San Juan Capistrano

                   Water Overcharges Awarded in Small Claims Court
                                                                           
                                                                            By Kim Lefner


The first challenge to the City’s illegally charged water rates in Small Claims Court resulted in a nearly full refund for former San Juan resident Eric Krogius. Krogius, who has since moved out of San Juan, was awarded a refund of approximately four years of illegal charges, as opposed to the 10 months of refunds being offered by the City. 

Krogius stated publicly that the [Small Claims] court went back as far as the statute of limitations allowed, which in his case amounted to about $3,500 over a four year period. He stated that had he filed a claim with the City, he would have only been refunded an estimated $1000.

City Attorney Jeff Ballinger claimed that the City was limited to one year of refunds due to a Government Code which he says establishes a statute of limitations. However, the statute was not discussed in detail in open session at the council meeting at which the refunds were approved, and the City website states only that “the law provides for a one year statute of limitations,” but offers no supporting documentation.
A review of Government Code sections 911 – 915, referenced by the City Attorney, seems to pertain to the period of time a claimant has to file and the filing methods however, it does not specifically state that the claim itself is limited to one year of damages or refunds.

A question to the City Attorney about the statute issue was unanswered as of date of publication, but Krogius’ Small Claims victory indicates that the statute is four years, not one. 

The judge in Krogius’ case stated that the decision to award four years of refunds does not automatically set a precedent, which means that each Small Claims case will be decided individually.

According to City sources, approximately 3,000 ratepayers had filed claims for refunds from the City as of August. Approximately 8,300 ratepayers have yet to file. The last date to submit a claim for refund with the City is October 3 however, when filing a claim with the City for a refund, you must agree to waive your right to file any other legal action, such as a Small Claims case.

Small Claims actions can be filed online (see inset box for instructions). According to the OC Court website, it takes anywhere from 20 to 70 days for a court date to be scheduled after filing.

Information about how to file in Small Claims Court can be found at: http://www.occourts.org/self-help/smallclaims/ , including instructions for filing a claim online. 


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