Arizona Water Supplier Johnson Utilities Sues Homeowner Over Criticism

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31 Responses

  1. EH says:

    Love the tax-whine in #18!

  2. Ed Clarke says:

    Her complaints are without merit because any reasonable person would expect to get yellow water from a johnson.

  3. Hasdrubal says:

    18. Due to the costs associated with operating the utility (specifically including the costs associated with income tax expenses), Plaintiff Johnson Utilities, LLC intended to request permission from the Arizona Corporation Commission to increase the rates to be charged for such services to take into account those expenses.

    Wow, that reads as simple managerial incompetence. "Our profits are being taxed too much so we need to increase our rates!" Time to start increasing expenses, like sponsoring the golf tournament that your execs are hanging out at, expanding the corporate box at [insert sports arena here], buy (lease!) a corporate jet, some cars and a couple nice apartments for traveling execs.

    Or, make some capital investments so, I dunno, the water you provide doesn't run yellow, smell, and have low pressure causing people to complain. Make sure to take out loans (rates are great right now) instead of self financing, those are accounting liabilities!

    It's just one line excerpted from a lawsuit, so I'm making ginormous assumptions. But corporate income taxes are generally very manageable by management and accounting.

  4. Peter H says:

    Probably nothing, but if corporate income tax rates did not change in the relevant period, could there be a false pleading in the tax whining in #18?

    Also, don't corporate income taxes relate solely to the profit of the business, and therefore not be able to impact the cost of operating the business; just the amount of profit returned to shareholders?

  5. Eva says:

    Thank you, thank you, Ken for writing this about my sister's situation and for calling attention to her defense fund. She has a huge amount of vocal support but hardly anyone is donating so much as a dollar.

  6. En Passant says:

    Perhaps there is some sort of deep legal strategy behind that. If there is, it eludes me.

    This is too easy. First one must note where water comes from: wells.

    Wells are deep, far too deep a subject for shallow minds.

    Therefore the legal strategy.

    Q.E.D.

  7. LC Rider says:

    Is it possible that the "deep legal strategy" is one where the plaintiff's lawyer saw this coming from a mile off yet his client still wanted to push forward with a stupid suit so the complaint was written in such a way as to be tossed at the very beginning under the anti-SLAPP law?

    I mean, it's probably not all that ethical, but I could see it happening at least once…

  8. En Passant says:

    LC Rider Oct 30, 2013 @9:54 am:

    I mean, it's probably not all that ethicalprofessional harikiri, but I could see it happening at least once…

    FTFY.

  9. Dan says:

    @Eva: Surely she can find a lawyer to take the case on contingency, if not pro bono? Ken seems to think it's a slam dunk and he tends to be right…

    Anyway, keep fighting the good fight against smelly water.

  10. Garrett says:

    Wouldn't it just be easier to put up an FAQ on their website stating:

    Q: What should I do if I have yellow, smelly water?
    A: Call a professional plumber to investigate. This is probably your piping.

    Then the people complaining turn into That Crazy Person Who Blames Everybody Else For Their Problems and gets ignored, as opposed to a David and Goliath lawsuit.

  11. Irk says:

    @ En Passant: Harakiri. The more honorable term is seppuku, though I'm not sure it'd apply in this case.

  12. VPJ says:

    Her complaints are without merit because any reasonable person would expect to get yellow water from a johnson.

    I just spit beer all over my keyboard.

    Ed Clarke is today's winner of the internet.

  13. Darryl says:

    Sounds like the complaints about water pressure have been acknowledged to be accurate. From the KPHO website story:

    Johnson Utilities released the following statement on Wednesday:

    "Johnson Utilities experienced reduced pressure on parts of its system during the peak demand times due to construction on the system and two wells that were taken out of service. We have adjusted pressures at our other water plants to make up for the loss in production.We are also connecting three existing wells directly to our storage tanks and one new well will be added to the system within the next 30 days once approved by ADEQ. We anticipate the pressure increasing as each of these construction projects are finished.

    "Johnson Utilities has received water pressure complaints in the previous weeks from several customers. We have researched and found that these customers are located close to a mountain at the highest elevation of our system. Since they are at a higher elevation than the rest of the system, their homes experienced a larger drop in pressure during our peak demand. We have recently checked the pressure at the highest elevation in this community and it has ranged from 30 to 40 psi during our peak demand. Although this is above the minimum 20 psi standard, we understand our customer's desire for us to maintain the pressure above 40 psi at all times, so they can run all of their appliances. Our current construction projects will assist in this goal when complete.

  14. max says:

    Wait, are you suggesting that suing your customers isn't a good business model?

  15. Frank Rizzo says:

    Johnson Utilities?

    Sewage spills too? From 2008:
    Pinal County residents Bambi Sandquist and Kristi Fisher were named in a lawsuit filed by Johnson Utilities this week in Pinal County Superior Court. They are accused in the lawsuit of posting defamatory statements about Johnson Utilities on http://www.newszap.com. The Web forum is run by Independent Newspapers of Arizona, which publishes the Queen Creek Independent newspaper.

    Their postings were in regard to recent sewage spills from a Johnson Utilities facility that health officials say pose a public health hazard. State environmental and regulatory agencies are investigating the spills.

    September 2013:

    “Sewer leaks are part of doing the business," Brown said. "I mean, every wastewater treatment company — sewer company — has sewer leaks.”

    It’s not the first time Johnson Utilities has had problems this year. Earlier in 2013, a sewer leak contaminated a decorative pond in San Tan Heights. Some residents told 3TV they’re fed up with the problems.

  16. Trebuchet says:

    Mr. Johnson may be learning the meaning of the term "Streisand Effect", I suspect. In case he needs a new lawyer, here's one that practices in Arizona and specializes in internet law.

    http://charlescarreon.net/index.html

  17. Darryl says:

    @Trebuchet–Well played, sir.

  18. I was Anonymous says:

    @Ed Clarke

    Her complaints are without merit because any reasonable person would expect to get yellow water from a johnson.

    You, sir, have won the the internetz.

  19. En Passant says:

    @Irk: I am illiterate in most languages.

  20. Matthew Cline says:

    Later, Johnson Utilities does cite a few statements of fact which, if proved false, might be defamatory (for instance, the claim that Hughes somehow staged the yellow water interview).

    How would they go about proving that? Could they get a warrant that would require her to let plumbers they'd hired investigates the pipes in her house?

  21. Jeff Brown says:

    I'm rather well versed in this case since I was subpoenaed by JU (Johnson Utilities) Counsel to provide letters, emails, texts, etc.. related to the case. So I simply want to clarify that this particular legal issue that Ken writes about is the one that has George Johnson as the Plaintiff. This is NOT the one brought just in the past week or so in Federal Court where George Johnson is being sued by a former employee for Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, Wrongful Termination or Voter Intimidation. http://www.azfamily.com/news/Woman-suing-Johnson-Utilities-for-sexual-harassment-voter-intimidation-228708611.html

  22. Jeff Brown says:

    Nor is this issue necessarily related to the 2004 news article that said "La Osa Ranch, however, is where Johnson is really making his reputation as a scoundrel.". That one had to do with a bunch of Big Horn Sheep that went blind or missing or something according to the news article and there was something about destruction of a Hohokam archaeology site dating back perhaps 1000 years or so. Who can remember all that's been written!? http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2004-01-22/news/big-bad-developer/full/

  23. Matt says:

    Wait, are you suggesting that suing your customers isn't a good business model?

    Good question. What's the latest on the bus guy in IL?

  24. Ridiculous! says:

    Mr. Johnson has a long history of suing other critics; the single case referenced in the story link is merely the tip of the iceberg. Johnson is a SLAPP artist, plain and simple. Besides, anyone who still reads his monthly newsletters to his customers has the genuine right to be puzzled about who deserves to be suing whom for defamation. Well past time for the guy to retire, or be retired. Whichever.

  25. VPJ says:

    here's one that practices in Arizona and specializes in internet law.

    http://charlescarreon.net/index.html

    Ouch! That's gonna leave a mark.

  26. Paul E. "Marbux" Merrell says:

    From Ken's description, it sounds like this might be an appropriate case for a counterclaim against Johnson and his attorneys for abuse of process, a tort recognized in Arizona. See e.g., Crackel v. Allstate Ins., http://www.apltwo.ct.state.az.us/decisions/cv20020123opinion.pdf

    That would put improper motive in bring the suit squarely in play.

  27. Tom Price says:

    Isn't THIS defamation???

    Johnson Utilities claims among other things that Hughes must have staged.

  28. Trebuchet says:

    I just checked Google and this post is now result number 4 for "Johnson Utilities". The first post is quite naturally for the company's website; all the rest of the top ten are about lawsuits. One of the "news" results lists JU as "number 2 crybaby of the week!"

  29. J Jordan says:

    Is there anything that can be done about this situation? I am sure that the property values in the areas serviced by Johnson Utilities are bound to take a hit.

  30. bobby b says:

    I know I'm too late here, and so maybe this just disappears into the inter-aether, but . . .

    I was under the impression that a showing that the complained-of speech was of a "constitutionally protected" type goes to whether the speech may be shut down in advance, before it's even been made, but that if the speech has been published already, it's less meaningful, because . . .

    . . . if the speech truly was of a defamatory nature (and remember, being false is one of the requirements for defamation, along with acting with malice in this situation), then those constitutional protections aren't going to shield the speaker from liability.

    Even the so-called "protected types of speech" may be defamatory and damaging. The proof bar gets higher for them, but you still can't defame.

  1. November 6, 2013

    […] water utility sues customer over criticism [Popehat, which also has a free-speech-themed Blawg Review tribute and the year in blasphemy […]