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Stevens v. National Grid

Superior Court of Rhode Island

July 1, 2014

GREGORY STEVENS, d/b/a F. SAIA RESTAURANTS, LLC
v.
NATIONAL GRID

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff Gregory Stevens, pro se.

For Defendant John P. McCoy, Esq.; Leo J. Wold, Esq.

DECISION

VOGEL, J.

Gregory Stevens (Stevens) brings this appeal from a decision of the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (Division).[1] The Division ordered him to pay National Grid $18, 029.95 for unbilled electric service to his restaurant. This Court derives its jurisdiction from G.L. 1956 § 39-5-1. For the reasons set forth below, this Court upholds the decision of the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers.

I

Facts and Travel

On May 1, 2012, Stevens submitted a complaint to the Division, challenging a bill he had received from National Grid in the amount of $18, 029.95. (Ex. 15, Stevens' complaint.)[2] The disputed bill relates to service allegedly provided by the electric company to Stevens' commercial property located at 1200 Hartford Avenue, unit four, Johnston, Rhode Island. (Ex 2, Division's Interoffice Memorandum; Ex. 15, Stevens' complaint.) The Division conducted a hearing on Stevens' complaint on September 20, 2012. (Ex. 4, Report and Order at 1-2; Ex. 18, Hr'g Tr., Sept. 20, 2012.)[3] At the hearing, National Grid presented two witnesses in support of its claim that the bill was accurate: Kevin Allsworth (Allsworth), an analyst at National Grid's Regulatory and Escalated Complaint Program, and Sean McGovern (McGovern), a supervisor at National Grid's Customer Metering Services Group. (Tr. at 8, 51-52.)

According to Allsworth, the issue arose from a complaint National Grid received on September 26, 2011 from Stevens' landlord, Kenneth Lantini (Lantini). (Tr. at 9.) Lantini claimed that he had been billed improperly for service provided to unit four, and that this mistake had continued for fourteen years, from February 5, 1997 to October 25, 2011. (Tr. at 9; Ex. 8, Letter from Lantini to National Grid, Nov. 8, 2011.) Lantini also sent National Grid a letter explaining the meter mix-up and pertinent lease documents. (Tr. at 10; Ex. 8, Letter from Lantini to National Grid, Nov. 8, 2011 and Lease Records.) According to the leases, on January 1, 2005, Lantini rented four units, including unit four, to a single tenant, Pat's Italian Food to Go, Inc. (Pat's). (Ex. 8, Lease Records.) On July 1, 2007, Pat's assigned its interest in the rental property to Stevens. Id.

Allsworth presented detailed records showing account information for the four units while they were occupied either by Pat's (between 2004 and 2007) or Stevens (from July 2007). (Ex. 11, National Grid's records showing account details for units one through four.) According to Allsworth, these records demonstrate that National Grid always correctly billed Pat's, and later Stevens, for electric service to units one, two, and three. (Tr. at 22-24.)

As for unit four, National Grid conducted a loop check on October 20, 2011, after receiving Lantini's complaint, to test the meters at the various units to determine whether the meters were functioning properly.[4] (Tr. at 9-10, 12; Ex. 9, Loop Check records.) Thereafter, National Grid performed a second loop check on November 14, 2011. (Tr. at 11-12; Ex. 9, Loop Check records.) According to Allsworth, the loop checks confirmed Lantini's claim that he had been incorrectly billed for electric service to unit four. (Tr. at 14.)

The situation became complicated by the presence of a fourth meter that had recorded electric usage for a "mystery unit" that was billed to Pat's and then to Stevens.[5] Id. at 31. It is undisputed that National Grid billed Pat's, and later Stevens, for services recorded under a total of four meters, including three that relate to units one, two, and three and one that Allsworth could not attribute to Stevens' rental property. Id. at 14, 22-23; Ex. 9, Loop Check logs. In fact, National Grid has been unable to locate the property that corresponds to this fourth meter.[6] (Tr. at 43, 46.)

Records offered at the hearing reveal that the electric consumption attributed to the "mystery unit" between 2007 and 2010 was considerably less than the consumption National Grid now claims relates to Stevens' unit four. (Ex. 14, Bill Analysis.) The consumption recorded by the meter attributed to the "mystery unit" ranged between about 6000 and 10, 000 kilowatt hours (kWh) between 2008 and 2010. (Ex. 12, meter readings for the "mystery unit"; Ex. 14, Bill Analysis.) However, the consumption recorded by the meter that actually recorded consumption for unit four ranged between approximately 36, 000 and 46, 000 kWh between 2008 and 2010.[7] (Ex. 13, meter readings for unit four; Ex. 14, Bill Analysis.)

As a result of this mix-up, National Grid calculated the amount due by taking the difference between the amount already charged to Stevens using the readings from the meter recording consumption for the "mystery unit" and the amount that would have been charged to unit four.[8] (Tr. at 37; Ex. 14, Bill Analysis.) When calculating the amount due, Allsworth stated that National Grid used the rates in effect during the period in dispute. (Tr. at 37.) Allsworth also explained that National Grid used the readings from meter 97244358 as the basis for calculating the amount Stevens owed to National Grid. Id. at 39-40. He acknowledged that that meter 97244358, which had been recording consumption between February 5, 1997 and March 4, 2011, had not been tested for accuracy because National Grid replaced that meter before the error was detected. Id. at 34, 39-41. National Grid then installed meter 46073991, which recorded electricity consumption to unit four from March 4, 2011 until February 15, 2012. Id. at 34. When meter 46073991 was removed in February of 2012, National Grid did perform a test and determined that that meter was operating within prescribed parameters. Id.

Relying on its calculations, National Grid determined the overcharge to total $28, 269.18, and the company's Accounts Processing Department adjusted Lantini's account in that amount. Id. at 14. National Grid then billed Stevens for the amount credited to Lantini. Id.; Ex. 10, Letter from National Grid to Stevens, Nov. 21, 2011.

Later, National Grid determined that it had billed Stevens for amounts that covered the years when Pat's occupied the property and reduced his bill by $10, 239.23, which led to the disputed charge of $18, 029.95. (Tr. at 15, 18-19; Ex. 10, Letters from National Grid to Stevens, Dec. 5, 2011 and Apr. 13, 2012). National Grid then wrote off $10, 239.23 as uncollectible because Pat's, the previous customer, did not have current, active accounts. (Tr. at 21.)

Following Mr. Allsworth's testimony, National Grid then presented its next witness, Mr. McGovern. Id. at 51. McGovern testified that he made a field visit on August 22, 2012 and reviewed the loop check test that was performed on November 14, 2011. Id. at 53. He confirmed that all of the meters that were examined during the loop check tests were still in use. Id. at 53-54.

After National Grid completed presenting its case, Stevens stated that he "would rest based on the testimony that's already been elicited." Id. at 56. However, Stevens did submit three exhibits which were accepted into evidence. First, he offered the letter he had submitted to the Division, disputing the charges assessed against him by National Grid and which the Division apparently accepted as his complaint. (Ex. 15, Stevens' complaint.) Next, he presented a package of materials he had provided to National Grid after he filed his complaint with the Division. (Ex. 16, Meter readings for units one through four and the "mystery unit.") That package of documents included meter readings which formed the basis of previous billings. Id. Finally, Stevens offered handwritten drawings intended to ...


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