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Virginia SCC Without Jurisdiction to Hear Prisoner Phone Rate Challenge

Virginia SCC Without Jurisdiction to Hear
Prisoner Phone Rate Challenge

The Virginia Supreme Court, in an un-published opinion, has held the State Corporation Commission (SCC) does not have jurisdiction to hear challenge to prisoner phone rates. Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) prisoner Robert E. Lee Jones, Jr., filed a complaint with the SCC alleging that M.C.I. Telecommunications Corporation (MCI) charged excessive rates for telephone service in the Commonwealth's prisons. The SCC entered a Final Order in Jones' favor. MCI and VDOC appealed, arguing that Code §56-234 prevents the SCC from exercising jurisdiction over "contracts for services rendered by any telephone company to the state government."

§ 56-34 requires "every public utility to furnish reasonably adequate service and facilities at reasonable and just rates to any person, firm, or corporation" and that "[t]he charge for such service shall be at the lowest rate applicable with schedules filed with the [SCC] pursuant to §56-236." However, § 56-234 specifically exempted from this requirement "schedules of rates, or contracts for service rendered by any telephone company to the state government&"

The Court favored the "Inmate Telephone System contract is an agreement between MCI and a state agency." The fact prisoners and recipients of their calls may be users of the system of the contract do not eliminate the exception. Accordingly, the Court held the contract falls squarely within the exception of the SCC's regulation.

In dissent, Judge Lacy noted that in 2002 the Legislature enacted a substantive change in law by exempting the SCC's regulations for telephone service "provided only to the state but also to the public through a contract between the state government and the public utility." Thus, Judge Lacy would have held that the SCC had jurisdiction prior to the 2002 amendment.

The matter was reversed and remanded to the SCC to vacate its order and relinquish jurisdiction. The order was not published by the court. See: MCI WorldCom Network Services, Inc., v. Jones, Record Nos: 021262, 021247 and 020859 (Vir. 2003).

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Related legal case

MCI v. Jones