EMMANUEL ODI, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. PSE & G, Defendant–Respondent.
Plaintiff Emmanuel Odi filed a Small Claims complaint against defendant Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE & G) seeking to recover $3000 in compensatory damages for pain and suffering based on alleged unfair collection practices. Plaintiff also sought equitable relief in the form of an injunction barring PSE & G “from ruining his credit history.”
The case was heard at a bench trial before Judge Dennis F. Carey, III, who found in favor of defendant based on the evidence presented by plaintiff. Plaintiff now appeals arguing Judge Carey erred in finding defendant is not subject to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692i, and in accepting estimated bills as an accurate statement of the electricity and gas he consumed during the relevant time period of his tenancy. We affirm.
Two witnesses testified before Judge Carey, plaintiff and Brian Hart, defendant's Customer Operations Supervisor in the Billing Department. Plaintiff testified that he contested the statement of estimated charges for electricity and gas for an apartment he moved into on November 24, 2010. Despite his many requests, no representative from PSE & G came to the property to conduct an actual reading of the meter to verify the accuracy of the estimated charges. Plaintiff conceded, however, that
sometime on March 16th [year not provided] [PSE & G] posted a general notice on the entrance to the building addressed to all tenants which they indicated that they ․ intended to interrupt electric services, purportedly because it was—they were unable to access the meter.
But by then I had left the building. So, I had no access to the meter myself.
Defendant's Customer Operations Supervisor Hart corroborated plaintiff's testimony that the charges were based on estimated balances because the condition of the property prevented the PSE & G representative from accessing the meter. Based on the estimates, Hart testified plaintiff had a balance of $385.39 outstanding as of January 2011. The final bill dated February 28, 2011, reflected a balance of $787.61. Hart testified the meter was read shortly after plaintiff moved out in March 2011. According to Hart, the charges were recalculated after the actual reading was taken using an established averaging method, and the estimated charge of $787.61 was confirmed as accurate and reliable. Hart testified that as of the date of trial, plaintiff had an outstanding balance of $787.61
Based on this evidence, Judge Carey found plaintiff had failed to meet his burden of proof. Judge Carey also found defendant was not subject to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act as a matter of law because PSE & G is a regulated public utility not a debt collector. On this legal question, we affirm Judge Carey without further discussion. R. 2:11–3(e)(1)(E); see also Rutgers – The State University v. Fogel, 403 N.J.Super. 389, 394 (App.Div.2008). Judge Carey's findings are also supported by the record. D'Agostino v. Maldonado, 216 N.J. 168, 182 (2013).