Will SCOTUS Use AT&T Case This Week To Shut Down Class Action Suits? (Do Mama Grizzlies Shoot Wolves From Planes?)
This one's important, spread it around.
Once again, something we can put on tone-deaf Democrats. I kept arguing that we should have pushed back on Roberts and Alito on their pro-corporate records, and not on abortion. Oh well, what the hell do I know?
I'd say it's highly unlikely that the conservatives on this court will pass up the chance to put trial lawyers out of business:
It hasn't gotten a lot of press, but a case involving AT&T that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court next week has sweeping ramifications for potentially millions of consumers.
If a majority of the nine justices vote the telecom giant's way, any business that issues a contract to customers — such as for credit cards, cellphones or cable TV — would be able to prevent them from joining class-action lawsuits.
This would take away in such cases arguably the most powerful legal tool available to the little guy, particularly in cases involving relatively small amounts of money. Class-action suits allow plaintiffs to band together in seeking compensation or redress, thus giving substantially more heft to their claims.
The ability to ban class actions would potentially also apply to employment agreements such as union contracts.
Consumer advocates say that without the threat of class-action lawsuits, many businesses would be free to engage in unfair or deceptive practices. Few people would litigate on their own to resolve a case involving, say, a hundred bucks.
"The marketplace is fairer for consumers and workers because there's a deterrent out there," said Deepak Gupta, an attorney for the advocacy group Public Citizen who will argue on consumers' behalf before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
"Companies are afraid of class actions," he said. "This helps keep them honest."
The case is AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion. The basic question before the court is whether companies can bar class actions in the fine print of their take-it-or-leave-it contracts with customers and employees.
High courts in California and elsewhere have ruled that class-action bans are unconscionable and contrary to public policy.
At issue at next week's court hearing is whether the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 preempts state courts from striking down class-action bans. The federal law requires both sides in a dispute to take their grievance to an arbitrator, rather than a court, if both sides have agreed in advance to do so.
Vincent and Liza Concepcion sued AT&T in 2006 after signing up for wireless service that they'd been told included free cellphones. The Concepcions alleged that they and other Californians had been defrauded by the company because the phones actually came with various charges.
AT&T asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California to dismiss the case because its contract forbade class actions. The court declined, ruling that a class-action ban violates state law and is not preempted by the federal law.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower-court ruling last year. AT&T subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.
William B. Gould IV, a professor emeritus at Stanford Law School and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board under President Clinton, said the high court was clearly interested in extending the reach of the Federal Arbitration Act.
"This is a very important issue," he said. "And this Supreme Court has indicated a measure of hostility toward class actions."