Originally Published in Cook County Record, August 23, 2022

The city of Chicago has wrongly refused to provide refunds to people who paid online for their unmetered water service in advance, as the city required, according to a new class action lawsuit.

On Aug. 16, attorney Paul Castiglione and others with The Khowaja Law Firm and the Law Offices of James X. Bormes, both of Chicago, and the firm of Kerkonian Dajani, of Evanston, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against the city.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of named plaintiff Janusz Grabowski, now of northwest suburban Mt. Prospect, and formerly of Chicago.

The complaint seeks to expand the action to include potentially thousands of others who, like Grabowski, allegedly are owed unpaid refunds by the city.

The complaint centers on the city’s program for water customers who receive unmetered water service.

Chicago offers water service under two different methods. For residents living in homes with water meters, the city bills for water actually used.

However, for other residents whose homes lack water meters, the city requires them to pay bills which include certain fixed charges, including a “charge based on the rateable value of the home.” Further, the city requires some of those unmetered customers to prepay for their water to maintain service.

The city offers all customers the opportunity to pay for their water service online or by phone, using credit or debit cards, or by electronic check.

The complaint alleges that under the city’s unmetered water service program, customers who prepay for water service should receive refunds if they move out of the unmetered home before the end of the period for which they prepaid for water service.

However, the complaint alleges the city has refused to provide those refunds to customers, like Grabowski, who allegedly paid for the water service electronically.

The complaint asserts the city allegedly has refused to accept credit or debit card statements as proof the prepaid water bill was actually paid. Instead, the complaint asserts the city demands a canceled check to prove payment was made and a refund is due.

“The City’s requirement that an account holder who prepaid via electronic check or credit/debit card submit a canceled check as proof to obtain a refund has therefore created a legally untenable ‘Catch-22’ situation,” the complaint said. “Those who prepay for water service via electronic check or credit/debit card, one of the City’s acceptable methods of payment, and then close their water utility accounts or end services cannot obtain a refund for such service without the kind of written proof that an electronic check or credit/debit card payment does not generate.”

According to the complaint, Grabowski unsuccessfully has sought a refund of $102 since December 2021, when he relocated from Chicago to Mt. Prospect.

The lawsuit seeks to expand the action to include anyone else to whom the city has allegedly also improperly denied refunds for prepaid water services since Aug. 16, 2017.

The complaint indicates the class of additional plaintiffs could include potentially thousands of current and former Chicago city residents.

The lawsuit seeks court orders requiring the city to issue refunds, and to block the city from denying such refunds going forward.

The complaint further seeks unspecified “equitable and monetary” damages, including refunds and interest, for Grabowski and other class members, plus attorney fees.