Siemens files change of venue request

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Filings have picked up again in Jackson’s suit against Siemens, a likely sign that mediation efforts between the parties had likely broken down.

Last week, the city and Siemens Industry and Siemens Corporation filed numerous motions.

Among them, Siemens had requested a change of venue, arguing that it cannot get a fair trial in Hinds County.

Also, the Siemens firms are asking the court to dismiss one of the city’s counts against them, while at the same time are seeking more specific information about the charges they’re facing.

The news comes weeks after mediation talks between the parties took place. It was unclear the results of those talks, with city officials declining to comment one way or the other.

Jackson filed suit against the Siemens firms, its subcontractors, a Siemens employee and several “John Does” this summer. The city is seeking $225 million in damages in relation to complications with the city’s water billing overhaul. The case was filed in Hinds County Circuit Court.

Parties entered a mediation on September 24 and 25. Sides were expected to notify the court of mediation results by October 2. Judge Frank Vollor agreed to stay proceedings until October 9, pending the outcome of the negotiations.

No documents notifying the court of the results had been filed on the circuit court’s web page.

The city is using outside representation in the suit: Lightfoot, Franklin and White LLC, of Birmingham; and Winston J. Thompson of Jackson. Bradley Arant’s Jackson office is representing Siemens.

Siemens was brought on in 2012 to install new meters, implement a new billing system and make some infrastructure improvements.

The city issued $90 million in bonds to cover the work.

At the time, then-Mayor Harvey Johnson promised taxpayers that the contract would pay for itself over time, with improved water collections and more accurate billing. 

Since work wrapped up, the city has been plagued with billing problems. More than 1,000 bills are still being “stranded” each month, meaning at least 1,000 customers are not receiving regular bills.

Jackson has spent millions in the last year and a half to address the problem. Meanwhile, the city’s water/sewer enterprise fund, which is funded through monthly collections is barely generating enough money to cover operations in the water department.

Citing negative press coverage in the press, public criticism from city officials, and jurors’ potential “pecuniary interest in the outcome of the litigation,” attorneys for Siemens are seeking a change of venue.

“These articles and broadcasts remain publicly available on the internet. And much of this coverage has demonized Siemens.

“It’s hard to envision a more deliberate or prejudicial public campaign against an opposing party in a pending lawsuit,” attorneys state.

The firms are requesting moving the case outside of the Jackson media market.

Jackson’s complaint includes eight counts: fraud and fraud in the inducement; negligent misrepresentation; civil conspiracy; negligence; breach of implied warranty of good workmanship; unjust enrichment; breach of contract; and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Parties include Siemens Industry and its affiliates and parent company, U.S. Consolidated Inc., M.A.C. & Associates LLC, Invision It Consultants LLC, Garrett Enterprises Consolidated, individual Chris McNeil, and John Does 1-10.

According to the suit, Siemens guaranteed $120 million in savings as a result of the work, which included installing new water meters across the city, building and implementing a new billing system, and making some repairs to the city’s water treatment plants and sewer lines.

However, those savings never panned out. Plus, other complications ensued, including the city’s inability to send out regular water bills once the new billing system was put in place. A report issued last fall showed that more than 35,000 faulty water meters were installed as part of the work.

Siemens companies have also motioned for a partial dismissal of all counts, except the breach of contract count. For that count, Siemens is seeking more information and additional time to respond to the charges.

In last week’s filings, Siemens attorneys claim the city had not clearly stated the Siemens company was in breach.

(Siemens Industry, Siemens Company and Siemens AG have all been parties in the suit. Jackson recently dropped charges against Siemens AG, the international firm.) 

Defendants also state that Jackson did not spell out exactly how Siemens was in breach. “(The) plaintiff needs to clarify which precise actions of which precise defendants are at issue in that count.”

A copy of the court filings can be found on the Sun’s website.

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1. He drove a blue ‘77 Chevy Nova in high school. 2. He played on Jackson Prep’s 1985 and 1986 state championship basketball teams.