published Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Suit against BellSouth gets green light

Dispatchers work at the 911 Communications Center off of Amnicola Highway.
Dispatchers work at the 911 Communications Center off of Amnicola Highway.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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A federal judge this week consented to a multimillion-dollar lawsuit involving 10 Tennessee 911 districts suing BellSouth for unpaid fees over years of service.

On Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier upheld in part and dismissed in part the lengthy lawsuit, which allows the case to move forward.

"Judge Collier's opinion is a significant victory for the citizens served by the 10 county 911 systems that are presently involved in litigation against BellSouth," said Tom Greenholtz, an attorney for the districts. "The goal of this litigation is for all of our communities to have access to properly funded and reliable 911 services when the services are needed."

BellSouth has declined to comment on pending litigation.

Collier denied the phone company's attorneys request to dismiss claims made by the districts early in the process.

Attorneys Tom Greenholtz and Frederick Hitchcock simultaneously sought a summary judgment from Collier, which he denied.

All 10 cases have been consolidated into one involving the 911 districts for Hamilton, Blount, Bedford, Bradley, Coffee, Cheatham, Giles, Roane, Franklin and Knox counties.

The lawsuit alleges that BellSouth did not collect legally-required remittance fees which phone service providers are to pass along to fund 911 operations.

The Hamilton County suit, first filed in November 2011, seeks between $4.5 million and $9 million in such fees. Under a punitive measure known as "treble damages" the districts' attorneys are seeking to triple the amount, pushing the total to between $13.5 million and $27 million.

Greenholtz and Hitchcock allege that BellSouth intentionally did not collect the fee to create a "competitive advantage" when bidding for county phone service contracts.

Exhibits submitted in the court filings estimate as much as one-third of lines connected by the phone company were not billed the 911 fee.

In May 2011, both Lincoln and Davidson counties filed similar lawsuits against BellSouth. Each settled out of court with the company late last year. Davidson accepted $1 million and Lincoln took $13,361 instead of pursuing the matter further.

Shelby and Madison counties settled for undisclosed amounts late last year before lawsuit were filed.

The case is scheduled for trial on Sept. 16, 2013.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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