SANTA MONICA, Calif., April 27, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today's U.S. Supreme Court decision in AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Concepcion, invalidating California's protections against unfair provisions in contracts effectively eliminates the right of consumers to join together to fight powerful corporations in court and will lead to enormous abuses of consumers by corporations, Consumer Watchdog, a California non-profit consumer advocacy organization, said today.
You can read the opinion in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion by following this link to SCOTUSBLOG.
Here's what happened and why it matters. The Concepcions were entitled to "free" cell phones under their contract. Then AT&T charged them thirty bucks for "sales tax." They joined a class action with others who got shafted the same way. Everybody's claim was too small to litigate alone, but together they had something worth a lawyer's time.
But their contract contained a clause saying disputes had to go to arbitration, and could not be joined with a class action.
Under California case law that term in the contract was unenforceable because it is unconscionable. The Discover Bank case, decided by the California Supreme Court, held that such class action waivers contained in adhesion contacts are unenforceable.
AT&T argued that the Discover Bank ruling was pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act, which provides that arbitration agreements are "valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." The conservative voting bloc of the US Supreme Court (Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy) agreed with the big corporation and screwed the little consumer (what a surprise!)
Why does this matter? I expect to see such arbitration clauses and class action waivers in every single contract we get in our hands, from now on. The Supreme Court just gave corporate America a way to slam the door to the courthouse in our faces. No lawyer will litigate a thirty dollar case against a giant corporation. Now orporations can strip us of our class action rights just by inserting a term in a non-negotiable adhesion contract.
Will this include condominium or HOA declarations? I am sure it will be tried.