Plaintiff: James Karnes, Jr. (pro se)
Defendant: John P. McCoy, Esq.; Casey J. Lee, Esq.
the Court is an appeal by Appellant James Karnes, Jr.
(Appellant) of an order (Order) of the Rhode Island Division
of Public Utilities and Carriers (Division) issued on August
31, 2018, finding Appellant responsible for a past due
balance of $1069.88 for utility service from National Grid.
Appellant asks this Court to reverse the Division's
Order. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 42-35-15.
appeal arose from a dispute for a past due balance for
utility service provided to Appellant by National Grid. After
being advised that due to an error National Grid had
transferred utility service at Appellant's residence into
an unrelated company's name, Appellant was told by
National Grid that he was responsible for the unpaid balance
of $1069.88 due for the time period of August 5, 2017 until
May 10, 2018.
on October 28, 1996 until August 8, 2017, Appellant had an
open account with National Grid for electric service provided
to his residence located at 2 Saint Theresa Avenue in
Bristol, Rhode Island. (Evidentiary Hr'g Tr. (Hr'g
Tr.) at 6:7-10; 8:4-7.) "On August 4, 2017 National Grid
received a call from Seterus, Inc. to connect service on
August 5, 2017 at 2 Saint Theresa Avenue in Warren, RI but
National Grid disconnected [Appellant's] service at 2
Saint Theresa Avenue in Bristol, RI and placed service under
Seterus, Inc." (Division's Informal Review Decision
at 4.) While National Grid asserts that bills in Seterus,
Inc.'s name were mailed to Appellant's address in
Bristol during this period of time, Appellant contends he did
not receive any bills during the period at issue. (Hr'g
Tr. at 10:9-15; 12:3-12.) It is undisputed that Appellant did
not reach out to National Grid about the fact that he was no
longer receiving bills from National Grid for utility
service. Id. at 18:19-23.
10, 2018, National Grid discovered the billing error after
conducting a field visit at 2 St. Theresa Avenue in Bristol,
Rhode Island "because the bills issued under that
company name were not being paid." Id. at
8:20-22. Upon visiting the address, National Grid discovered
Appellant was living, and had been living, at that address
for twenty-nine years, and that National Grid had
inadvertently transferred service out of Appellant's name
and into Seterus, Inc.'s name. Id. at 8:22-9:2.
As a result of this finding, National Grid transferred the
account back into Appellant's name and back billed
Appellant for the actual reads from the meter for that
address for the time period during which it had accidentally
been billing Seterus, Inc. instead of Appellant. Id.
at 9:15-17; 10:3-15. The amount National Grid asserts it is
owed is $1069.88, and Appellant does not dispute that amount
except to say that he is not responsible for its payment.
Appellant was notified that National Grid intended to
terminate his utility service due to non-payment, he asked
that the Division conduct an "Informal Review" as
provided under Rule VI(1)(A) of the Rhode Island Public
Utilities Commission's Rules and Regulations Governing
the Termination of Residential Electric, Gas and Water
Utility Service. The Division conducted the Informal Review
on July 10, 2018, and issued a written decision. Appellant
then requested an evidentiary hearing before a hearing
officer, which took place on August 22, 2018. The hearing
officer subsequently issued the Order on August 31, 2018, and
Appellant timely appealed that Order to this Court on
September 5, 2018.
Standard of Review
42-35-15(a) provides that "[a]ny person . . . who has
exhausted all administrative remedies available to him or her
within the agency, and who is aggrieved by a final order in a
contested case is entitled to judicial review." When
reviewing an agency decision, "[t]he court shall not
substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the
weight of the evidence on questions of fact." Sec.
42-35-15(g). The court may only:
"reverse or modify the decision if the substantial
rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the
administrative findings, inferences, ...