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11th Circuit considers renewing smart meter lawsuit against Honeywell

The Minnesota-based corporate giant has so far dodged penalties for alleged improper replacement of electric meters in Florida homes.

(CN) — An attorney for two Florida homeowners attempted to convince a 11th Circuit panel to revive a class action lawsuit against Honeywell International on Thursday for the improper installation of “smart” electrical meters.

Karen Santiago and Deborah Mozina brought the negligence complaint against the corporate giant in 2016, years after Florida Power and Light Company hired Honeywell technicians to switch out analog electric meters with the digital electric meters. The homeowners alleged these workers, who were not certified electricians, did not properly install the new meters and provided for the possibility of “hot sockets” that could damage the electrical system of the entire home.

But last year, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke determined the homeowners did not show any actual damage to their homes and dismissed the case.

The homeowners’ attorney, David Brill, told the three-judge panel that Mozina did indeed face economic harm by inflated electric bills and the replacement of several appliances, including a refrigerator and televisions.

Brill, of the firm Brill and Rinaldi, asked for immediate relief by removing the smart meters.

“You want them to take out the electric meters?” asked U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Luck, a Donald Trump appointee.

“I do,” Brill replied.

“I agree with you that would solve the problem,” Luck said, but reminded the court that the power company, Florida Power and Light Company owned the meters after the installation per the contract with Honeywell.

“How in the world is Honeywell allowed … to take someone else’s property?” Luck asked. “You can’t get around the trespass laws and theft laws, just because a court says you can do it. The question is if the court has the power to do what you want them to do.”

Douglas Boettge, attorney for Honeywell, pounced on this during his arguments.

“This court cannot fashion a remedy that has Honeywell essentially break the law and take property that is not theirs,” said Boettge of the Minnesota-based firm Stinson.

In addition, Boettge argued, the homeowners have not proved actual harm yet, only an imminent risk.

“Isn’t that what you would expect?” U.S. Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom responded.

“With respect to inflated usage charges, there is nothing about installation that would lead to inflated usage charges,” said Boettge.

“Would it not be within the zone of foreseeability, for someone contracted to install something correctly on somebody’s property to not install it correctly on somebody’s property?” countered Newsome, a Trump appointee.  

Smart meters have come under fire in some areas of the country for a myriad of reasons, including erroneous messages about power outages and concerns over the radio-frequency microwave radiation emitted by the devices. A similar lawsuit to the present case was brought by Florida homeowners in 2014.

A California activist group called Stop Smart Meters says the “smart meter debacle is a huge threat to our health, safety, privacy, and wallet.” The group specifically focuses on the RF emissions that “you have no control over,” according to its website. “There is no ‘off’ switch, nor can you move it to a different location in your home.”

The group advocates for homeowners to push utilities to mandate consent and not allowing technicians to trespass on their property.

In his rebuttal, Brill reiterated the risk to his clients and the other millions of Floridians with smart meters.

“If they go bad, and just go to the real extreme, cause every one of those houses to burn down,” Brill told the panel. “Too bad, so sad, and that’s not a foreseeable zone of risk that would endanger duty on the party of Honeywell and you can’t hold them accountable? That’s inane.”

“This is critical,” he continued. “This is more than our complaint… That huge risk to so many millions in our state. And we don’t have any argument from Honeywell that goes to the core of that.”

Luck and Newsome were joined by Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat, an appointee of Gerald Ford. 

 The judges did not indicate when they will reach a decision in the case.

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