East Ohio lawyers say the case belongs with the PUCO, not in a courtroom.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A lawsuit against Dominion East Ohio Gas should be dismissed because the complaint doesn't belong in court, a company lawyer said in court documents.
Instead, it's a standard customer complaint that should have been filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which has exclusive jurisdiction over utilities.
Six Mahoning County residents filed the suit in July against East Ohio and Ameritech. They want an investigation into the companies' billing practices, and called for the utilities to be examined by the Ohio Auditor's Office.
The residents said they're concerned that the utilities are charging people for services that aren't being delivered.
The suit was filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, but Atty. Gordon W. Schmidt of Pittsburgh argued in court documents that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case.
His motion says that in decisions dating back nearly 70 years, courts have consistently ruled that any civil action related to utility rates or services falls within the PUCO's exclusive jurisdiction.
The lawsuit is an attempt to circumvent the PUCO's authority so should be dismissed, the motion says.
In Schmidt's motion, he says a customer can file a written complaint with the PUCO, or can even file a complaint online.
"The plaintiffs have chosen not to follow this straightforward procedure," he wrote in the motion.
Schmidt also pointed out that as a public utility, East Ohio is subject to biannual performance audits by independent auditors.
The most recent audit, which covered August 1999 to October 2001, found that East Ohio "has been performing admirably" and contained no recommendations for monetary charge-backs or disallowances, the motion says.
Ameritech has not yet filed its response to lawsuit, which was filed by John Paulette and Gary Brant, both of Austintown; Josephine Hewlitt and Rocco Russo, both of Youngstown; Robert Carcelli of Struthers; and Sam Sappi Jr. of Poland.