Rev. Jack Battiste, pastor of the New Testament Baptist Church in New Orleans, has sued the local utility board for alleged illegal removal of service in his Tupelo Street property.
Details of the Case
According to a news report by WWL-TV, Battiste claimed that the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board cut off the water supply and removed the meter in his home on Tupelo Street.
The federal filing revealed that the pastor said the water utility board did so without telling him.
The article said that Battiste was contesting a $3,300 water bill before the alleged illegal service removal occurred.
The pastor said that the utility board's action essentially devoid him and his wife of potential income.
Battiste explained that they could not accept tenants with a water meter missing and without a water supply to the property.
"I think the thing that was most amazing was the total disregard for communication and respect of the customer. Why would they give you these astronomical bills and not sit down and talk with you, give you an explanation or give you a form of justification?" Battiste told reporters.
Similar Cases Noted
Aside from the pastor's lawsuit, the article revealed similar cases with the same defendant.
Battiste told WWL-TV that hundreds of New Orleans residents have similar experiences with the local utility board.
The article noted that A. P. Marullo, a real estate developer, sued the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board after experiencing a sharp spike in his monthly water bill.
The plaintiff claimed he received a $13,000 bill for one of the properties he owns when his previous statement was just $800.
Worse, Marullo claimed the utility board forwarded the bill to credit bureaus even as he was still disputing it.
Marullo said the board's action caused his credit rating to drop 240 points.
He explained that his credit rating drop ultimately put him in a "serious situation" since he is in the real estate business.
The news report said that Marullo won his case, which forced the utility board to wipe clean his credit report.
Potential Class Action Suit
WWL-TV noted that Marullo is currently backing up Pastor Battiste financially.
The news outlet said there is a possibility the case could become a class action suit.
The pastor's lawsuit said the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act of 1977.
The utility board also allegedly infringed on Battiste's right to due process since they removed the water meter and cut off services to the pastor's property while the dispute was ongoing and without informing the latter.
Marullo, who had set up a website for the potential class action suit, said that city residents are experiencing denial of due process "on a large scale."
He lamented that such a situation is "disheartening."
Utility Board's, City Council's Move
Helena Moreno, president of the New Orleans City Council, said they had filed a resolution ordering the utility board to cease sending customers' bills to credit bureaus while customers dispute them.
She explained that the utility board is enforcing a "very harmful" policy given its potential negative impacts on customers applying for housing or employment opportunities.
The utility board, meanwhile, issued a statement saying they are 'willing to work' with customers with past due accounts.
They asked customers who wish to work out a solution to contact them directly at email@example.com or 52-WATER.