington's rights to the utility, as well as the right of Aztec and Bloomfield to purchase the electric utility infrastructure within their municipal boundaries. The court order stated that if the cities could not agree on a price, the court would decide how much Aztec or Bloomfield should pay for the systems.

When Aztec moved to create its own electric utility system in 1961, it did so by reopening the Culpepper case and filing a motion within it, eventually acquiring the assets Farmington owned within its borders. Farmington has argued Bloomfield should have done the same, but Bloomfield officials have said they were unable to do so.

After hearing arguments about the case in December, Dalley spoke to the court staff and reported what he had learned to representatives of both cities on Thursday.

Nann Winter, an attorney representing Bloomfield, told the court that the city would gladly file in the Culpepper docket if it is, in fact, possible.

Officials from the two cities now will try to decide how to proceed. That could mean a dismissal of Bloomfield’s lawsuit and having Bloomfield refile within the Culpepper case just as Aztec did 55 years ago or it could mean trying to merge the two cases.

Dalley said he thinks the two cases may not be able to be consolidated because both Farmington and Bloomfield were defendants in the Culpepper case. The suit was filed by C.C. Culpepper and Roswell Nelson, who were trustees of Basin Light & Power Co. Bloomfield and Aztec were included as defendants in the case because they were seeking adjudication of their rights to acquire the utility.

“This case has been quite a headache for many people,” Dalley said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.