June 19, 2009 Lawsuit Update


Lawsuit Filed in the Union County Superior Court


Below is the information related to the lawsuit to ensure that the public knows what the lawsuit is about, who the lawsuit would affect, and progress of the lawsuit.  Please be aware that this process will be long and change will be slow. However, if we are successful in what we seek, we will all benefit from it. It is in the spirit of President Barack Obama’s words below that we have undertaken this task. It is not because we want to eliminate the PMUA.  It is because we want them to change. It was our experience before the lawsuit that the leadership of the PMUA was not open to listening to the residents of Plainfield. That has already begun to change.


"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."
BARACK OBAMA, speech, Feb. 5, 2008


The Lawsuit filed contains 10 counts.  Below is a summary of each count and what we have asked the court to order.  The PMUA filed an answer to our complaint with the court on June 1, 2009 which we received on June 8, 2009.  We will provide all information that is permissible but may have to exclude some information in order not to jeopardize the lawsuit.  The original lawsuit contained only the first two counts below.  As we became aware of more issues, we added more counts.


Count 1 - We allege that the PMUA notice provided for the 1/22/09 meeting was not adequate under the law. Click here to see the notice PMUA published.  Click here to read the portion of the law that discusses notice requirements.  Click here to see notices published by other municipal utility authorities.  We are asking the court to find the notice was not adequate making the rate hike a violation of the law and refunding all Plainfield residents for the increase plus interest.


In the answer, the PMUA admits that the notices above were the only notices published.


Count 2 - We allege that even if the court finds the notice adequate the PMUA violated the law when it billed Plainfield property owners for the rate hikes back to January 1, 2009.  Click here to read what the law says about when rate hikes may be billed.  We are asking the court to find that charging property owners for the rate increases back to January 1, 2009 violates the law and refunding all property owners for the increases charges from January 1, 2009 plus interest.


In the answer, the PMUA has admitted that they billed us for the rate increases which were approved on 1/22/09 starting on 1/1/09.


Count 3 - We allege that the Shared Services Fee that is charged to all property owners for the clean up of public areas, downtown, and parks is in violation of the law because we maintain that we cannot be charged for solid waste removal on properties that we do not own.  The current rate you pay is $21 per month per household in addition to the fee you pay to have your own garbage picked up.  That $21 per month per household amounts to approximately $3.2 million per year.  This does not include the $1.2 million per year payment to PMUA from the City of Plainfield (your taxes). Do you think it costs that much to clean up those public areas?  We are asking the court to rule that the PMUA may not charge any Plainfield property owners shared services fees.


The PMUA has admitted it charges the Shared Service Fee to all property owners and maintains that the law permits them to do it.  Click here to read what the law says about rates that may be charged for solid waste services.


Count 4 - Opting Out Procedures: Initially, we wanted the PMUA to make the opt out process less burdensome to property owners.  The PMUA Board of Commissioners passed resolution 41-2009 on April 7, 2009 changing the opt out procedures.  They have now made the application more readily available and the procedures less cumbersome.  Although we consider this a victory for all property owners, we have not withdrawn this count because we want to ensure that PMUA employees are made aware of these changes.  We have been informed by property owners that the process is still difficult and that the new procedures are not firmly in place at the PMUA.


The PMUA has responded that the issue is moot because of the resolution passed.


Count 5 - We allege that the PMUA may not charge owners of vacant land for sewerage or solid waste services because the PMUA does not provide any services to vacant lands.  We have asked the court to rule that charges to vacant land violate the law and that they should no longer be charged unless the property owners fails to keep the vacant land free of solid waste and the PMUA removes the solid waste.


The PMUA maintains that it charges a minimal charge to owners of vacant land.  If you are an owner of vacant land and have been charged the full fees for your property, please contact us with proof of those fees and we will see what can be done to rectify the situation.


Count 6 - We allege that the PMUA’s $30 per bag charge for excess solid waste is a violation of the law.  We also allege that it is not used properly when property owners are charged this fee for a lid being partially open.  We maintain that the PMUA violates its own procedures when it charges this fee to property owners regardless of the weight of the solid waste.  Eric Watson, Executive Director, has stated that we are allotted 250lbs per pick up.  However, the PMUA will charge the excess solid waste charge without regard for the weight of the solid waste.  We also take issue with the “Service Fee Form” property owners get in that it is deceptive.

We have asked the court to rule that the PMUA may not charge excess solid waste charges.


The PMUA in the answer denies that property owners are assessed the fee for lids that are not completely closed.  If you have received a charge for the lid on your garbage receptacle not being completely closed, please contact us.  We would like to collect information to refute PMUA’s claims.  We would appreciate copies of all documentation you received. 


Count 7 - We allege that PMUA does not have the authority to charge property owners for rolling back garbage receptacles.  We maintain that there is no city ordinance prohibiting the receptacle from being near the curb for a certain period of time.  We have asked the court to rule that the PMUA cannot charge this fee to Plainfield property owners.


In the answer the PMUA maintains it is permitted to charge this fee and that doing so is a public safety issue.  They also state that they generally only charge the fee to property owners who leave the receptacle at the curb over night and that the 8PM time was not generally enforced.  If you were charged for a roll back fee on the same night as your garbage was picked up, we would like to know.  There may be justification for asking that the fee be refunded to you in light of the PMUA’s position that they do not enforce until the day after pick up.  Contact us for help (908-998-2751).

At the June 16, 2009 public meeting the Board of Commissioners changed the time for assessing the fee from 8PM on the day of pick up to 6AM on the day after pick up.  However the resolution passed also seemed to change the time you can put your receptacle out at the curb on the night before pick up.  At the meeting we heard that the time to put out the cart is 8PM.  We were under the impression it was 5PM.  This may have been an error made by the attorney for the PMUA who read the resolution.  If you need clarification, call the PMUA (908-226-2518). 


Count 8 - We allege that the PMUA should not charge for unoccupied dwellings.  For example, if you own a three family house but are using it as a one family you should not be charged for three families.  Similarly, if you are a landlord without tenants, you should not have to pay for garbage pick up when there is no garbage to pick up.  We are asking the court to rule that the PMUA may not charge property owners for dwellings that are unoccupied.


In the answer PMUA states that property owners are charged a minimum fee if they provide proof that a property is unoccupied.  We want to know if this has happened for anyone out there.  If you have had the benefit of this minimum fee, please contact us.  Additionally, if you contacted the PMUA about this issue and were not given the opportunity to pay a “minimum fee,” let us know.  This may be your chance to be treated properly.


Count 9 - We allege that using the prior year’s water bill to assess sewer fees should not be permitted.  We ask the court to rule that the PMUA’s current billing practice forces property owners who recently purchase a home to pay for the water consumption of the previous owners and that any rate increase is assessed on water used a year earlier which in effect is retroactive billing.


The PMUA admitted it uses the prior year’s water usage and maintained it did not have enough information regarding whether they have access to current water usage information.


Count 10 - PMUA by-laws state that the Board of Commissioners receive $4500 per year and reasonable expenses in the discharge of their duties.  We allege that some Commissioners receive more that $4500 per year.  We also know that they receive medical and prescription benefits, dental benefits, life insurance, and based on DataUniverse are part of the pension system.  Given that they also travel to in-state and out-of-state conferences for which they receive travel allowances and reimbursements, we maintain that the compensation package well exceeds $4500 and is in violation of PMUA’s own bylaws.


The PMUA has denied that the compensation to Commissioners exceeds $4500 per year.



We are now entering the discovery phase of the case.  We are currently preparing Interrogatories which will be submitted to the PMUA within a few days.  We will be following up with a Request for Production of Documents.  We thank you for your continued support and urge you to continue to hold the PMUA accountable with us.