Entergy of Louisiana charged me for 11 months of utility service during Covid for my rental property without sending me a single bill. Instead, it sent the bills to my deceased father’s work email. Even though the balance steadily accrued, Entergy never shut off the power due to the restrictions placed on it by the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC). I remained a customer with another account on another property in good standing, but the $20 billion public utility never once reached out to me even once about it.
Discovering the bizarre use of my father’s email, I sued Entergy of Louisiana at the local Justice of the Peace office over the roughly $950 bill I never knew I had. And I won, despite how the language of the judgment reads. The bill amount owed was reduced to $612 in court at the time of the judgment and later increased to $712 in the written judgment (being questioned at the moment). And Entergy agreed to pay me $150 for legal fees.
This all began late November 2022. An Arkansas-based collections agency sent me a letter about the debt. I had never gotten a letter like that before. I don’t have any outstanding debts, except for my recently installed whole home generator and my mortgages. But this agency claimed I owed Entergy about $950 for utilities from June 2020 to May 2021.
I emailed the collections agency that the debt wasn’t mine. I was a current Entergy customer in good standing. I even just had Entergy run a gas line for that generator I mentioned. Certainly if I owed Entergy money, it would have contacted me by now. Some time later, the agency responded with a new email and a copy of a final bill from Entergy.
I was confused.
The bill was for utilities at my old home (House X) that I now manage as a rental property. The span of months in question covered my first tenants that lived there for nearly 11 months. One of the tenants suffered some medical problems and the other got injured at work, so they could no longer afford to live in the home and left with no warning. I had to file an eviction to legally regain access to the residence to begin the cleanup and repair process.
I also had to call Entergy and put the home’s power bill back into my name after they left. And I did, without any issue. Entergy created a new account for me and sent me a bill the following month, which I paid. And not long after I had the house leased again. I have documentation for all of this in the form of emails and screenshots.
I enlisted the help of a local attorney to send a cease-and-desist letter to this collections company and Entergy. It basically laid out the facts of the matter as I knew them at the time. I never received any bills for this time period. The agency was only providing a single final bill for 11 months of usage. Entergy put the house back in my name without raising the issue of an outstanding debt.
I called Entergy, too, to figure out what was wrong. I ran into issues there. The customer service representative could only pull bills going back a couple of years and couldn’t provide copies of the bills in question. But their records indicated the account was mine and the amount was owed. I asked all the rational questions as to why are they just now making this known to me and was hit with the same mantra over and over: it is the customer’s responsibility to close an account.
I don’t disagree with that rule, generally speaking, but in my experience, people rarely cancel an account and have the power shut off unless they’re leaving a rented residence or transferring ownership. In the case where you sell a home or rent one out and the new resident doesn’t transfer the utilities into their name, you get a bill and can resolve matters from there. Or if you don’t get a bill because maybe it didn’t make it to your new mailing address or whatever, the power gets turned off. At worst, you might be responsible for a month or two and it’s something you can pursue with the tenant or buyer.
I went back to the same attorney for advice and she directed me to file a complaint with the LPSC. The LPSC started looking into things. Entergy finally provided me with PDFs of all the bills. There was a little apology with the March 2021 bill saying the bill from March and April were included with the May 2021 bill because of technical issues with generating them.
A representative with Entergy reached out to me to investigate the matter. Initially, it kept coming back to Entergy not being able to find a record of me calling in to cancel the account.
Honestly, this isn’t very fair to anyone on my end because I can’t hear all the recordings of my conversations and I have no way of knowing if they actually have all the recordings or what precisely might have been said. This also happened two years ago and I was trying to remember what happened and digging up old records.
My tenants moved in that first Covid summer, so it was difficult to get anything done. They got the water bill put in their name and indicated they were working on getting the power bill transferred. They were also trying to sign up while Entergy was changing its online billing system from MyAccount to My Entergy.
I asked this Entergy representative if they could look to see if anyone paid a bill for that address, but they told me they couldn’t perform a search of the database system like that. I provided them with the information from the lease agreement and they couldn’t find anything. That didn’t necessarily mean the tenants didn’t transfer the bill over, it just meant that they weren’t using that person for the account.
Eventually after some lengthy back and forth with the Entergy representative and a lengthy email chain with the representative and the Commission, I discovered why I hadn’t gotten a bill. The representative produced the communication log for the account and it showed that sometime in late May, Entergy started sending bills to my deceased father’s work email. It’s below. The records can be expanded to show the contact information used for the communication. That’s how I know they used my father’s email.
Note: To be completely clear, Entergy’s system sent two emails for the first two months. The first one had a status of “SENT,” meaning it presumably arrived in my father’s work email inbox. The one that came after was labeled “BOUNCED,” suggesting my father’s company turned his email off. Based on that log and the email thread concerning it, be careful about your email. If Entergy’s billing systems has a single email bounce because your inbox is full or there are server issues, it will not send anymore.
I immediately pointed out the absurdity of this and was confronted with the other line of defense Entergy uses: it was my responsibility to keep my account information up to date. I immediately pushed back on this, calling it ridiculous to suggest I would start using my deceased father’s work email address on what had been my account for a decade.
In the end, the Entergy representative proclaimed Entergy would apply the outstanding balance to my existing account and the LPSC couldn’t help with the issue. It simply didn’t have the power to tell Entergy not to transfer the balance.
That’s when I decided to sue. I was angry. It’s relatively easy to sue for small claims and costs about $125. It does carry the risk of being responsible for the defendant’s legal fees if you bring something frivolous. I had to contact the Secretary of State’s Office to get the identity and contact information for Entergy’s Registered Agent, an attorney. I then had to fill out the paperwork at my local Justice of the Peace with my info and claim as well as provide copies of my documentation. Once I filed the suit, I had to wait for it to be served by a deputy.
I will mention that the deputy had a hell of a time trying to serve my suit. From my understanding, he went out to the offices half a dozen times. Somewhere in the middle of that, I called the national Entergy Corporate Office to confirm the La Secretary of State had the correct information, got the Agent’s voice mail, and eventually spoke to the man to confirm he was the Agent. He even gave me his personal cell number to pass to the serving deputy.
Out of all of this the guy I’m trying to sue is the one providing the best customer service…
Entergy’s response to my suit came weeks later and was what I expected. It denied my claim of billing errors and deceptive business practices and demanded the suit be dismissed with prejudice, meaning it wanted me to cover their legal fees. The Justice of the Peace then set a court date.
All of this took place over months with the court date being set for this August. I appeared ready to explain my points and cite the different copies of emails, bills, and communications I provided. My evidence consisted of about 100 pages of documentation. That was a mistake on my part. Simpler would have been better and cheaper.
Before Court started, Entergy’s Agent appeared along with a witness from, I think, Entergy’s IT department. The Agent immediately tried to explain to me that they had a copy of the call I made where I added my father’s house on Street Y to my account for current house at the time on Street X. He suggested I made an error during this setup and put in the wrong email address. I denied this and pointed to my documentation. Before we could get further, the Justice of the Peace came in and explained the rules of the Court.
I got to go first and argued that the account in question didn’t seem to be real and was the result of human or system error. Someone created a copied amalgamation of my account and my father’s account and didn’t delete it. That should seem ridiculous, right? Well, I haven’t mentioned to this point is the confusing nature of the account information.
My father and I have the same name. I’m the “Jr.” and my father is the “Sr.” Entergy’s system doesn’t have a field for suffixes. The house for the account in question where I lived for over a decade before leasing it was on Street X. For a couple of months in 2009, my father and I both lived on Street X in different houses. I’ll come back to this.
My father moved to what would be his last home on Street Y in 2009. He passed away late in 2019. I eventually decided to move into my father’s old house in the summer of 2020. So, there were two different people with the same name living at the same address.
During that summer of 2020, June to August specifically, Entergy changed its online billing system from My Account to My Entergy. I signed up to use the new system as soon as I could but the system wouldn’t let me complete registration until early August. I got no bills during this time for either house. Once the account was finalized, I got an email bill for my new home on Street Y and paid my outstanding bill. My account, which I had for 10+ years on Street X, was no longer available on this new portal.
I didn’t expect it would be. My new tenants had been renting my old house for a couple of months by now. And they still had power. I also didn’t get a bill for my old address.
I directed the Justice to the email Entergy sent me about completing my registration with the new billing system. It didn’t show a mailing address in the summary. I had gone paperless years prior because I got tired of storing paper Entergy bills in manilla folders. The fact there was no mailing address present was strange because Entergy had my address for House Y as the mailing address for the account for House X on the bills.
In my mind it was another example of poor data practices on Entergy’s part. Not only did Entergy apply someone else’s email address to my account without my knowledge, it also applied someone else’s mailing address.
I brought up the fact Entergy let the same person that allegedly owed them $950 for 11 months of unpaid bills open a new account for the same service address. Entergy even billed me a gas connection fee to do this. There was nary a mention of the bills. I shouldn’t have been able to do this if the account was a legitimate account. I had to provide them with my SSN to open the new account. With any other company, this would have been impossible.
I then moved to arguing my stronger point. I have a right to be billed. If I’m making a good faith effort to maintain my contact information and to pay my bills, which I was as a current customer that just got a new gas line installed, I should know when I’m being charged for a service. If Entergy hadn’t changed my email address, I could have stopped 10 more months of billing. If Entergy had attempted to contact me via mail or a phone call, I could have stopped 10 more months of billing. If not for Covid, the services would have been turned off and would have save me months of billing.
One key piece of evidence I brought with me to challenge Entergy’s assertion that it was completely my responsible to keep up to date with my bills was a press release from May 2020. The press release was in regard to Entergy being unable to disconnect people’s power and that it would reach out to customers with outstanding balances via mail and/or email to make them aware of payment options and billing assistance. Obviously, I never got either.
The Agent then made their defense. They began by playing the phone call I made to have my father’s House Y added to my account for House X back in April 2020. I had previously paid a bill for House Y while still living at House X by snail mail and wanted to make it more convenient for myself.
From my perspective, it was uncanny how everything I related on that call from almost three years ago matched what I had just told the Justice. And my suggestion about human or system error seemed to be confirmed to me by this call. The customer service representative placed me on a hold to speak to another customer service representative about an “odd request”. I also heard on the call that my father’s account was somewhat already in my name because my social security number was on it. Again, it’s highly unlikely my father put my SSN on his account for 10 years. It’s far more likely it was another result of poor record keeping.
Recall when I mentioned that my father and I both lived on Street X for a time? If I had to bet, my money would be on our information being conflated during that time, unknown to either of us. But how my SSN got applied to my father’s account when he bough House Y, I do not know.
By the end of this recorded call, the customer representative added my father’s account to my own. He didn’t create a new account in my name for the service address. He gave me my father’s actual account. The numbers are the same. I’m still using my father’s account number to this day.
I paid the bill, from what I can tell, while I was on that call. But was strange was the Agent and the IT witness went on to suggest that it was during that call I put in my father’s email address on the account. In retrospect, I think this was when Entergy put in my father’s email address.
The Agent decided to present some tax records and suggested there was no title record for my purchase of my father’s house from my stepmother. That alarmed me a little and I had to offer to the Justice that I could grab info from my email to prove the home was mine. Funnily enough, a week later, I reached out to the title company attorney’s assistant to confirm the title was recorded. I had some concern I was the victim of title theft. But the title was recorded! And, ironically, the reason the Entergy agent and his team may not have found it is they needed to search for my name with my junior suffix.
Pro-Tip: If you’re going to small claims and suspect an attorney might show up, have relevant tax and property documentation on hand., e.g., If you sue a neighbor for leaving screws in the road that cause your truck to get four flat tires, have proof the truck is yours.
I got to rebut the email issue. I had the emails from the date and time of the call they just played. My best guess is I was viewing my account and paying the bill while I was on that call. And the emails confirm I was using my email address. One email notified me House Y was added to my MyAccount, the old billing system. The other notified me my payment for House Y was received successfully. And a third that I got after completing my signup for the new portal, My Entergy, also went to my email address, not my father’s. I even heard the IT witness whispering to the agent that my email address was in fact on the emails and not my father’s. It was a bit of an oops, but I don’t feel like the meaning of it was truly appreciated.
The Agent got one more chance to respond and showed records that services were in fact used at House X during the billing period, mine was allegedly the only account on the house at the time, and I owned House X, so I was responsible.
And I won’t forget this last part, which I’m paraphrasing. The Agent then explained that property owners have to call to cancel their accounts. And the Justice interrupted this, agreeing by saying that was the case or else they will get a bill. And the agent agreed that, yes, they will be billed. I was flabbergasted.
The Justice asked us what we would consider a fair resolution -a splitting of the baby. He accepted that there was a lot of confusion occurring over the billing but also empathized with all the money Entergy lost due to the Covid disconnection mandate. The latter isn’t my problem, but I kept that to myself.
I proposed billing me only for the normal number of months it would have taken until the power would have been cut off under normal circumstances and paying for my legal fees. The Agent wanted to knock 25% off the bill and pay my legal costs in cash. The Justice dropped the %25 by an additional $100 and made that his ruling. Or that’s what I recall happening and it’s what I told my friends, family, and the lawyer that helped me immediately after. I don’t think I’m mistaken and, frankly, my track record with remembering details is demonstrably solid at this point.
The written judgment has the 25% amount, $712 and not $612. I called the Justice office to confirm this, as I believe it is a mistake but haven’t heard back, yet.
If I had to summarize my entire experience into an insight I could offer other customers and regulators is Entergy doesn’t have a problem with its linemen or its customer service. The real issue is the absolute unreliability of its systems and records and its complete unwillingness to be proactive in researching its own billing issues and heading off problems like this. That’s where the accountability needs to be. It shouldn’t be allowed to persist in offloading all the responsibility for running itself on its customers. Especially not when it has a pseudo-monopoly.
I used to work as a senior business analyst where I would write SQL reports to identify these kinds of problems. Entergy is a $20 billion company responsible for operating nuclear reactors in our state but confuses customers with the same name. It really is Bush league stuff.
If you have multiple properties, moved recently and switched accounts, or maybe changed names, you definitely should call and double check every piece of information on your account. Also inquire about any other accounts tied to your SSN. Entergy appears to have no checks on this. Don’t rely on the online portal.
And if there is ever another no-disconnect LPSC order, you need to be even more wary. Entergy will have no qualms about running up a bill in your name for days or months and then coming after you for not maintaining their billing system for them.
The resulting judgment isn’t great for me, but it’s better than what it could have been. It’s certainly not good for Entergy. Even if the Agent and witness are salary employees, Entergy still spent resources to send an attorney and IT professional to sit in court for an hour and half for a 2.5 year old bill worth $950. It’s the definition of a pyrrhic victory for both of us.
I would have been better off throwing the collections letter away. I didn’t know at the time, but there’s a three-year limit as to how far back Entergy can go to collect an outstanding balance by statute. It’s also amusing to think that if I had called (I’m still not sure I didn’t) to cancel the account, Entergy would still be out the money and my tenants could have stayed there just the same with power. That’s the price we pay sometimes for trying to do the right thing.
“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:9-10, KJV