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Woman did not exhaust administrative remedies before suing

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The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with a Marion Superior judge that the courts do not have jurisdiction over a woman’s lawsuit concerning the disconnection of her water because the woman did not exhaust all her available administrative remedies before suing.

Leslie Bridges filed a class action seeking the return of her $25 reconnection fee as well as unspecified damages and attorney fees against Veolia Water. The company turned her water off twice for nonpayment, and her services were governed by a tariff approved by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

At the time of the disconnection and filing of her suit, Veolia Water managed and operated the water treatment and distribution facilities of the Department of Waterworks, a municipal water utility.

Bridges’ lawsuit claimed that Veolia and/or the DOW violated the terms of the tariff when it turned off her water without following procedures outlined in the tariff.  The department and Veolia moved to have the suit dismissed for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies; Bridges argued that utilization of the tariff-prescribed administrative remedies would have been futile and that the IURC did not have exclusive jurisdiction over her claim.

Marion Superior Judge Heather Welch dismissed Bridges’ suit in August 2011 and denied Bridges’ motion to correct error in November 2011.

The Court of Appeals, citing Bloomington Country Club Inc. v. City of Bloomington Water & Wastewater Utils, 827 N.E.2d 1213, 1219 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), concluded that Indiana Code 8-1-2-68 through -70 grant the IURC exclusive jurisdiction over Bridges’ claim, regardless of whether it is treated as a challenge to and a request for reimbursement of the $25 reconnect fee or as a challenge to the allegedly improper act of terminating her residential water service in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the tariff.

The judges rejected Bridges’ claim that utilizing the administrative remedies would have been futile, pointing out that the IURC can grant a refund of charges collected by utilities, plus interest. The commission also could have determined whether the defendants did, in fact, violate terms of the tariff, which would allow Bridges the chance to seek additional damages incurred beyond the refund in court, the judges held in Leslie Bridges v. Veolia Water Indianapolis, LLC, Veolia Water North America Operating Service, LLC, and The City of Indianapolis, Dept. of Waterworks, 49A02-1112-CC-1097.  
 

 

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