Andrew Thomason Jan. 13, 2014, 10:13am

An environmental scientist is in hot water after allegedly failing to deliver promised results to a Chicago-based nonprofit.

Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) filed a lawsuit Jan. 8 in Chicago’s federal court against James Fryer, an environmental scientist who consults on water resource and other issues.

Represented by David Wix of Tarpey Wix LLC, AWE claims Fryer failed to deliver a satisfactory final report on a water usage study and is refusing to turn over research to the group that hired him.

AWE contracted with Fryer in 2011 to investigate how the demand for water in relationship to other economic factors could be controlled through a demand management program in advance of future droughts.

Among other things, the suit states that the project was to include interviews with municipal water agency staff; information about current demand management programs; analysis of water customers’ habits; random surveys of water customers in a defined geographic region; and a final report on Fryer’s findings.

Originally, Fryer was supposed to raise funding for the project and AWE would be the fiscal agent, but he wasn’t able to get enough money so AWE brought in at least $196,000 to finance the study, according to the complaint.

AWE asserts Fryer’s final report was scheduled to be finished by the middle of 2012, but was delayed repeatedly. After he turned in a draft final report in May 2013, the suit contends that a peer review of his paper highlighted several areas in need of revisions, but Fryer refused to make changes unless he thought they were necessary.

“All three reviewers had serious concerns and noted significant problems with the draft report, including, among other things, confusing terminology, a lack of rigorous statistical analysis, unsupported conclusions, weak description of methodology, a lack of focus and treating conjecture as facts,” the complaint states. “All three reviewers concluded that report was not ready for release and required significant refocusing.”

Following these recommendations, the project advisory committee suggested Fryer, who had been paid more than $127,000 for his work, be removed as project manager.

“AWE requested that Fryer remove himself from the Project team and turn over all files and documents pertaining to the Project so that AWE could complete the study,” the suit states, adding that “Fryer has refused to so and claims that he has sole ownership in the Report and in Project.”

AWE is asking for a declaratory judgment stating that it possesses legal and tangible interest in the project, the files and documents produced by the project, the final report and has the right to finish the project without Fryer.

The group also wants Fryer be barred from publishing the current final report, making public comments regarding the current version of the final report, claiming any ownership rights of the project and making disparaging comments about AWE and the final report.

In its suit, AWE alleges that Fryer breached an implied contract by failing to, among other things, complete a satisfactory final report in a reasonable amount of time.

The nonprofit is seeking more than $127,000 in damages from Fryer. If the court doesn’t rule in favor of it regarding the breach of contract claim, AWE is asking the court for restitution from Fryer in the amount AWE would be required to return to project funders.

AWE also claims Fryer violated its copyright on the final report by speaking about it at least one public seminar and as such, is asking the court that Fryer be ordered to pay fair market value for the use of the report in that instance.

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