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Yancy v. DeCarli

Victory for Gallons Customers!

The Marin Superior Court heard argument on our motion to enforce the Settlement Agreement and Final Approval Order as to the gallons customers on July 11, 2017. (The Court previously ruled in our favor as to the metered customers.) We are pleased to report that the Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor on almost every issue:

–   The Court found that the May/June “balance forward” statements sent by Petaluma Butane to its gallons customers violate the Final Approval Order, including the requirement to provide timely and accurate billing statements that include the time period covered by the statement and the dates of propane delivery being charged for;

–  The Court enjoined Petaluma Butane from demanding payment of, or making any effort to collect, charges included in the “balance forward” statements for propane delivered or services rendered prior to May 1, 2012, which is approximately four years before the statements were sent (the statute of limitations);

–  The Court ordered that Petaluma Butane must make restitution of (pay back) any amounts already paid by customers on pre-May 1, 2012 charges;

–  The Court enjoined Petaluma Butane from collecting any tank rental fees relating to periods prior to the time the “balance forward” statements were sent (a period that in some cases goes back to 2008); and

–  The Court awarded our requested attorneys’ fees.

You can read a copy of the full Court Order here.

We will continue to work with Petaluma Butane, as the Court directed, to determine the best way to recalculate customer billing statements and determine the amount of repayments due. Additional information will be provided on customers’ billing statements and posted on the Petaluma Butane website as well as on this site.

We have good news for the customers of Petaluma Butane (“PBD”).

Below is a summary of the Court’s rulings at the December 6, 2016 hearing on Plaintiff’s Motion to Enforce the Settlement Agreement and Final Order. (Read the full Court’s Order here.)

Metered Customers:

The court found that PBD violated the terms of the Settlement Agreement on or after November 2011 by admittedly failing to mail invoices to current Metered Customers within 45 days of the vapor meter reading upon which the charge is based. It enjoined (prohibited) PBD from demanding collection of, or making any further effort to collect, payment of billing statements sent to Metered Customers more than 45 days after the vapor meter reading upon which the charge is based, i.e., the “Balance Forward” amounts on the June 30, 2016 billing statements. Those metered customers, including former metered customers, who already paid those bills will get the money back (called restitution). Determination of the amount to be credited or refunded to each metered customer’s account will be made by an outside auditor.

Gallons Customers

Because gallons customers were billed by the delivery tags that were supposed to be left by the drivers, it is more complicated to determine what the “past due” charges on the June 2016 “balance forward” statements relate to, whether they were previously billed, or whether they also violated the Settlement Agreement and Final Order. The judge did not decide that issue, pending an audit of a sample of gallons customers’ accounts. The court may, or may not, order the gallons customers to pay the “Balance Forward” set forth on the June 2016 billing statements. In the meantime, you do not have to pay those charges.

Tank Rental Fees

The audit of gallons customers’ bills includes “all charges,” which includes tank rental fees.

What you can expect

You will receive a notice and account update from PBD.

The court will hold a hearing, currently scheduled for June 23, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. in Dept. L of the Marin Superior Court, to decide the issues pertaining to gallons customers.

Bills for current usage

All current customers are required and remain liable to pay the bills for their current usage, as generated by PBD’s new billing software (charges subsequent to approximately June 30, 2016). If you have not already done so, you should pay those charges.]

Chavez & Gertler is working with Legal Aid of Marin to put an end to unfair billing practices by DeCarli’s Petaluma Butane Distributors, and to enforce a prior Settlement Agreement and Injunction ordered by the court.

Several years ago, in 2010, Chavez & Gertler partnered with Legal Aid of Marin in a class action suit against DeCarli’s Petaluma Butane Distributors (“PBD”) alleging that the company was overcharging its customers and engaging in a number of unfair billing practices. Those claims were settled through arbitration and mediation, and the Court entered an Order approving the settlement and ordering PBD to take the actions specified therein. Unfortunately, many customers have reported that PBD has resumed some of the business practices that we sued to enjoin, in particular, falling behind in its billing and failing to provide adequate documentation of charges. PBD has been sending out billing statements demanding hundreds and often thousands of dollars for propane delivered many years ago, as far back as 2008, for which it never previously billed. We believe these actions violate the Settlement Agreement and Order, and have sued to stop them. To see a copy of the Memorandum in Support of the Motion, click here.

The hearing on our motion to enforce the settlement was originally set for October 4, 2016 at 1:30 p.m. PBD has, however, since obtained new counsel and requested that the hearing be postponed. The new hearing date is December 6, 2016 at 1:30 p.m.

To ensure that customers are not prejudiced by the delay, PBD has agreed that prior to the motion date, it will not take any action against any customer based on non-payment of the stale bills: it will not shut off the gas, it will not assess interest or finance charges, and it will not take any collection action. Note, however, that customers remain responsible for paying for current charges for propane, meaning propane delivered since June 1, 2016. To review the parties’ agreement in that regard, please click here.