Statement by LADWP Regarding Revised Customer Billing System Class Action Settlement Agreement Filed by Counsel for the Plaintiffs, LADWP and the City of Los Angeles
|LOS ANGELES — Yesterday afternoon, attorneys representing the class action plaintiffs, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the City of Los Angeles filed with the Superior Court a revised Class Action Settlement Agreement that ensures our customers will be reimbursed every penny they are owed. We have made each of the twelve minor revisions requested by the Court regarding the Agreement, and are confident that the proposed settlement will be preliminarily approved when it is considered by the Court on December 21st.
LADWP and the City support the proposed Settlement because it returns 100 cents on the dollar to every customer affected by our billing system problems, and because it provides every customer a thorough and fair neutral process for resolving claims, including the opportunity to have their claims heard directly by the Court.
On November 3rd, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle, who will decide on the merits of the Settlement, provided explicit direction to the attorneys involved in the case to make very limited and specific revisions to the Settlement Agreement. Those changes have been made and were filed with the Court today.
Some of the limited adjustments to the Settlement Agreement requested by the judge and included in the amended filing include: (1) adding signature lines for the representative class plaintiffs; (2) providing the Claims Form in six languages for those non-English speaking customers; (3) providing an online process for claims submission; and (4) clarifying the types of claims that could be submitted by ratepayers for various types of damages, including overdraft fees that were caused by the defective billing system.
Objections to the revised Settlement must be filed with the Court by December 4th. As such, the proper forum to discuss and debate the merits of any aspect of the proposed settlement is in Court, in front of Judge Berle. We urge all parties involved in this case to respect the legal process and allow it to proceed.
About the Proposed Settlement and Dispute Resolution Process:
The proposed Settlement has significant protections and benefits for customers who were affected by the billing system problems, which are even stronger than protections included in other settled class action claims against the City in recent years.
Under the proposed Settlement, any customer who was overcharged will receive a credit (or refund if no longer a LADWP customer) for the full amount they were overcharged. The amount of credit or refund will be reviewed for accuracy by an independent third party. Any customer who disagrees with the amount of refund can submit their claim to an independent “Special Master,” who will consider the merits of the claim, and make a recommendation to the Court. If the customer disagrees with the decision made by the Special Master, they can take their claim directly to the Judge overseeing the Settlement. This process provides multiple layers of review to ensure every reimbursement or credit is fair and accurate.
Information about Objectors to the Proposed Settlement:
Multiple class action lawsuits were filed on behalf of customers by multiple competing attorneys following the implementation of LADWP’s new customer information and billing system. Recently, Consumer Watchdog, headed by Jamie Court, has made allegations about the Settlement that mirror objections expressed in Court by San Diego attorney Tim Blood, and the other objecting law firms. One of those law firms dropped their objections yesterday.
Unfortunately, Mr. Blood has continued to object to the proposed Settlement, despite it containing numerous protections for all LADWP customers.
City and LADWP attorneys have repeatedly asked Mr. Blood for his input on improving the settlement, and he has repeatedly attempted to carve out an ongoing paid role throughout the claims process that would continue for years following final approval of the settlement.
Specifically, Mr. Blood has asked to be appointed co-lead counsel, which would entitle him to seek more attorney fees from the Court once the settlement is approved. The Court has not accepted this request on two occasions.
Failing thus far at his attempts for an appointment of co-lead counsel, Mr. Blood now proposes that the Court appoint him “Claims Ombudsman” to oversee the claims portion of the Settlement. In this role, Mr. Blood offers to independently evaluate class members’ claims to determine if they are “fair and reasonable,” a determination that is typically made by an independent “special master,” or by the Court itself.
Mr. Blood has further requested that, during the administration of the Settlement, the LADWP, the Claims Administrator, the independent third party billing system expert, and class counsel report to him. He also requests that the Special Master, whose job it is to review class members’ appeals of their claim, report directly to him. He has offered to do this in return for a large cash payment, in the form of attorney fees.
LADWP and the City do not believe that Mr. Blood’s activities have provided any benefit to affected customers, and accordingly oppose any payment to Mr. Blood. In his numerous public statements, Mr. Blood has failed to disclose his financial interest in objecting to the settlement.
Some objectors have wrongly suggested LADWP won’t fix billing mistakes until the Settlement is approved. This is also incorrect. Customers don’t have to wait to have billing problems addressed. Any customer who believes their bill is in error is encouraged to contact a Customer Service Representative by calling 800-DIAL-DWP right away. Hold times are down to less than two minutes, so they can easily get through to discuss their bill. In cases where an error was made, LADWP has routinely adjusted customer bills and provided credits or refunds.
In cases where a bill is correct, and the utility services were used but the billing has been delayed, we offer extended repayment terms up to the amount of time of the delayed bill.
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