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Cleveland Water accused of trying to squeeze thousands from deceased customer

News 5 uncovers more legal trouble for public utility
Cleveland Water
Posted at 5:15 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 19:02:18-04

CLEVELAND — At the same time the Cleveland Water Department is facing a federal class action lawsuit over its billing practices, the embattled agency is now accused of trying to squeeze thousands of dollars from the estate of a deceased customer.

A lawsuit filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court alleges the water department has placed a tax lien on the home of a deceased customer to collect $9,540.72 in disputed water and sewer bills.

Barbara McFarquhar died in 2016 at the age of 82, just months after the water department first began threatening to shut off her water, claiming she failed to pay enormous water bills for water that her family says was never used.

McFarquhar, a stroke victim, was confined to her bed for 20 years and the family says there is no way she could possibly have used excessive water.

The family also insists there were no leaks.

The lawsuit was filed by her daughter, Jacqueline McFarguhar, after spending the lasts five years unsuccessfully attempting to resolve the issue.

An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation first uncovered widespread questions about the water department’s billing practices in 2015 and prompted a federal class-action lawsuit in 2019 brought by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

RELATED: Legal bills pile up in Cleveland Water class-action lawsuit over unfair, discriminatory billing

The class-action lawsuit alleges the water department unfairly discriminates against customers and violates federal and state laws through the use of water tax liens on homes to collect unpaid, disputed water bills.

The water department has declined to comment on the case because it is currently in litigation.

Meanwhile, water department's lawyers have filed a motion in court asking the case be dismissed if McFarquhar does not hire an attorney to represent her in a reasonable time period.

Water department lawyers say McFarquhar is prohibited from arguing the case under Ohio law.

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