Results tagged “Consumer Law”

October 15, 2013

vairo2013.jpgBy Professor Georgene Vairo

On October 1-2, the ABA TIPS Asbestos Litigation Task Force held its second round of hearings at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. The Task Force was created to study the current state of asbestos litigation and consider ways in which fairness for both claimants and defendants can be achieved. The L.A. hearing, as well as an earlier hearing in Washington, D.C., revealed deep divisions among plaintiffs' attorneys and defendant attorneys on what needs to be done to deal with current aspects of what the U.S. Supreme Court once described as an "elephantine mass." Ortiz v. Fibreboard Corp., 527 U.S. 815, 821 (1999).

A 1991 Report of The Judicial Conference Ad Hoc Committee on Asbestos Litigation 2-3 (Mar. 1991) sets forth the challenge: "[This] is a tale of danger known in the 1930s, exposure inflicted upon millions of Americans in the 1940s and 1950s, injuries that began to take their toll in the 1960s, and a flood of lawsuits beginning in the 1970s. On the basis of past and current filing data, and because of a latency period that may last as long as 40 years for some asbestos related diseases, a continuing stream of claims can be expected. The final toll of asbestos related injuries is unknown. Predictions have been made of 200,000 asbestos disease deaths before the year 2000 and as many as 265,000 by the year 2015."

We are only two years away from that date, and the asbestos litigation has morphed significantly and shows no sign of abating any time soon. Back in 1991, the Judicial Conference report identified numerous problems: growing dockets in state and federal courts; delays in getting to trial; long trials with complex issues being litigated over and over; transaction costs that dwarfed any recovery. Additionally, "the exhaustion of assets threatens and distorts the process; and future claimants may lose altogether." One piece of "good news" is that the federal MDL that was established in the same year is near completion of the resolution of most of the cases filed in the federal courts.

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February 25, 2013


Kabateck.jpgBy Brian S. Kabateck '89, Guest Alumni Blogger

Concepcion v. AT&T, 131 S.Ct. 1750 (2011) is arguably the worst consumer Supreme Court decision in the last 20 years. Interestingly, there hasn't yet been a public outcry. In this horrible decision, the court held that the Federal Arbitration Act trumps all other laws. If you don't know the case and have been living in a bubble for the last two years, the facts are simple: The Concepcions sued AT&T Mobility claiming that their cell-phone company had engaged in deceptive advertising by falsely claiming that their plan included free cell phones. Their suit became a class action. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California refused to dismiss the suit despite the fact that the contract mandated binding arbitration and prohibited class action lawsuits. The district court ruled that California law prohibits consumer adhesion contracts that waive the customer's right to a jury trial, mandate arbitration and purport to waive the right to participate in a class action lawsuit. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court's decision. The Supreme Court disagreed and held that the Federal Arbitration Act (a law that was written before the Great Depression) mandated that any arbitration agreement was absolutely enforceable, even if it appears in a contract of adhesion.

Before Concepcion, contracts of adhesion couldn't force people into arbitration in California, and class action waivers were generally held unenforceable. There are many cases all across the United States today with varying decisions on the enforceability of mandatory binding arbitration agreements. There is no doubt that mandatory arbitration in consumer contracts of adhesion is bad for most Americans. The only groups that like the idea of mandatory arbitration are big business and the chamber of commerce. Arbitration doesn't discourage consumer litigation; it eliminates it entirely. Who is going to arbitrate a $75 dispute with your phone company provider? And if your phone company is overcharging you $75, where does the consumer go? Or a $500 dispute? Or a $1,000 dispute? While a $75 rip off may not be the worst thing that happens to a consumer, it nevertheless is wrong and should be stopped. And a $75 dispute magnified over tens of thousands of customers means millions of dollars the corporation is stealing from its consumers. The state and federal governments have neither the ability nor the resources to litigate these cases on behalf of consumers. So if class actions are eliminated for this category of cases, and the government won't enforce the laws, it is a license to steal from America.

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February 21, 2012

laurenwillisblog.jpgBy Professor Lauren Willis

This appeared on the Huffington Post.

The official question presented in the Supreme Court case Freeman v. Quicken Loans is whether the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) "prohibits a real estate settlement services provider from charging an unearned fee only if the fee is divided between two or more parties." The real question presented is whether the price people pay for obtaining a mortgage must be transparent, a price tag like any other.

RESPA says: "No person shall give and no person shall accept any portion, split, or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a real estate settlement service in connection with a transaction involving a federally related mortgage loan other than for services actually performed."

Some courts have held that this only prohibits kickbacks, such as when a broker (or loan officer, if the borrower is dealing directly with the lender) selects a title company for the borrower, the borrower pays the title company a $2,000 fee at closing, and the title company gives the broker or lender a $500 cut of that fee. Other courts have held that it also outlaws (1) bogus fees, such as when a broker or lender charges a $500 "loan discount fee" but then does not give the borrower any discount on his loan's interest rate, and (2) hidden overcharges, such as when a broker or lender tells the borrower that the "title inspection fee" is $2000 but the title company only charges $1,500 and the broker or lender pockets the difference.

When Congress enacted RESPA, the kickback scenario was a major concern. Therefore, in the subsection of the statute preceding the one quoted above, Congress prohibited giving or receiving "any fee, kickback, or thing of value" in exchange for referring business to a real estate settlement service provider. Having already prohibited kickbacks, Congress clearly intended the subsection prohibiting charges for services that were not actually performed to prohibit something other than kickbacks.

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