Smart meter arrests

Jennifer Stahl, left, and Kim Bendis, far right, were arrested last year after authorities say they interfered with the installation of wireless electric meters on their homes. The citations against Stahl were dropped on Wednesday after she agreed to a diversion program. Bendis' case is still pending. (Melissa Jenco, for the Chicago Tribune / January 23, 2013)

A judge has dismissed a federal lawsuit against the city of Naperville filed by opponents to its smart meter program.

However, leaders of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group say they plan to file a revised lawsuit within 14 days.

The city has installed smart meters on more than 57,000 homes that officials say will help them operate the electric system in a more efficient, reliable and cost-effective manner.

But members of the Naperville Smart Meter Awareness group filed a federal lawsuit in December 2011 citing "a multitude of serious health, safety, security and privacy concerns" over the meters that wirelessly transmit data about electric use to the city, which runs the utility. Smart meter opponents allege in the suit the city has violated their constitutional rights to due process, protection from unreasonable searches and protection from the government taking private property.

Judge John Z. Lee questioned both sides about the case for about two hours in September and issued a 24-page written decision Friday that dismisses the claims. In the opinion, he writes the smart meter opponents did not exhaust all state remedies for their claims and did not prove radio frequency from the meters is actually harming people. He also found the city has precautions in place to keep customer data from being disclosed without their consent and rejected the claim the city will collect personal details about customers' lives.

"Even assuming that a smart meter is technically able to measure electrical usage and load to such minute detail, and one were able to ascertain personal details about a resident's life from such data, the mere existence of such a capability does not reasonably lead to an inference that it is actually being employed," Lee wrote.

Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger applauded the decision Saturday.

"Obviously we're pleased with the outcome," Krieger said. "We believe the federal court got it right in granting the motion to dismiss."

Krieger did not immediately have a figure as to how much money the city has spent defending the lawsuit.

Lee said he will allow the smart meter opponents to re-file an amended lawsuit within 14 days and the group said it plans to do just that.

"We see it really as a very big positive," said Jennifer Stahl, secretary of Naperville Smart Meter Awareness. "The judge writing his 24-page opinion provides a lot of insight as to what his perspective is regarding the case. He could have dismissed it with prejudice which would have been it's over, period."

Stahl said the group will introduce new evidence including the January arrests of herself and the group’s president, Kim Bendis. The two are accused of interfering with meter installation.

mjenco@tribune.com

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