Spurred by additional complaints from electricity customers, lawyers behind a lawsuit against Central Maine Power Co. are asking a judge to allow the case to move forward rather than wait until a state investigation concludes.

Business and Consumer Court Judge Michaela Murphy had issued a stay in the case, saying the suit shouldn’t proceed until the Maine Public Utilities Commission finishes its investigation of CMP’s extensive customer service and billing issues, expected this fall. But in a filing Thursday, the lawyers said that a delay in the case, which was filed last summer, will harm their case and their clients.

Jeff Russell, one of the lawyers handling the case, said the PUC investigation isn’t directly looking into the same allegations made in the suit, and the PUC might not offer compensation to customers who say they were overbilled. There’s also no guarantee the PUC investigation will be completed this year, said Russell, who contends that customers are still experiencing some of the same problems with erratic, inaccurate and inflated bills.

Most customers complaining that they were overbilled say it occurred during the winter of 2017-18, but Russell said some  saw big jumps in their bills again this past winter.

He declined to say how many complainants have signed onto the suit, which is seeking class-action status. In previous news reports, there were at least 600 people involved.

CMP installed a new billing system in late 2017, after which serious billing problems began to occur, according to the suit. CMP has denied that allegation and said it resolved most of the complaints last year.

But one customer, Sally Trussell of Scarborough, said her CMP bill started rising last fall, even though she and her husband left their condominium in November to spend the winter in South Carolina. Most of the appliances were unplugged, the lights were left off and the heat was turned down to 50 degrees, she said, but the couple’s bill jumped nearly 10-fold from its normal level of about $150 a month.

Trussell also said she tried to unenroll from a CMP auto-payment plan because of the high bills, but the company continued to draw payments from her checking account even though a customer service worker gave her a confirmation number indicating she was no longer in the program.

“I’m one of 10,000 people this has happened to,” Trussell said. Because the alleged problems are continuing, she said, she’d like to seek relief from the court.

“We have no recourse but to sue” because CMP isn’t offering any other avenue to resolve her billing complaint, she said. “These issues are continuing into 2019.”

Another issue affected by the judge’s stay is the class-action status of the suit. Murphy hasn’t ruled on whether the case qualifies. That status allows most of the cases dealing with the same issues to be rolled into one lawsuit, which is cheaper for lawyers to pursue and can lead to large judgments because of the number of people involved.

Catharine Hartnett, a spokeswoman for CMP, declined to comment on the latest filing. The company believes Murphy’s decision to put the case on hold was the right one, she said.

A hearing has been set for May 23 for both sides to argue the stay before Murphy.


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