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Rogers v. United Water New Jersey, Inc.

2005 WL 2847794 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2005) (Unpublished)

UTILITIES; FILED RATE DOCTRINE—Where a utility company’s filed tariff with the Board of Public Utilities limits the damages a customer may claim for interruption of service, the Filed Rate Doctrine governs; therefore the limit will be enforced.

Thirteen customers of a private water company sought damages for interruption in their water service. They alleged that the water company and its contractors improperly performed repairs to a water main “with the result that a major disruption in service occurred.” The Board of Public Utilities investigated and determined that the only relief available to the customers was under a particular New Jersey statute and that none of the affected customers met the requirements of the statute. That statute provided, in pertinent part: “in case any water company of this state shall fail for more than five consecutive days during any period for which water rent is charged, collected or received, to supply water to a person who has paid such rents in advance, the water company shall refund to the consumer a portion of such rent proportioned to the time of nonsupply.” The customers sought to avoid application of the statute. They asserted a factual dispute as to whether they suffered the loss of service for five consecutive days. They argued “the fact that a ‘boil water’ advisory was in effect for more than five days constitute[d] a failure of water service.” The water company contended that the water was satisfactory for all purposes but for drinking and was safe to drink after boiling.

The Appellate Division did not need to address that question because it found it to be “undisputed that none of the [customers] paid in advance for their water service.” The statute was originally adopted in 1878 and the Court “perceive[d] no basis to disregard the statute’s explicit link between a consumer’s entitlement to a refund and having paid in advance for water service.” As a regulated utility, it could not charge rates beyond what the Board of Public Utilities approved. The approved tariff contained the following provision: “The Company does not undertake to render any special service or maintain any fixed pressure. The Company will endeavor to provide a regular and uninterrupted supply of water through its facilities, but in case service is interrupted, irregular, defective or fails because of breakdown or emergency, or from causes beyond the control of the Company, the Company will not be liable for damage or inconvenience resulting therefrom.” Under the filed rate doctrine, the customers could not directly challenge the conditions to the private water company’s tariff already proved by the Board of Public Utilities. Therefore, the consumers had no claim against the water company. Further, the Appellate Division, agreeing with the lower court, held that with dismissal of the claims against the water company, dismissal of the claims against their contractors was required because those claims were wholly derivative of the claims against the water company.

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