A judge has dismissed most claims against Central Maine Power Co. in a lawsuit over disconnection notices it sent that threaten to shut off power this winter.

A customer group that has been fighting CMP’s billing practices sued over the notices that they say are misleading and fraudulent. In their case filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, five customers associated with CMP Ratepayers Unite said the utility is using communications “strategically designed to mislead and intimidate customers with alleged overdue balances” to pay their bills without involvement of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The plaintiffs asked the court to block that practice with a temporary restraining order.

CMP denied those claims and filed a motion to dismiss the case. The utility also said it collaborated with the PUC and the state Public Advocate’s Office to make sure wording in its disconnection notices complies with state regulations.

By law, utilities are able to pursue customers who owe money, but their conduct is strictly governed by PUC rules. Most important, power can’t be disconnected to homes during the heating season, from Nov. 15 to April 15, except in unusual circumstances and only with PUC approval.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy this week dismissed all but one claim against the company – intentional infliction of emotional distress. In her order, Murphy said the plaintiffs did make allegations “sufficiently extreme and outrageous” for that claim to move forward. But she also said they did not do enough to prove financial harm to move forward on the others, including fraud.

“Notably lacking from even the most generous readings of any portion of the complaint are allegations that any Plaintiffs paid money they did not owe based on these notices,” she wrote.

Three more customers have petitioned the court to join the case and asked for an expedited hearing on the matter. In a news release, an attorney for the plaintiffs emphasized the financial challenges many people are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are being forced to choose whether they pay the power bill, in some cases in amounts they claim they don’t owe, or go without heat or even food,” Sumner Lipner said. “Some of these people are suffering loss of jobs and loss of financial resources all as a result of the ongoing pandemic.”

A spokeswoman for the utility did not respond to an email about the case Wednesday night.

The same customer group is also fighting CMP in federal court over what they say are inaccurate electrical bills.

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