Homeowner Seeks Cert. For Smart Meter Damage Claims

Homeowner Seeks Cert. For Smart Meter Damage Claims

Law360, Miami (March 13, 2017, 10:59 PM EDT) — A Florida homeowner is seeking class certification for more than 3.5 million Florida Power & Light Co. customers whose analog energy meters were allegedly poorly replaced with new smart meters by contractor Honeywell International Inc. at the utility’s direction, resulting in risks of property damage.

Counsel for plaintiff Karen Santiago describe the proposed class action as “an exemplary model for class certification” in her motion, filed Friday in federal court in Miami, although another federal judge rejected class certification in a 2014 case stemming from the same work that featured several of the same attorneys on the plaintiff’s side.

Unlike in the previous case, which sought monetary damages to reimburse customers who paid for repairs themselves, Santiago’s suit seeks as relief only that Honeywell must perform meter inspections and any needed cost-fee repairs for all class members, as well as an injunction against the company from performing future installations without first properly training its employees and agents.

“We think we will prevail in securing class certification because, simply stated, the facts and the law strongly militate in favor of it,” Santiago’s counsel David Brill of Brill & Rinaldi told Law360 on Monday.

FPL ordered the installation of smart meters at approximately 4.3 million customers’ properties in order to comply with certain federal statutory requirements and to gain additional information on usage, more accurate readings, and the ability to turn power on and off remotely, according to Santiago’s motion.

The utility paid Honeywell a fee per smart meter installed, thus providing the contractor with an economic incentive to complete the job as quickly as possible. To achieve this goal, Honeywell hired what Santiago calls “ostensibly ‘trained’” nonlicensed, nonelectrician installers who were trained by supervisors who also were not licensed electricians.

Taking 15 to 20 seconds to perform meter replacements, instead of the 10 to 15 minutes the suit claims was needed, Honeywell’s workers allegedly provided shoddy work that resulted in ill-fitting or damaged connections between the smart meters and homeowners’ meter enclosures. This caused arcing, overheating, power surges, burns to the meter enclosures and other property damage, including in one case a house fire, according to the motion.

Santiago, who lives in Broward County, says she is “justifiably concerned” that her smart meter will cause damage to her property and possibly injury or death to her or her loved ones.

She is seeking to certify a class of all residential property owners in Florida who had an analog meter removed and replaced by a smart meter installed by Honeywell for FPL, with the exclusion of nearly 18,000 customers who received repairs between 2009 and 2014 that Honeywell and FPL facilitated, according to the motion.

“All class members are at risk of suffering the same injury — namely, damage to their meter can, its components, other property and person, due to actions taken during installation and resulting damage,” Santiago argues regarding the commonality of the propose class.

FPL has estimated that between 79,800 and 172,200 properties will require repairs, according to the motion.

In September 2014, U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga found a proposed class in a similar suit deficient on a number of points, including that it would require each potential class member to show that the damage claimed was not the result of a different cause, such as poor wiring.

Judge Altonaga also found that the plaintiffs in that case, Lissys Cortes and David Knight, also failed to make a sufficient factual showing they qualified for the class they sought to represent and, therefore, failed to show they were adequate representatives.

Cortes and Knight reached a settlement with Honeywell three months after Judge Altonaga’s ruling, according to court records.

Santiago’s motion argues there can be no doubt that she has standing, saying, “Honeywell installed her smart meter, and plaintiff is at risk of suffering damage to her meter enclosure and components and other property, as well as her person and the person of her loved ones.”

It also argues that her claims are identical to those of other potential class members and says, “Ms. Santiago shares a common goal with the class: To have Honeywell inspect and replace the smart meters so there is no risk of harm.”

Counsel for Honeywell did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Jeannete C. Lewis of Lewis Legal Group PA, David Wayne Brill and Joseph J. Rinaldi Jr. of Brill & Rinaldi, and Robert J. McKee of The McKee Law Group LLC.

Honeywell is represented by Gregory Mark Palmer of Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell.

The case is Santiago v. Honeywell International Inc., case number 1:16-cv-25359, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

–Editing by Philip Shea.