Water company sues customer for defamation

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

SAN TAN Valley, Ariz. -- A Valley woman who posted video of what she says was yellow water coming from her faucet is now being sued for defamation by the utility.

Johnson Ranch resident Emily Hughes was in for a shock when she turned on her tap on a recent morning. “I came downstairs and went to wash my dishes and there was yellow water," she says.

But if Hughes was surprised by what she described as yellow water coming from her faucet, she was even more surprised by what followed, after she posted video of it online.

“This is my lawsuit that I was served.“ she tells us, holding up a stack of legal papers.

It is a defamation lawsuit, seeking $100K in damages,and accusing Hughes of making disparaging postings, with the intent to disparage and harm Johnson Utilities. That is the private utility that delivers water to Hughes and other customers in the Southeast Valley.

This is not the first time Johnson has been in the news. There have been a number of complaints about water pressure and quality.. Hughes says she put the video on a Facebook page organized by someone who was also unhappy about the service. "Yeah, there is a lot of concern out there,” she tells us.

So why did Johnson decide to go after her? “I am not really sure what escalated it, to be really honest,”  says Hughes.

“You have to ask the plaintiffs," says her lawyer, Marc Victor. "They are the ones who brought the lawsuit on that.”

Hughes hired Victor after receiving the suit. He says his client's actions do not amount to defamation. “In this case the plaintiffs would have to prove a couple things," he says. "Number one, that the statement is false, and then, number two, that she made the statement with reckless disregard for its truth.”

Victor says neither of those things happened in this case. “Emily didn't wake up in the morning and decide to be upset with Johnson Utilities.”

Hughes says all she was thinking about was the safety of her water. “My kids were looking at it, like oh, what is that," she says. "I was kind of shocked. “

And, she says, now with this lawsuit she has one more thing to worry about. “It is frightening, you know. I am not so much frightened for myself, as I am just for the situation. I don't want it to get out of hand."

We did reach out to Johnson Utilities, but have not heard back. Victor says he has offered them a proposition which would call for the water to be tested by a 3rd party.  In the meantime, supporters have set up a website to help Hughes with legal costs.