Queen Creek sign

PHOENIX — An appellate court has ruled the town of Queen Creek can  release documents related to the business and operations of Johnson Utilities, despite attempts by the company to stop such action.

The Arizona Court of Appeals decided on Tuesday a nondisclosure agreement between the town and utility company was void because documents Johnson previously gave to Queen Creek should be considered public records.

Therefore, the town must comply with any requests to release those documents. Johnson delivered the documents to Queen Creek in 2017 when the parties discussed entering into a “transaction of mutual trust,” which later fell through.

Last year, the Arizona Corporation Commission requested any documented correspondence between Johnson and Queen Creek. The company filed a civil complaint after the town declined to delete the disputed documents.

Queen Creek is not opposed to releasing the documents.

It’s not the only time Johnson has taken Queen Creek to court within the last year. Court filings show the company filed another lawsuit in December, accusing the town’s officials of unfair business competition and negligent misrepresentation.

Johnson alleges Queen Creek presented false information to the corporation commission as part of a “scheme” to discredit the company. Johnson was the subject of a lengthy investigation by ACC last year, which ended with the commissioners appointing EPCOR to act as an interim manager.

Johnson accuses the town of pressuring ACC to appoint a manager in order to enrich itself by taking over the company’s service territory in Pinal County. The lawsuit further claims Queen Creek then pressured EPCOR to enter into interconnection agreements for water service.

The town disputes allegations it “manufactured evidence” or led a “campaign to sabotage” Johnson Utilities in order to usurp the company’s customers, recent court filings show.

Lawyers representing the town have rebuffed Johnson’s allegations, calling them legally insufficient, and asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

“The Town has a protected First Amendment right to petition the ACC to protect the Town’s citizens from foul water and rampant sewage,” defense counsel wrote in court filings a few weeks ago.

The defense further criticized Johnson for using the judicial system as a means to get back at the company’s perceived enemies — referencing another lawsuit filed by Johnson against Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman.

“The litigation is yet another attempt by (Johnson Utilities) to avoid responsibility for its own malfeasance,” defense counsel wrote.

A Maricopa County judge has not yet ruled on dismissing the case and gave Johnson until March 12 to file an amended version of its lawsuit.