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Bethel Terrace v. Village of Caseyville

OPINION FILED OCTOBER 29, 1976.

BETHEL TERRACE, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE VILLAGE OF CASEYVILLE, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. ROBERT L. GAGEN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE EBERSPACHER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Bethel Terrace, Incorporated, the plaintiff, appeals seeking reversal of a non-jury judgment for defendant, Village of Caseyville, entered in the circuit court of St. Clair County. The trial court denied the plaintiff recovery for allegedly excessive charges that it had paid for water supplied by the defendant, pursuant to an oral contract.

The issue presented for our consideration is whether the rates charged the plaintiff were regulated by the Village of Caseyville's ordinances, and if so, whether the rates charged the plaintiff were in accord with these ordinances.

Plaintiff is a corporation which owns and operates a mobile home park situated outside the corporate limits of the defendant. In late 1963, the plaintiff contacted an official of the defendant to request that defendant supply water to its mobile home park. The parties stipulated that an oral agreement existed under which defendant agreed to supply water services to the plaintiff. It was further agreed that a master water meter was to be installed by the defendant at the plaintiff's expense, and that the plaintiff would be responsible for the construction and maintenance of water lines running from the master meter to the individual mobile homes in its park. Plaintiff understood that it would be charged by the defendant for water services rendered, but no further specific terms of agreement were ever reached, although the plaintiff thought its chief officer did testify that he had been told "in '65 or so" that the charge would be based upon the trailer space occupancy.

The master meter was installed in late 1963. Defendant began to bill the plaintiff for water passing through that meter on January 1, 1964. The rates charged the plaintiff were determined in the following manner:

1. An official of the defendant determined the number of occupied spaces in the mobile home park.

2. This number was multiplied by the minimum rate for customers outside the corporate limits (in accordance with the standard rate charges established in ordinances 305, 454, 479, and 497, respectively).

3. The number of spaces was multiplied by 2,000 and that product was subtracted from the total number of gallons registered on the master water meter.

4. The remaining water gallonage was charged in accordance with the graduated schedule for customers outside the corporate limits established in ordinances no. 305, 454, 479 and 497, respectively, or the number of spaces occupied times the minimum rate, then the number of spaces occupied times 2,000 and that product subtracted from the total water usage and any excess usage charge according to a graduated scale.

Sometime in 1965 or 1966, an official of the defendant explained the method being used to determine the applicable water rates to the plaintiff. Although the plaintiff claimed to be unaware of the existence of ordinances which established the rates, it was aware of the fact that it was being charged on a per occupied space basis.

From the date of the first billing on January 1, 1964, a period of over four years elapsed before the plaintiff objected to the rates charged by the defendant for its water services. On February 5, 1968, Charles Trione acting on behalf of the plaintiff appeared at a Village of Caseyville council meeting and protested the rates being charged by the defendant for its water services. No action was taken by the defendant in response to the plaintiff's protest.

The city provides a discount price for water consumption in excess of 2,000 gallons per customer per month. The basic dispute here is whether the "customer" is the trailer park or the individual trailer owners.

On November 13, 1970, plaintiff instituted this action. In its amended complaint, plaintiff sought to recover under Count I alleged excess payments made to the defendant in the amount of $30,000 plus interest and under Count II, the plaintiff sought damages for all of the monies paid to the defendant during the period the water was supplied, the plaintiff contending that the defendant's ordinances were ineffective.

Eight of the defendant's ordinances were admitted into evidence in the trial court. Of these, five were ...


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