Why does your firm sue cities and townships?
We bring class actions against municipalities that we believe have overcharged for utilities (like water and sewer), on behalf of the people they have overcharged. We ask the courts to make the defendants refund the overcharges.
How do you determine whether a municipality has overcharged for utilities?
In the first instance, residents often bring high utility rates or unlawful charges to our attention. Michigan has laws prohibiting local governments from imposing new taxes or increasing existing taxes without a referendum and requires their utility rates and charges to be reasonable. We look at municipal financial records and other documents, and we apply our expertise and years of experience to determine whether a municipality has complied with the law. Sometimes we talk to a professional rate-making consultant to check our work. If we believe a municipality has broken the law and imposed a hidden tax or otherwise collected too much money, then we bring suit to force the municipality to return the money to its citizens.
How does your firm get paid?
We ask the court to award us a percentage of the common fund we create for the benefit of our class members. We generally ask for 1/3 of the money we recovered for the class, after we recoup our out-of-pocket costs for things like mailing notices and hiring expert witnesses. If we don’t win or settle a case, we don’t get paid for that case.
Do your cases lead to higher taxes?
No. Our settlement agreements typically expressly prohibit defendants from imposing taxes to cover the cost of the settlement. The money for the settlements generally comes from the excess funds the defendants have collected through their overcharges.
Does your firm take all the money? Is there anything left for the class after you get your fees?
The majority of the money always goes to our class members. Since 2015, we have distributed more than $43 million in cash or credits to more than 182,000 class members. You can see a breakdown of the settlement amounts and distributions here. We also have frequently forced municipalities to lower or eliminate the improper charges going forward (and even to forgive certain charges imposed in the past), which is another significant benefit to our class members beyond the money refunded to them.
Do the class representatives get paid?
No. But if we recover money for the class, we typically ask the court to give the class representatives something called an “incentive award” for helping with the case. The class representative performs a great service because he or she puts his or her name on the case (or the name of a company he or she owns), and spends time working with us on the case for the benefit of the community. The incentive award, if any, comes from the money we recovered for the class and is only given if the court determines it is appropriate.
What if I disagree with what Kickham Hanley is doing? Do I have to participate in your class action?
No. We usually give class members two chances to “opt out” – first when the court certifies the class, and again when we are ready to distribute any money we recover.
How can I help?
If you believe your local government is charging too much for utilities like water, sanitary sewer, or stormwater disposal, please call us at (248) 544-1500 and ask for one of our class action lawyers.