On September 12, 2022, Stephanie L. Quinn and Monica A. Silver of Quinn Covarrubias achieved a victory on behalf of Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) in a case brought under California Civil Code section 1882.1, a civil statute that permits utilities to recover for energy theft. SMUD alleged that the defendant caused power to be diverted through the use of an illegal bypass which served a subpanel for marijuana cultivating lights and equipment at a residential property in Sacramento. The electricity supplied by SMUD was bypassed prior to being read by SMUD’s metering equipment. After the theft was discovered, the defendant, who was the customer of record on the SMUD account, was billed for the unmetered electricity.
The case was tried remotely on Zoom in front of a Sacramento Superior Court judge. In its statement of decision, the Court found that SMUD met its burden of proof to show that the defendant aided and abetted the diversion of power when he opened an account for utility service with SMUD. The defendant claimed that he was a victim of identity theft and had nothing to do with opening the account or with the diversion of power. The Court rejected the identity theft defense and found in favor of SMUD.
Under the civil power theft statute, a utility may recover as damages three times the amount of actual damages, as well as cost of suit and reasonable attorney’s fees. The defendant claimed that SMUD should have disconnected power immediately upon learning of a suspected theft, instead of waiting for law enforcement to obtain and execute a search warrant at the premises. The Court determined that SMUD acted reasonably and awarded treble damages to SMUD.