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Trial Lawyers for Public Justice News Alert

TLPJ Challenges Class Action Ban Before Washington Supreme Court

WHAT: A national public interest law firm will challenge a consumer class action ban today before the Washington Supreme Court in Scott v. Cingular Wireless. The Court will decide whether the cell phone giant, which allegedly charged roaming and long distance fees despite its promise to provide those services for free, can insulate itself from liability for small damages claims through mandatory arbitration clauses that ban its customers from bringing class actions against it.

WHEN: Tuesday, February 28, 2006, at 2:30 p.m. Pacific

WHERE: Washington Supreme Court, 45 12th Avenue, SW, Olympia, Washington

CONTACTS
    Jonathan Hutson, TLPJ Communications Director, 202-797-8600 x 246
    F. Paul Bland, Jr. – Staff Attorney, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, cell: 301-807-3417
    Leslie A. Bailey – Staff Attorney, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, cell: 415-608-8236
    Douglas S. Dunham – Attorney, Crane Dunham, PLLC, cell: 206-979-7064

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Olympia – The Washington Supreme Court today will hear Scott v. Cingular Wireless, a closely watched consumer rights case that will determine whether companies can ban their customers from filing class action lawsuits for any reason, including fraud or abuse. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ), a national public interest law firm, is fighting a tactic increasingly used by the cell phone giant and other companies trying to avoid accountability for cheating consumers: form contracts with mandatory arbitration clauses that prohibit consumers from bringing or participating in class actions.

"This is why industries use class action bans – because they effectively get a ‘free pass’ out of consumer protection lawsuits," says TLPJ Staff Attorney F. Paul Bland, Jr., who will argue Scott on behalf of some 100,000 Washington State cell phone customers at 2:30 p.m. today.

When Cingular customers sued in state court under state contract and consumer protection laws, Cingular tried to force them to arbitrate their claims individually, asserting that the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 (FAA) preempts – or trumps – state consumer protection laws. The trial court ruled in Cingular’s favor and the appellate court denied the consumers’ appeal. TLPJ argues that Cingular’s arbitration clause is unconscionable under Washington law because the class action ban is one-sided and exculpatory. TLPJ also argues that the FAA does not preempt Washington laws precluding companies from barring class actions in contract provisions, even when the provisions are included in an otherwise binding mandatory arbitration clause.

"By inserting a class action ban in the fine print of its ‘bill stuffers,’ Cingular ensured that most of its roughly 100,000 Washington customers would never see it or understand that they were giving up their rights just by continuing to use their cell phones," says TLPJ’s Leslie A. Bailey, the principal author of TLPJ’s briefs in Scott.

In addition to Bland and Bailey, the plaintiffs’ legal team in Scott includes Seattle attorneys Douglas S. Dunham and Steven J. Crane of Crane Dunham, and Steven Rosen of the Law Offices of Steve Rosen. TLPJ’s briefs in Scott v. Cingular Wireless are posted at http://www.tlpj.org/briefs_documents.htm.

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