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Florida’s Two Biggest Utility Companies Become Target for Lawsuit

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A class-action lawsuit has recently been filed against two utility companies in Florida and they happen to be two of the Sunshine State’s biggest. Hagens Berman, a law firm from Seattle, issued the suit and is no stranger to these types of filings. In the past, the firm has also gone after Volkswagen, Nestle, Apple and Mercedes-Benz, so they definitely bring a lot of experience to the table.

The Allegation

The two utility companies being targeted are Florida Power and Light (FPL) and Duke Energy. Together, they represent some 6.4 million customers throughout the state.

According to the lawsuit, the companies are illegally billing customers for additions and improvements done to nuclear infrastructure. The problem is that these projects may never actually be completed.

Just one example outlined in the lawsuit accuses Duke Energy of abandoning plans they had made to upgrade one of their nuclear plants back in 2013. Instead, they eventually shut the plant down, but not without first charging customers for hundreds of millions of dollars that never actually went toward any improvements.

Another example concerns FPL. Again, according to the suit, the company was putting two new nuclear reactors on Biscayne Bay at their Turkey Point plant. The costs for these additions—which include planning to licensing—have reached $250 million, an amount the customers are meant to shoulder.

Certification Pending

Hagens Berman has filed the lawsuits on behalf of a customer of each utility company. At the moment, it seeks to have the move certified as a class action.

This would then involve anyone who had paid into the utility companies since 2008. Of course, those people would need to sign up to be represented. If the lawsuit is successful, though, Hagens Berman could be reporting quite the payout.

FPL Responds

As you’d expect, the utility companies haven’t admitted to any wrongdoing. According to a statement FPL submitted to the local NBC affiliate, they referred to the suit as, “egregious…frivolous and without merit. It’s exactly this type of politically motivated litigation that will ultimately cost our taxpayers and our customers and put a heavy burden on state government.”

Furthermore, the utility company went on to say that the state of Florida had approved the process they used to charge their customers. Granted they have to be considered reasonable and prudent for the purpose of upgrading or expanding the nuclear plants, but provided that they meet this destination, FPL and Duke Energy may be off the hook.

FPL has stated outright that no one is being billed for work that was never completed.

For their part, Hagens Berman has cited this as the main problem involved. According to their lawsuit, this type of relationship isn’t constitutional to begin with. Their position is that only federal law can oversee nuclear energy production.

However, Duke Energy also addressed this issue. Their spokeswoman said, “Four other lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s Nuclear Cost Recovery statue have been found to be without merit and rejected by Florida courts.”

She went onto say that, “While we’ve made the decision to retire our Crystal River nuclear plant, we continue to pursue the license for the proposed Levy County nuclear project.”

A Matter of Semantics?

Aside from the above, the other issue that could decide the result of this case is whether the costs charged by the utility companies were for things like licenses and approvals that they had themselves paid for.

The lawsuit, on the other hand, states that passing along those costs to customers who are then on the hook and, therefore, enriching the company wrongfully.

While it will most likely be years before the suit is settled or ruled on, this is definitely a large class action suit which could bring about quite the payout.