Residents add St. Clair Township as defendant in class action alleging inflated Swansea sewer rates

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jan 5, 2018

A class of St. Clair Township residents suing the Village of Swansea for allegedly charging them higher sewer fees than Swansea residents filed an amended complaint adding the township as a defendant. 

Attorneys John Hipskind and Brady McAninch of Hipskind & McAninch in Belleville filed a second amended complaint on behalf of the class on Dec. 7, adding St. Clair Township as a named defendant and no longer just a third-party defendant.

The plaintiffs made claims of consumer fraud and deceptive business practices, injunctive relief, vicarious liability and declaratory judgment against St. Clair Township.

They claim St. Clair Township “shirked its duties and responsibilities owed to the Plaintiff and the Class to provide sewer services at a nondiscriminatory rate.”

The plaintiffs allege the township owes a duty to them and continues to violate its duty “allowing the Village to collect discriminatory sewer fees leading to a windfall for the Village.”

In their second amended class action complaint, the plaintiffs also removed Dean Wallen as a plaintiff after he recently passed away.

Plaintiffs Robert Trentman, Daniel Varady and Wallen filed the six-count complaint on June 5, 2015, against the Village of Swansea.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs allege the Village of Swansea renegotiated a contract in May 2014 to provide sewer services to an unincorporated area of St. Clair Township, which consists of more than 3,100 township residents and landowners.

In exchange for the sewer services, the township residents and landowners were mandated by Swansea to pay sewer fees “far in excess” of the fees Swansea charges its own residents for the same services, the suit states.

“This practice of discriminatory pricing is not only blatantly unjust but is also prohibited by Illinois law,” the complaint states. “These discriminatory fees are unreasonable, unjustifiable, were enacted for profit, fail to promote the general welfare of the public, violate Illinois law and the Illinois Constitutional rights of the plaintiffs’ and the proposed class.”

The plaintiffs claim the defendant is currently charging township residents $32.34 per month and an additional $3.22 for every additional 100 cubic feet of water usage while Swansea residents are charged $24.80 per month and an additional $2.84 for every additional 100 cubic feet of water usage.

“This fee clearly and unfairly targets a predominately low-income area of St. Clair,” the suit states.

The plaintiffs accuse Swansea of taking advantage of the township residents by “promulgating, charging and collecting illegal and discriminatory sewer fees with a reckless disregard for the property and rights of the citizens and landowners of St. Clair Township.” They further accuse the defendant of offending notions of fair play and justice, the complaint states.

The plaintiffs claim there has been public outcry and numerous requests to lower the fees, but Swansea has refused to renegotiate.

The class was certified on May 11. The class consists of “all sewer customers of the Village of Swansea who reside or own land in St. Clair Township but outside the Village of Swansea and have received a bill from the Village for sewer services following the rate change occurring on or about March 1, 2015.”

In his order certifying the class, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vincent Lopinot wrote that the judge to whom the case is assigned, any member of the judge’s immediate family, any other judicial officer assigned to this case, any law firm of record in the matter, their employees and their immediate family members are all excluded from participating in the class.

The plaintiffs seek damages exceeding $50,000, court costs, attorneys’ fees and any other relief the court deems just. They also ask the court to reimburse the fees and declare them void. They also ask for the future sewer fees exceeding what Swansea residents pay to be enjoined “in order to prevent future discrimination at the hands of the Village.”

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 15-L-335

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