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Albuquerque CAB Company, Inc. v. New Mexico Public Regulation Commission

Supreme Court of New Mexico

September 18, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE CAB COMPANY, INC., Appellant,
v.
NEW MEXICO PUBLIC REGULATION COMMISSION, Appellee, and Q CAB, LLC, Intervener-Appellee, YELLOW-CHECKER CAB COMPANY, INC., Appellant,
v.
NEW MEXICO PUBLIC REGULATION COMMISSION, Appellee, and Q CAB, LLC, Intervener-Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE NEW MEXICO PUBLIC REGULATION COMMISSION

          Cadigan Law Firm, P.C. Michael J. Cadigan Albuquerque, NM for Appellant Albuquerque Cab Company, Inc.

          Sanchez, Mowrer & Desiderio, P.C. Armand Damacio Huertaz Raymond G. Sanchez Albuquerque, NM for Appellant Yellow-Checker Cab Company, Inc.

          Judith Ellen Amer Santa Fe, NM for Appellee

          Jason Marks Law, LLC Jason A. Marks Albuquerque, NM for Intervener

          OPINION

          CHARLES W. DANIELS, Justice

         {1} This is a direct appeal from a final order of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) granting a taxicab certificate to Q Cab for a new taxicab service in Albuquerque. This Court consolidated two separate appeals of that order by two preexisting Bernalillo County taxicab companies, Albuquerque Cab Company (Albuquerque Cab) and Yellow-Checker Cab Company (Yellow Cab).

         {2} This case came before the PRC under recently amended portions of the Motor Carrier Act, NMSA 1978, § 65-2A-1 to -41 (2003, as amended through 2017). The 2013 amendments created separate designations for "municipal" and "general" taxicab services, see § 65-2A-3(T)(3), (U)(2) (2013), and added a definition of fitness, Section 65-2A-3(R) (2013), which a candidate taxicab company must show and the PRC must find before an applicant may operate, see § 65-2A-8(B)(1). The parties ask this Court to interpret the Motor Carrier Act with respect to both the parameters of fitness and the privileges and responsibilities of existing municipal taxicabs when they protest new taxicab applications.

         I. BACKGROUND

         {3} On December 28, 2015, Q Cab, LLC applied to the PRC for a certificate to provide general taxicab services on a small scale within Bernalillo County. On January 13, 2016, Yellow Cab filed a protest and motion to intervene. Yellow Cab is a municipal taxicab company operating in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties. On January 19, 2016, Albuquerque Cab filed a protest of and objection to Q Cab's application. Albuquerque Cab is also a municipal taxicab company operating in Albuquerque and surrounding areas. Both protesting companies had territories that overlapped with the territory Q Cab had proposed for its operation.

         {4} The PRC designated a hearing examiner to consider Q Cab's application along with the protests and to draft a recommended decision for the PRC. The hearing examiner conducted a public hearing on May 9 and 10, 2016. On August 15, 2016, the hearing examiner recommended that the PRC reject arguments of Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab that they are municipal taxicab companies statutorily protected against Q Cab's entry into the market. The hearing examiner also found that Q Cab was not fit and able to provide general taxicab service and that granting its application would be contrary to the public interest. The hearing examiner recommended that the PRC deny Q Cab's application. On August 29, 2016, Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab each filed exceptions to the recommended decision relating to their protected status, and Q Cab and PRC Transportation Division staff filed joint exceptions relating to the issue of Q Cab's fitness. On October 5, 2016, the PRC voted to adopt the recommendation of the hearing examiner denying Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab the claimed statutory protection and to adopt the joint exceptions filed by Q Cab and PRC Transportation Division staff and thereby reject the recommended finding that Q Cab was unfit to operate. The PRC approved Q Cab's application.

         {5} Additional facts are set forth below as they pertain to each issue.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

         {6} The New Mexico Supreme Court has jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to Section 65-2A-35(A) and Rule 12-102(A)(2) NMRA of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         {7} In reviewing orders of the PRC, the Supreme Court must determine whether the PRC decision is "arbitrary and capricious, not supported by substantial evidence, outside the scope of the agency's authority, or otherwise inconsistent with law." Att'y Gen. of N.M. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n, 2011-NMSC-034, ¶ 9, 150 N.M. 174, 258 P.3d 453; see § 65-2A-35(C).

         {8} "'[A]n agency's action is arbitrary and capricious if it provides no rational connection between the facts found and the choices made, or entirely omits consideration of relevant factors or important aspects of the problem at hand.'" Colonias Dev. Council v. Rhino Envtl. Servs. Inc., 2005-NMSC-024, ¶ 41, 138 N.M. 133, 117 P.3d 939 (alteration in original) (citation omitted). "An agency abuses its discretion when its decision is not in accord with legal procedure or supported by its findings, or when the evidence does not support its findings." Oil Transp. Co. v. N.M. State Corp. Comm'n, 1990-NMSC-072, ¶ 25, 110 N.M. 568, 798 P.2d 169. "[S]ubstantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, " Toltec Int'l, Inc. v. Village of Ruidoso, 1980-NMSC-115, ¶ 3, 95 N.M. 82, 619 P.2d 186, "'and we neither reweigh the evidence nor replace the fact finder's conclusions with our own, '" Albuquerque Bernalillo Cty. Water Util. Auth. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n, 2010-NMSC-013, ¶ 18, 148 N.M. 21, 229 P.3d 494 (citation omitted).

         {9} When a final order turns on an agency's determination of matters within its special expertise, this Court gives heightened deference to the agency's determination. See Morningstar Water Users Ass'n v. N.M. Pub. Util. Comm'n, 1995-NMSC-062, ¶ 11, 120 N.M. 579, 904 P.2d 28. However, "we apply a de novo standard of review to the PRC's rulings regarding statutory construction." Albuquerque Bernalillo Cty. Water Util. Auth., 2010-NMSC-013, ¶ 50. We read related statutes in harmony and give effect to all provisions. El Paso Elec. Co. v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm'n, 2010-NMSC-048, ¶ 7, 149 N.M. 174, 246 P.3d 443.

         B. Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab Are Not Statutorily Protected from Competing Applicants

         {10} As providers of municipal taxicab services, Albuquerque Cab and Yellow Cab hold certificates under the amended Motor Carrier Act, issued by the PRC soon after the 2013 amendments took effect. They argue that these certificates protect them from Q Cab's entry into their full-service territories under Section 65-2A-13(D)(2), which specifies that the PRC "shall not grant an application . . . for a new certificate for general taxicab service within the full-service territory of a protesting municipal taxicab service carrier."

         {11} General and municipal taxicab companies are regulated differently. A ...


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