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Guilford Transportation Industries v. Public Utilities Commission

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Guilford Transportation Industries (Guilford) appealed a judgment regarding a contractual dispute that included fiber optic cable in the definition of a wire, allowing Central Maine Power Company to lay fiber optic cable along Guilford’s land.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Language in a contract can be considered to be ambiguous if the contract language can be interpreted several different ways.

    Facts.

    Guilford Transportation Industries (Guilford) entered into a contract with Central Maine Power Company (CMP) that allowed CMP to lay wires across Guilford’s land. CMP was required to pay a fee to Guilford dependent upon the voltage of the wire. The contract did not define “wire” and Guilford rejected CMP’s request to lay fiber optic cable, arguing that wire describes metal that carries electrical current, and fiber optic cable was glass and did not carry electrical current. CMP requested that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) resolve the dispute and the PUC granted summary judgment to CMP. Guilford appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether language in a contract can be considered to be ambiguous if the contract language can be interpreted several different ways?

    Held.

    Yes. The judgment of the PUC is reversed. The contract is ambiguous as to whether fiber optic cable is included within the definition of a wire because fees for wires with zero voltage could be lower than what Guilford would agree to if fiber optic cables were to be included.

    Discussion.

    If a contract is unambiguous, the contract should be interpreted in accordance with the law. If a contract is ambiguous however, the contract should be interpreted by a factfinder.


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