GEORGETOWN, Texas (CN) — A Texas woman claims her family was terrorized and forced to move after her electric utility provider gave out her personal information to a stranger falsely claiming to be her husband.
Ashley Luce sued the Pedernales Electric Cooperative in Williamson County District Court on May 30, claiming the release of her information led to numerous incidents of stalking.
Luce, who is a single mother of four children, says she noticed there was a person named Joseph Weeks in the customer section of her June 28, 2016 utility bill from Pedernales.
She did not know anyone with that name, so she called the utility provider for an explanation. A bizarre conversation ensued, the lawsuit alleges.
“The employee who answered advised the plaintiff that Mr. Weeks was her husband. Plaintiff denied that Mr. Weeks was her husband,” the complaint states.
Still, the employee allegedly insisted that Weeks was her husband.
“Plaintiff, who is singularly knowledgeable of her own marital status, repeatedly stated that she was not married to Mr. Weeks and, in fact, did not know Mr. Weeks,” Luce claims.
Luce says she then asked the employee why Weeks’ name was put on her bill. According to the complaint, the employee explained that a person identifying himself first as Mike Luce had called Pedernales and claimed to be Ms. Luce’s husband.
He asked for the balance on Luce’s account, but was not given any information because his name could not be validated. That same caller then said his name was Joseph Luce, which could not be validated either.
The man finally said his name was Joseph Weeks, which was validated by the employee. The employee then gave him Luce’s Social Security number, birth date, home address and account balance, she claims.
“Plaintiff was shocked to learn that the defendant had not only released her most private information to a stranger, but to a stranger who obviously had falsely claimed to be her husband,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff asked defendant’s employee for the man’s telephone number or a recording of the telephone call so that she could try to obtain his true identity.”
In what the lawsuit calls a modern example of “chutzpah” – the traditional example of which involves a young man murdering his parents then asking the court for mercy because he is an orphan – “defendant’s employee refused claiming that defendant had a legal responsibility to protect the stranger’s privacy.”
Luce says she was subjected to threats at her home following the alleged release of her private information by the Pedernales employee.
On July 10, 2016, a person tried to enter through the bedroom window of Luce’s daughter’s room, she claims.
Someone also allegedly entered the home’s storage room in September and, at the end of November, an unknown person left a threatening note at Luce’s house that said: “Ashley. I know where you live. You can’t hide from me!!!”
Luce claims someone left a similar note a week later after knocking on the door and disappearing.
The complaint states that Luce also became alarmed when her ex-husband sent a letter to her home address less than two months after the alleged information leak.
Luce says she had kept her location secret from her ex-husband, who has been incarcerated for several years for a sexual assault conviction. The ex-husband was supposed to send communications intended for Luce to his mother, who would then deliver it to Luce.
Luce filed a criminal stalking charge against the unidentified perpetrator of the threats at her home. She says the repeated threats caused her children to develop a fear of being separated from her.
She had to withdraw them from their schools and also lost her job at a day care when her employer learned she was being stalked, according to the lawsuit.
Luce claims she needed the help of the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund to move her family to a different location that was unknown to her ex-husband and the person who was terrorizing them at their former address, but her lack of income means she has difficulty paying rent and has faced eviction.
Her attorney, Malcolm Greenstein, told Courthouse News the nature of Joseph Weeks’ relationship with Luce’s ex-husband is not known. But he surmised that Weeks passed on the information he allegedly got from Pedernales in order for the ex to obtain Luce’s address.
A spokeswoman for Pedernales said, “PEC will actively defend this claim and will not comment further on pending litigation.”
Luce seeks at least $200,000 in damages against Pedernales for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and deceptive trade practices for allegedly not protecting her private information.
Greenstein is with Greenstein & Kolker of Austin.