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Monday, April 10, 2017

ANOTHER LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST CITY

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Water-billing class action suit ups the ante against city of Shreveport

No one can accuse Mike Wainwright and Scott Pernici, along with their attorney, Jerry Harper, of backing down in their legal crusade against the City of Shreveport to be compensated for what they assert are serious problems concerning the city’s billing for water. In what is fast becoming a full-scale “take no prisoners” litigation battle, a fourth lawsuit was recently filed by Harper against the city.

The first lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sand Beach Properties, LLC alleging that the city used confidential information to fix water rates where customers were under-billed. The second Sand Beach suit alleged that the city was non-responsive to a public records request for documents relevant to the first suit. Sand Beach Properties is owned by Scott Pernici and Michael Wainwright.

Harper next filed a defamation action on behalf of Pernici and Wainwright against Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler and Chief Administrative Officer Brian Crawford.

The recent litigation is a class action suit filed on behalf of Pernici, Michael Jones and Mark Defatta. They allege that they have been overcharged on their residential water bills as a result of the city’s failure to properly compute their average water usage. The class action is based on the numerous potential plaintiffs who have been over-billed, the common questions of law and fact that would be asserted in separate suits by potential plaintiffs, the costs and burden on the court system if numerous suits were filed and judicial economy.

The initial hurdle for Harper will be to have the class certified. There’s no doubt that the city will vigorously oppose the entire lawsuit, and it can be expected that numerous defenses will be asserted to initially dismiss the action, and then to oppose any certification of a class. According to the city’s Web site there are approximately 65,000 residential water customers, and the plaintiffs believe that a substantial number of these were, and continue to be, subject to overcharges.

The detailed lawsuit is based upon the procedures that the city allegedly uses for calculation of the water bills, and specifically whether or not the city is strictly following the ordinance that determines water usage. One complaint is that the city utilizes an excessive number of days in computing the customers’ usage. Another allegation is that the city does not correctly use the water consumption for the designated months of November, December, January and February to determine the average water bill.

The lawsuit also states that when reading the thousand-gallon water meters, the city rounds up the water usage to the nearest 1,000 gallons, which rounds up the monthly average of water usage. For those residential customers with hundred-cubicfeet meters, it is alleged that the city also miscalculates the water usage as well.

The lawsuit asks that the city be ordered to produce a detailed accountby-account report of the amounts overcharged to residents. Whether or not the city has, as the plaintiffs assert, the technology to access the relevant data and to assemble, analyze and report the data in a format to “correctly” calculate the alleged overcharges is an open question. Estimating the costs to analyze the 65,000 or so residential customers accounts and report the requested information is virtually impossible, but it’s safe to assume it will be staggering. These expenses plus the continuing cost to the city of the now four lawsuits is a major concern to many, both in and out of Government Plaza.

John E. Settle, Jr. has been a resident of Shreveport since January 1977. His articles appear regularly in local publications. He can be reached at 742-5513 or e-mail to: john@jsettle.com

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