NEW ORLEANS — With personnel shortages, estimated meter readings and clunky new software, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board has admitted it sometimes has a problem getting customers’ bills right.
But not only did businessman Anthony Marullo’s estimated billing error of more than $50,000 stand out among the utility’s billing mistakes, so did his remedy after his bill was sent to a collection agency.
Marullo took the Sewerage & Water Board to court.
Friday, less than a week after filing for relief, Marullo was awarded an injunction from Civil Court Judge Kern Reese, who ordered all collection efforts of the disputed bill halted immediately.
Marullo argued in his petition that the dispute cut his credit rating by about 200 points, harming his property business, which specializes in low-income housing. He claimed the over-billing was in connection with 23 apartments in two of his rental properties.
“We're talking about increases of over one-thousand percent, in one month,” Marullo said. “What’s sad is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Not just for me, but for everyone who's been struggling with this in the city. And you know the saying, where there's smoke, there's fire? There's a lot of smoke here.”
In his petition, Marullo’s attorney Bob Ellis stated, “As a result of the defendant’s actions, Petitioner, Mr. Marullo’s credit score dropped from roughly a 750 to approximately 500. As Mr. Marullo is also on the board of a bank, the S&WB’s actions are causing irreparable harm to his reputation and consideration for future membership.”
Ellis said the agency's well-documented problems made his case an easy one.
As WWL-TV has exposed in its long-running “Down the Drain” investigative series, the Sewerage & Water Board has admitted wholesale billing mistakes going back to at least 2017, although the agency has claimed improvements since then.
Said Ellis, “I made the argument this morning that the judge can take judicial notice of all the problems the Sewerage and Water Board has. It's very public, in part thanks to the media. It's just wrong. It's reckless. And the judge said that.”
Marullo said he hopes his efforts in court can now pave the way for a more permanent solution for others facing the same billings headaches.