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YEAGER v. HACKENSACK WATER CO.

August 14, 1985

FAY YEAGER, et al., individually, and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
HACKENSACK WATER COMPANY, etc., et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FISHER

 This matter arises out of the drought emergency which has affected many New Jersey residents since early this year. Plaintiffs are residential customers of defendant Hackensack Water Company (Hackensack), living within the affected area. *fn1" Defendants are Hackensack; Governor Thomas H. Kean; Commissioner of Environmental Protection Robert E. Hughey; Drought Coordinator Richard T. Dewling; and the State of New Jersey. Hackensack is a private water company engaged in supplying water to 60 municipalities under terms and conditions approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

 On April 17, 1985, Governor Kean issued Executive Order No. 97 and on May 16, 1985, issued Executive Order No. 102. Through these orders Governor Kean declared a drought emergency, invoked certain emergency powers and directed the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, the Water Emergency Task Force and the Drought Coordinator "to take whatever steps are necessary and proper to alleviate the water supply emergency and to effectuate this Order." On May 17, 1985, Drought Coordinator Richard T. Dewling issued Administrative Order No. 6 which imposed mandatory water restrictions (50 gallons per resident per day) in a specified area and established procedures for administration of the state's water rationing program.

 Administrative Order No. 6 delegated the "primary monitoring and threshold enforcement function" to the individual water purveyors and to county and municipal governments. Further, the order authorized "the adoption and issuance of ordinances, rules, regulations, rate schedules and amendments thereto, inspection, enforcement and collection actions, and all other such actions as may be necessary to implement, administer and enforce the Water Rationing Program." As to residential customers, the order specifically directed that

 
the number of permanent residents in each dwelling unit will determine the amount of water that each household will be allowed to use pursuant to the Plan. The individual water purveyors shall have the responsibility of determining the water allocation for each dwelling unit (household). This can be accomplished through the use of postcard census, bill analysis, spot checks, or other verification procedures.
 
The purveyor may require the names of individuals in each residential unit to verify the number. Each purveyor shall alter its meter reading schedules as needed in order to assure compliance.
 
Where the purveyor cannot obtain information regarding the number of residents, the purveyor should assume, for purposes of surcharge, a single occupant for that household, and assess an allotment of 50 gallons for the dwelling unit. Customers are required to provide purveyor personnel with access to read meters in order to properly establish water usage. Purveyors who have been unable to obtain access to read the meter shall provide immediate written notice to the customer requiring the customer either to read the meter and submit written certification of its accuracy to the purveyor within five (5) days or to contact the purveyor within five (5) days to make an appointment for purposes of meter reading. If there is no reply from the customer, or if the purveyor is thereafter denied entry to read the meter, or to verify the number of household residents, that customer will be subject to penalty provided by law under N.J.S.A. 58:1A-1 et seq. and N.J.S.A. App. A:9-33 et seq.
 
The purveyor is hereby authorized and directed to provide appropriate officials with the information needed to carry out these enforcement actions in an expeditious fashion.

 Administrative Order No. 6 at 3-4 (emphasis added).

 Pursuant to the state's directive, Hackensack has sought to ascertain its customers' social security numbers as well as the names of individual household members. To secure this information Hackensack prepared and sent a postcard mailer form to each of its residential customers. The explanation on the form provided in part

 
we are required by the New Jersey State drought emergency task force to know by name how many permanent members there are in your household.
 
. . . .
 
The attached postcard is designed to provide us with that information. The rationing program requires the head of each residential household which has its own water meter to answer all questions, provide the names of all household ...

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