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SCOTUS mulling the future of class-action suits

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Defense and plaintiffs attorneys alike have their eyes on the Supreme Court of the United States, which has before it a case that some say could spell the end to class-action lawsuits in the name of contractual arbitration.

The nation’s highest court is considering AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, No. 09-893, a case that comes from California and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The issue is whether the Federal Arbitration Act preempts states from allowing class arbitration or litigation as a part of an arbitration agreement. Dozens of amicus parties have filed briefs and the SCOTUS heard arguments today, meaning they’ll likely issue a decision at some point before the term ends in June 2011.

In this case, the consumers  - Liza and Vincent Concepcion - sued the phone giant after entering into a purchase agreement for cell phone service in California, claiming that AT&T fraudulently charged tax on a “free” phone despite advertising otherwise. The Concepcions sued on behalf of a class of consumers who’d also allegedly overpaid, but part of a customer service agreement they’d signed included an arbitration clause that requires the customer and company to arbitrate any disputes arising from the agreement.

When the Concepcions in 2006 filed the suit in the Southern District of California, AT&T argued the suit shouldn’t have been allowed because only arbitration could be used to resolve the dispute. The District Court held that the arbitration clause was unconscionable under that state’s law and wasn’t enforceable because it didn’t allow for class-action litigation, and the 9th Circuit affirmed on the grounds that the Federal Arbitration Act didn’t preempt California law on unconscionability.
Now, the justices are considering the issue and some national legal experts have opined that the justices may rule in AT&T’s favor. As a result, that could lead to significant changes throughout the country.

The National Workrights Institute argues that a court decision in AT&T’s favor could mean that employment cases wouldn’t be able to use class-action litigation and that wide-spread discriminatory practices would become more common because of the arbitration requirements. The Institute’s brief spells out how it fears attorneys wouldn’t be willing to take these and similar cases without the assurance of adequate attorneys’ fees that can come from class-action suits. Similar thoughts are echoed by other groups, such as the NAACP.

AT&T and some amicus parties, such as the Defense Research Institute, argue that the court striking down its arbitration clause would distort contract law and also signal a willingness to interfere with corporate operations. Millions of parties enter into arbitration agreements annually, and this case could determine what might happen with those agreements inside or out of court.
 

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  1. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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