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Deadlines set in suit over 911 charges

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A federal judge has set a schedule of deadlines concerning a lawsuit filed by the county's Emergency Communication District (ECD) and other districts against a telephone company over 911 charges.

Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier has set Jan. 28, 2013 as the latest date when mediation should begin in the suit against BellSouth, now known as AT&T.

Bedford County's ECD filed suit in April demanding the recovery of $76,000 in service charges. The litigation claims the ECD was billed "far in excess" of the number of phone lines for which BellSouth reported and remitted 911 charges.

The county's ECD suit has been consolidated with litigation filed in seven other emergency districts following a joint motion from all parties to resolve various motions to dismiss filed by BellSouth. Other ECDs suing BellSouth are in Hamilton, Bradley, Blount, Coffee, Roane, Franklin and Giles counties.

Dates set

Collier ordered that a report be filed no later than Friday regarding prospects of mediation and any conflicts with Robert Murrian, the proposed mediator.

A status conference in all the cases regarding procedures for trial is set for April 5, 2013, with initial disclosures in the suit due by Oct. 10 of this year.

The final witness list is due on Aug. 5, 2013, with expert testimony expected from the county by June 3, 2013 and from BellSouth by July 1, 2013.

All discovery, including the taking of depositions "for evidence" and requests for admissions, shall be completed by Sept. 6, 2013, Collier ordered, and all motion for summary judgement must be filed no later than Oct. 4, 2013.

County's claims

The county's suit claims that BellSouth "has intentionally failed to fulfill its obligation to collect, report, and remit to the District 911 Charges necessary to finance the District's operations."

In 1984, the state's ECD law was enacted to establish 911 as the emergency number and to allow counties to set up emergency districts. Bedford County did so in 1987. The General Assembly later amended ECD in 1997 to require "Enhanced" 911 service.

The litigation claims that although BellSouth billed -- and the district paid for -- 11,000 lines in Bedford County in December 2010, BellSouth "falsely reported in its monthly report to the District ... that it only supplied 9,020 business and residential lines."

In addition, the suit alleges BellSouth has underbilled, undercollected and underpaid 911 charges for business lines provided by multiplex circuits, which are typically T-1 lines that provide 24 channels of voice communications.

The suit claims that BellSouth charged for 911 "on only a small fraction of the voice lines," resulting in false reports to the district. The same claim was made about single-circuit business lines and residential lines.