Operators of Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., had no constitutional right to recover from consumers money lost as a result of the 1979 accident there, the worst in the nation's history, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The court upheld a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which said the plant's operators, Metropolitan Edison Co. and Pennsylvania Electric Co., had no right to raise rates to recoup losses from the accident.
The justices said yesterday that the companies' appeal must be dismissed for failing to raise a "substantial federal question."
The state court had ruled that "the utility has encountered one of the risks that imperil any business enterprise, namely the risk of financial failure."
It had upheld a state utility commission decision to deny the full amount of rate increases sought by the operators. Rates approved were about $37 million less than requested and did not include costs associated with the damaged reactor and a second reactor shut down. The third reactor resumed operating in October after substantial delay and litigation.
The court issued no formal opinion in dismissing the appeal in Metropolitan Edison Company v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
In a second nuclear-power case, the justices turned down without comment an appeal by the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. to recover $190 million it spent planning and building a plant near Chester, Ind., that never opened.
In that case, the state public service commission had said the utility could recover losses by raising utility rates, but the Indiana Supreme Court overturned that ruling. The case is Northern Indiana Public Service Co. v. Citizens Action Coalition.
In other action yesterday, the court agreed to hear several cases next fall, including:
*Whether prosecutors in Allegheny County, Pa., must turn over confidential child-welfare records to a man accused of raping his daughter, then 13.
The court, in Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, will hear the prosecutors' appeal that such information was properly withheld from George F. Ritchie, convicted in 1979 of rape and incest with his daughter.
Sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison, Ritchie appealed, arguing that he should have been allowed to see the records in order to present his defense at trial.
*An appeal by Justice Department prosecutors of a lower court ruling that restricted access by antitrust lawyers to grand jury testimony in a price-fixing and bid-rigging investigation in New York City.
The case involves a grand jury investigation of antitrust violations involving government-financed sales by American businesses to a foreign government.
The department decided against seeking a criminal indictment, but the same lawyers wanted the grand jury materials to press civil lawsuits against the businesses. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned them down, saying rules protecting the secrecy of grand jury materials must be obeyed strictly.
A ruling in U.S. v. John Doe Inc. I is expected to clarify a 1983 high court decision that the government must show a "particularized need" before grand jury information may be shared among government lawyers.
*Whether a developer charged with violating the Clean Water Act is entitled to a jury trial. The case Tull v. U.S., involves a Chincoteague, Va., developer fined $325,000 for filling in federally protected wetlands without a permit.
*Whether a company that buys out a failing business is obliged to recognize the union that formerly represented the employes. The National Labor Relations Board found that Massachusetts must honor prior union recognition, and an appeals court agreed. The Supreme Court will review that holding in Fall River Dyeing & Finishing Corp. v. NLRB.
*Whether Missouri state prison officials violated inmates' constitutional rights by restricting mail privileges and not allowing male and female inmates to marry unless they could show a "compelling reason" for the marriage.
The justices, in Turner v. Safley, will review a federal appeals court ruling that the restrictions were improper.
*Whether defendants not facing the death penalty may be tried by a "conviction-prone" jury screened to exclude persons strongly opposed to the death penalty.
The justices ruled earlier this month in an Arkansas case that death-penalty opponents may be excluded from juries when defendants face the death penalty.
The question in Buchanan v. Kentucky is whether, when two defendants are on trial but only one faces capital punishment, prosecutors may exclude death-penalty opponents. The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the process did not violate David V. Buchanan's right to a fair trial.