On April 16, Pacific Gas and Electric refunded Smart Meter “opt-out” fees paid by the family of Nina Beety who is disabled by electromagnetic sensitivity. Beety requested disabled accommodation from PG&E to have analog electromechanical meters on her family’s home when the company initiated its wireless Smart Meter roll-out in her community. She explained that EMF-emitting devices cause her disabling health effects. PG&E ignored Beety’s requests for disabled accommodation, and refused to allow residential customers to have analog, non-digital meters without paying a so-called “opt-out” fee. The family was forced to pay $415. in fees to avoid Smart Meters on their home. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits surcharge fees for disabled people.
When PG&E filed for bankruptcy in 2019, Beety’s family then filed a proof of claim with the Bankruptcy Court for the “opt-out” fees they paid, stating the claim basis as “Smart Meter opt-out fees that were unlawful surcharges against a disabled person (ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual, II-1.3000 Relationship to title III)”
PG&E objected to this claim, and on February 25, 2021, asked the court to expunge it. “The simpler Customer Bar Date Notice made clear that Customers were not required to file Proofs of Claim for ordinary and customary refunds, overpayments, billing credits, deposits, or similar billing items. The Customer No Liability / Passthrough Claims listed on Exhibit 1 arise from either (1) Customer Security Deposits or (2) Claims that arise from Customer Billing Disputes…Accordingly, for the reasons set forth herein, the Customer No Liability / Passthrough Claims should be expunged because, in accordance with the Bar Date Order, they will be resolved in the ordinary course.”
On March 24, 2021, Beety submitted this timely Response to the Bankruptcy Court: Our claim is not an “ordinary and customary” customer billing item. We have a special type of billing claim dispute that rises on the fact that I am disabled, and unlawful charges were placed on the household account that interfered with my disabled accommodation. Those unlawful charges were surcharges that are not allowed under the ADA/ADAA and FHAA. This is a meritorious disabled rights claim that was never resolved. It should be resolved by a full and complete refund. Closing my claim would be yet another burden, abrogating my civil rights. Please ensure that my rights are protected.
Faced with a federal judge who had read Beety’s response, PG&E withdrew its objection to the family’s claim to the Bankruptcy Court and did not further contest it (recorded in Judge Dennis Montali’s ruling, April 5, 2021).
On April 20, Beety’s family received a full refund check from PG&E for the $415. surcharge fee, plus $24.17 interest which they had not requested. It is noteworthy that this refund was not a percentage of claim or pennies on the dollar which bankruptcy claims often receive, but a complete refund with interest.
It took facing a bankruptcy judge in court for PG&E to quit fighting and refund fees that were unlawful surcharges under the ADA and that discriminate against disabled people.
Beety said, “With this action, PG&E and other utilities must now halt their practice of charging unlawful “opt-out” surcharge fees to customers disabled by electromagnetic sensitivity or who have other EMF-sensitive medical conditions, and the companies must refund all unlawful surcharge fees already paid by these disabled customers. Utilities must allow the simple, readily achievable, and reasonable disabled accommodation of analog, electromechanical, non-digital utility meters for all disabled persons who require them.”
Remember in 2015 when PG&E was threatening to turn off power to customers refusing to pay their “opt-out” fees.