Class action suit filed for CMP ratepayers
Sumner Lipman of Lipman and Katz, and James Belleau of Trafton, Matzen, Belleau and Frenette appeared in Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland to file a class action suit July 19 on behalf of Scarborough's Mark Levesque, the representative of the proposed class, and all Central Maine Power customers allegedly overcharged after Oct. 30, 2017.
In addition to the 97,000 customers whose bills increased by 50 percent or more – acknowledged by CMP and set as a threshold by the state's public advocate – 200,000 customers had increased bills less than the 50 percent threshold, according to the court filing.
All of them would be a part of the proposed class. Lipman said 200 people had previously signed on, but that number doubled overnight. He said people do not need to sign up to be part of the class if it moves forward.
According to court records, Levesque said there was a “sudden, drastic increase” in the amount of his family's bill after CMP’s new billing system went online in late October. Their bill went up $100 from the year before in December, and nearly $200 in January. In total, the family believes they have been overcharged by at least $1,000, but that it could be more, since during the same period, the family’s two adult children moved out and the family removed a hot tub. According to the court filing, when they called CMP, they were told they must have been using more heat or had faulty appliances.
The court documents claim that during the same period, CMP knew the “real problem” was a malfunctioning billing system and faulty smart meters. The suit aims to reimburse the customers for the alleged overcharges.
In phone interviews Thursday and Friday, CMP spokesman Gail Rice said to date the company has found no link between the higher bills and either the new billing system or the meters. CMP continues to investigate, as does the PUC and independent auditor Liberty Consulting, and if errors are found in bills, those customers' accounts will be adjusted with credits or refunds, Rice said.
Lipman said it could be three to five months before they will know if the court will certify the class.
No dollar amount has been set. Lipman anticipated it could run $50 million to $100 million to reimburse all 297,000 customers.
In his statement, Lipman discussed 10 customers who had brought their stories to him, and he credited the PUC for its investigations, the Maine Public Advocate for acting to protect ratepayers, and the media for investigating the issue.
One of the customers present, Christopher Hyde of Pownal, said his home had solar power and his bill was typically $19-20 per month. In January, his bill went up to $386. “We got the same story everyone gets when they call CMP,” he said. “ ‘Oh, it’s really cold, oh, you’ve got a bad appliance.’"
On Thursday, Rice released a statement on the filing: “The timing of this litigation certainly is peculiar given that the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is undergoing an extensive investigation and has yet to issue its findings and recommendations. We continue to cooperate fully with the PUC and the independent auditor. While we understand class action lawyers are motivated to aggressively pursue claims and related legal fees, we hope all of our customers understand the PUC’s role. Under Maine law, the PUC is the body specifically charged with ensuring fair, accurate electric bills for all customers.”
Rice added in Thursday's phone interview, "We want answers as much as anybody."