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MAHONING COUNTY Suit over utility bills dismissed; lawyer looks to federal court



Published: Sat, August 17, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The matter could be refiled as a class-action suit.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A lawsuit filed last month by disgruntled customers of East Ohio Gas and Ameritech, seeking to force them into an audit, has been dismissed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

But the group's attorney, Mark S. Colucci, said he still intends to pursue the matter, either in federal court or with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Under Ohio law, the residents have one year to refile their complaint.

Plaintiffs

Six Mahoning County residents filed the suit in early July, complaining that their utility bills contained charges for services they did not receive. They wanted an investigation into the companies' billing practices.

East Ohio's lawyers filed a motion earlier this month asking Judge R. Scott Krichbaum to throw out the suit. They said issues involving public utility companies belong exclusively before the PUCO, not in court.

Rather than argue the issue, Colucci said he voluntarily dismissed the action.

But he said word of the lawsuit drew so much reaction from people all over the state who called to say they'd had the same problem with utility bills, that he's looking into a class-action lawsuit in federal court.

"If you're not getting the service, then you shouldn't get billed for it," Colucci said. "That's just not right."

He's hoping a federal court will accept the case so he does not have to pursue the complaint with the PUCO.

"If you file any kind of complaint down there, it's like falling into a black hole," he said.

bjackson@vindy.com




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