Paso Robles water lawsuit case delayed until California Supreme Court decides on similar case

A judge has decided to wait to determine whether a North County citizens group can include all of Paso Robles’ water and sewer customers in its lawsuit against the city.

Superior Court Judge Roger Picquet on Sept. 15 was due to hear a clarified statement by the plaintiffs’ attorney arguing for class-action status in the Concerned Citizens of Paso Robles’ lawsuit. Filed earlier this year, the suit alleges the city violated state law when it raised water rates in 2002 and 2004.

Instead, in light of the California Supreme Court’s announcement that it will hear the appeal of a similar case, Ardon vs. City of Los Angeles, Picquet did not move forward with the scheduled hearing.

The Los Angeles case originally ruled that individual plaintiffs arguing against a utility tax couldn’t file on behalf of all the taxpayers.

Picquet ordered a stay on his decision in an order dated Sept. 17.

“Basically, as we argued at the hearing, the law in this area is very uncertain at this time and may change based upon the outcome of a case presently before the California Supreme Court,” plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Heidenreich said.

Picquet noted in the order that his decision to wait could change at any time if he chooses to change it or if he’s compelled to do so by the attorneys.

The next hearing is set for 9 a.m. on March 9 at the Paso Robles branch of San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

In July, Picquet wasn’t swayed to allow the class-action status, but he ruled to give Heidenreich another chance to clarify his argument Sept. 15.

If the lawsuit succeeds in court under class-action status, it would wipe millions of dollars from the city’s water fund, city officials said.

If it fails to achieve class-action status, Picquet said in July, it would represent only the four Concerned Citizens of Paso Robles members who filed claims — Paso Robles residents John Borst, an educator; Brooke Mayo, a retiree; William Taylor, a chemical engineer; and Teresa St. Clair, who declined to state her occupation.

In future public proceedings after the class-action status question is resolved, Picquet will determine whether the fees in question violated a state law.

The outcome of the Ardon appeal could be key, attorneys said. However, City Attorney Iris Yang previously told The Tribune there are differences still — including that the charges in question aren’t considered a tax. Picquet has yet to make a determination on that point.