Rison v. Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, 043020 RISUP, KC-2019-0832
|Docket Nº:||C. A. KC-2019-0832|
|Opinion Judge:||LICHT, J.|
|Party Name:||JARRAH RISON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. RHODE ISLAND DIVISION OF PUBLIC UTILITIES AND CARRIERS and NATIONAL GRID, Defendants-Appellees.|
|Attorney:||For Plaintiff: Arthur D. Parise, Esq. For Defendant: Casey J. Lee, Esq.; John P. McCoy, Esq.|
|Case Date:||April 30, 2020|
|Court:||Superior Court of Rhode Island|
For Plaintiff: Arthur D. Parise, Esq.
For Defendant: Casey J. Lee, Esq.; John P. McCoy, Esq.
Appellant Jarrah Rison (Rison) appeals from a Report and Order dated June 20, 2019 (Order) of the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC). The Order upheld the transfer of $6903.98 in charges incurred by Rison's stepfather, Timothy Hawes (Hawes), and Rison's mother, Maryann Johnston (Johnston), at their residence located at 202 Blanchard Avenue, Warwick, Rhode Island (202 Blanchard) to Rison's National Grid account for property located at 15 Jefferson Street, Warwick, Rhode Island (15 Jefferson). For the following reasons, the Order is reversed.
Facts and Travel1
Hawes opened an account with National Grid for 202 Blanchard on May 9, 1997. Hawes' account was current on payments prior to October 6, 2009, 2 but when it was closed on June 2, 2011, there were arrearages of $4153.66. On or about June 2, 2011, Johnston opened an account with National Grid for 202 Blanchard. That account was closed with arrearages of $3873.21 on March 24, 2014 when Hawes and Johnston vacated the premises due to foreclosure. Rison opened a National Grid account for service at 15 Jefferson on June 1, 2014, and Hawes and Johnston moved in with her. National Grid subsequently transferred the combined arrearages of $8, 126.87 from 202 Blanchard to Rison's account for 15 Jefferson based on National Grid's contention that Rison resided at 202 Blanchard when the arrearages accrued. Rison timely contested the transferred charges with the DPUC.
The DPUC held two evidentiary hearings on whether Rison appeal.3 At the first hearing, National Grid provided documentation based on a Lexis/Nexis analytic software that indicated that Rison resided at 202 Blanchard until January 2016. However, testimony from National Grid at the hearings confirmed that Rison opened an account for 15 Jefferson on June 1, 2014. The first hearing was continued to allow Rison an opportunity to provide documentation that she did not reside at the 202 Blanchard address during the relevant times.
At the second hearing, Rison admitted that she had lived at 202 Blanchard for a few months in 2012 with her infant child, and Rison presented written documentation indicating, inter alia, that she was a transient young adult. The DPUC disregarded Rison's documentation because "none were submitted as sworn or notarized statements, and none of the individuals who wrote these letters appeared at the hearing to authenticate them or be cross-examined as to their veracity." Order at 9. As a result, the DPUC found "the documentation submitted by the respondent more persuasive as to the complainant's domicile during the period from October 9, 2009 through December 31, 2012." Id. at 10. At the hearing, National Grid "admitted that their Lexus/Nexis [sic] software is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate and is utilized as a guide to showing addresses a person is connected to rather than absolute proof of residency." Id.
The DPUC concluded that "Lexus/Nexis [sic] can create a rebuttable presumption as to residency." Id. The DPUC determined that neither the documentation submitted by National Grid or Rison could be considered irrefutable. Id. The Hearing Officer made no comments or findings with respect to Rison's testimony, but apparently it was rejected. The DPUC did find that Rison had "clearly lived" with Hawes and Johnston "during significant portions of that 17-year period."Id. For that reason, the DPUC "concluded that [Rison] resided at 202 Blanchard Avenue in Warwick until December 31, 2012." Id. at 11. The DPUC rendered its decision on June 20, 2019, where it ordered a balance of $6903.98 be transferred and applied to Rison's account at 15 Jefferson Street.
While the Hearing Officer spends almost seven pages regurgitating conclusory statements of the termination rules, he did not relate any of his factual findings to any particular rule. The DPUC in its Memorandum relies on § 39-2-1.1, which the Order refers to in Endnote 6 to support the statement that "customers remain liable for their debt to the public utility for utility services received." Order at 4. The DPUC also contended that the principles of unjust enrichment apply to this case even though the Order makes no such finding. National Grid's Memorandum to this Court makes the same arguments and additionally states: "This decision is also consistent with Rhode Island General Laws 39-3-13.1 that provides that the Division has broad powers when it is deemed...
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