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Chattanooga, TN (October 2, 2014) – EPB today asked the Court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Don Lepard, in the name of the City of Chattanooga, against EPB. The motion to dismiss asserts that Mr. Lepard "is a disgruntled vendor, who is improperly seeking to use a legally-defective False Claims Act suit to strike out at EPB, which he blames for the City's decision not to purchase thousands of additional street lights from Plaintiff's company."
Noting that the City of Chattanooga has declined to join Lepard in his lawsuit and has expressed an interest in working directly with EPB to find a resolution to any street light issue, Greg Eaves executive vice president and CFO of EPB pointed out that Lepard is seeking $10 million, a sum that far exceeds any calculations of street light errors reached by either the City Auditor or Mauldin and Jenkins, an independent accounting firm that analyzed the matter in detail.
“With this motion to dismiss, we are attempting to show that Tennessee Law is structured to prevent situations of this kind in which someone makes a bid for personal gain at the expense of the local citizens,” Eaves said. “We’ve submitted our motion to dismiss and respectfully await the Court’s decision on the matter.”
EPB's motion is based on several grounds, including:
1. EPB is a part of the City of Chattanooga, and EPB and the City do not exist as separate entities from one another. Long-standing Tennessee law clearly provides that a party may not sue itself. The EPB motion states, "Yet, Lepard is attempting the absurdity of having the City sue itself, for the purpose of personally profiting in the process."
2. The Tennessee False Claims Act does not permit an action against a municipal board or entity. The motion states, "Given that the City is a municipal entity and EPB is part of that municipal entity, Plaintiff’s False Claims Act claims are prohibited by the plain language of the statute.”
EPB's motion asks the Court to find that Mr. Lepard's complaint is clearly frivolous, because it lacks any legal or factual basis. "The suit . . . is precisely the type of case that courts interpreting the Federal False Claims Act have declared to be frivolous," the EPB motion states. "The baseless suit has been maintained even after counsel for EPB, in good faith, notified Plaintiff’s lawyers concerning the existence of the issues." The motion asks that the Court order Lepard to reimburse EPB for its attorney fees and costs, as is permitted under the False Claims Act.
The motion was filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court by EPB's attorneys, Rick Hitchcock and Tom Greenholtz, of the Chattanooga law firm of Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel.
Established as an independent board of the City of Chattanooga in 1935, EPB is a municipally-owned utility that provides electric power and fiber optic communications services as a means of promoting economic development and enhancing quality of life across the local area.
EPB serves nearly 180,000 homes and businesses in a 600 square-mile area that includes greater Chattanooga, as well as parts of surrounding counties and areas of North Georgia.
In 2010, EPB became the first provider in the United States to deliver up to 1 Gig (1,000 mbps) internet speeds utilizing a community-wide fiber optic network that provides access to every home and business in its service area. In 2015, EPB became the first (and to date) only American ISP to make up to 10 Gig (10,000 mbps) internet speeds accessible to all of its residential and commercial customers as a standard offer.
EPB has also utilized its community-wide fiber optic network to deploy the most advanced and highly automated smart grid power management system in the nation. In recognition of EPB’s groundbreaking infrastructure, the Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are utilizing EPB’s smart grid as a national model for researching and developing best practices. EPB is also the first major power distribution utility to earn the USGBC’s PEER certification for having a highly automated, modernized electric power grid.