Class action lawsuits allow large groups of consumers to recover damages in legal matters involving smaller claims or cases. Many times the amount in controversy is too small to warrant an individual lawsuit. Such is the situation for Vincent and Liza Conception who caught AT&T overcharging sales tax on their cell phones. The amount of the overcharge was only $30.00 per phone but AT&T was apparently doing this to all its California customers. A class action lawsuit was brought against AT&T in California for all similarly overcharged customers by the Conceptions. However, in the fine print of the Conception's contract was a clause that said they would not bring a deceptive trade practices class action against AT&T and had to make any claim via arbitration. Arbitration is an extremely expensive procedure and it is not a forum that lends itself to small claims or cases.
The Federal Court in California ruled the clause to be void and AT&T has appealled to the US Supreme Court which has agreed to hear the case this week. Legal scholars believe this somewhat unknown and low profile case could be the death of consumer class actions in America if the US Supreme Court rules in favor of AT&T. For more information on this important case please see: AT&T Mobility Services vs. Conception.
If it wrong for a company to deceptively take $3,000,000 from one consumer it should be as equally wrong for them to deceptively take $30 from 100,000 consumers. It is our hope the US Supreme Court will agree with this logic, but we fear a favorable ruling for AT&T will open the door for more large corporations to take advantage of their customers.