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One-Third of Top Websites Restrict Customers’ Right to Sue

The right to seek redress in the courts is every American's birthright, but it is being signed away everyday by consumers too busy to notice. When shopping or conducting business online, depending on the site you’re visiting, your legal rights get murky.

That’s because, tucked into the dense legalese of their terms-of-service rules, many of the Internet’s most popular sites have inserted language that forbids users from suing if something goes wrong.

These legal provisions, known as forced arbitration clauses and class-action ban clauses, have long been included in complex offline contracts like car leases. But their presence online — in documents people rarely see, let alone read — offers a new twist, with consequences for consumers that are still being sorted out by the courts. As more of everyday life moves online, companies are effectively creating rules that experts and activists say tilt the playing field away from the consumer.

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Capital One Agrees to $75M TCPA Class Action Settlement

Capital One Financial Corp. and three other collection agencies named in a consolidated Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) class action lawsuit last week agreed to pay a $75.5 million settlement after facing allegations that these companies utilized automated dialing telephone equipment to contact consumers’ cellphones without their consent.

This Capital One class action settlement is said to be largest case ever settled under the TCPA.

According to the preliminary approval given by U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman, Capital One, Leading Edge Recovery Solutions LLC, Capital Management Services LP, and Alliance One Receivables Management Inc. will collectively pay $75.5 million to a class action settlement fund for eligible Class Members. Additionally, these companies will have to change their business practices of cold-calling customer’s cellphones.

According to the Capital One TCPA lawsuit, the Class includes:

“All persons within the United States who received a non-emergency telephone call from Capital One’s dialer(s) to a cellular telephone through the use of an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice in connection with an attempt to collect on a credit card debt from January 18, 2008, through  June 30, 2014, and all persons within the United States who received  a non-emergency telephone call from a Participating Vendor’s dialer(s) made on behalf of Capital One to a cellular telephone through the use of an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice in connection with an attempt to collect on a credit card debt from February 28, 2009, through June 30, 2014.”
 
The settlement statement for the TCPA class action lawsuit states that Capital One will pay the majority of the settlement, about $73 million. Leading Edge will contribute close to $1 million, Alliance One will pay about $1.4 million, and CMS will pay more than $24,000. None of the named companies have admitted to any wrongdoing in the in this TCPA class action lawsuit.

The Capital One TCPA Class Action Lawsuit is In Re: Capital One Telephone Consumer Protection Act Litigation, Case No. 1:12-cv-10064, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

What Is The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)?

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was passed into law in 1991 by Congress with the intent to limit the ways in which companies could contact or solicit customers. Specifically, the TCPA restricted telephone soliciting and telemarketing made on automated telephone equipment with prerecorded or robotic voices. The TCPA also limits how and when any company can utilize an automated dialing system to leave computerized voice messages or text messages on the home phones or cellphones of clients, patients, and other consumers.

Additionally, the TCPA mandates that companies and solicitors to honor the National Do Not Call Registry, which all consumers are free to enroll in at any time.

Capital One is not the only company facing TCPA class action claims for allegedly violating consumers rights guaranteed under the TCPA. Hundreds of TCPA civil and class action lawsuits have been filed in the United States in just the past year by various consumers.

Jury Service in the Superior Courts of Los Angeles County

You may receive in the mail a Juror Affidavit from the court, stating that you have been randomly selected as a prospective juror. This means that your name was drawn, from a list of licensed drivers and identification card holders supplied by the Department of Motor Vehicles, or from the current list of registered voters in the county. Mailing lists, telephone directories, and utility company lists are not used to obtain names of potential jurors. You should carefully follow the instructions provided on your notice.

All names are drawn at random from the combined lists, which provide the court with a fair cross-section of the communities that it represents.

The California Code of Civil Procedure spells out the minimum requirements for a person competent to act as a juror. A qualified juror must be able to read and understand English, be a citizen of the United States, age 18 or older, and reside in Los Angeles County. You may not be a trial juror if you are serving as a Grand Juror in a court of this state, if you have been convicted of a malfeasance in office or any felony, unless your civil rights have been restored by a pardon, or if you are under a court-appointed conservatorship.

No eligible person is exempt from jury service by reason of occupation, race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status, or any other reason, including loss of sight or loss of hearing. 

In California, employers cannot discharge you or discriminate against you for taking time off to serve as required by law on an inquest jury or trial jury. But this only applies if you give your employer reasonable notice, before you take the time off, that you are required to serve.

You may request to be excused, if serving would create an extreme financial burden, if you have a physical or mental incapacity, if service would jeopardize protection of public health or safety, if you have a personal obligation to provide actual care for dependents, or if you have served as a trial or Grand Juror during the past 12 months, if you believe there is a medical reason why you should not serve as a juror, you will need to submit a written statement from your doctor.

If you fail to complete and return your Juror Affidavit, you may be deemed qualified and summoned for jury service.

President Signs Bill Restoring Consumer Right to Unlock Mobile Handsets

Consumers again have the right to unlock their mobile telephone handsets so that they can change carriers, after the president signed legislation restoring an exemption that expired more than a year ago.

The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act (S. 517) reverses a decision by the U.S. Copyright Office not to renew an exemption from federal anticircumvention law allowing cellphone unlocking.

Several bills were introduced in a flurry in early 2013, but finally in the past month, a streamlined version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, passed both houses of Congress.

Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge issued a statement supporting the enactment of the legislation.

“This law is going to make it much easier for consumers to switch from one carrier to another. As a result, competition in the wireless market will improve,” the statement said. “In addition, there will be more free and low-cost secondhand phones available on the secondary market.”

Text is available at
http://pub.bna.com/ptcj/113s517enr.pdf.

Regulators Accuse T-Mobile of Bogus Billing

Federal regulators are urging consumers to go through their phone bills line by line after they accused T-Mobile US of wrongly charging customers for premium services, like horoscope texts and quirky ringtones, the customers never authorized.

The Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday that it is suing T-Mobile in a federal court in Seattle with the goal of making sure every unfairly charged customer sees a full refund. The lawsuit, the first of its kind against a mobile provider, is the result of months of stalled negotiations with T-Mobile, which says it is already offering refunds.

North Carolina Supreme Court Decision Underscores Need For CFPB Action On Forced Arbitration

Public Justice responded to a request from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for input on a survey it wants to send consumers. A decision handed down a few weeks ago from the North Carolina Supreme Court in Torrence v. Nationwide Budget Finance, involving lenders using forced arbitration clauses to suppress valid legal claims by their customers. In the Torrence case, the court refused to do anything about a case in which people harmed by predatory and illegal loans lost all their legal rights because of a forced arbitration clause to which they had not really even agreed.

Read more HERE


Whole Foods Fined for Overcharging California Customers

After a year-long investigation, the attorneys general of Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Monica took the supermarket chain, Whole Foods to task for failing to deduct the weight of containers when charging for self-serve foods from the salad bar and hot bar, overstating the weight of products sold by the pound, and selling prepared deli foods by the piece rather than by the pound, as required by law.

The chain has been smacked with an $800,000 fine, and all 74 stores in the state are subject to a five-year court injunction. That includes $630,000 in civil penalties, $100,000 to a statewide consumer protection trust fund and $68,394 in investigation costs.

Under the terms of the agreement, Whole Foods must appoint two state coordinators to oversee pricing accuracy at all of its stores in California and designate an employee at each store to be responsible for ensuring correct pricing. The chain also must conduct random price-check audits at each store quarterly.

Cops Can No Longer Search Your Phone

Police didn't need a warrant to search your smartphone. They only needed to have probable cause to arrest you. If your phone was with you, all its contents was theirs for the browsing. The U.S. Supreme Court, in weighing a Southern California case, said that's no longer true: Search warrants are necessary except in exigent emergencies.

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the Supreme Court's decision. Steven R. Shapiro, national legal director of the group, said:

By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today’s decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans. We have entered a new world but, as the court today recognized, our old values still apply and limit the government’s ability to rummage through the intimate details of our private lives.

Physicians with Substance Abuse Problems Continue to Work

Government studies indicate at least 100,000 doctors — or about one in 10 currently working — is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some are performing surgeries while stoned, injuring and even killing unsuspecting patients, according to TODAY national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen, who found numerous cases of doctors busted for substance abuse. 

Read more... HERE



Big-Business Influence: Madonnna, Jury Trials and Mandatory Arbitration

The “right” to a civil jury trial to decide a dispute in countless arenas has been eliminated. Instead, consumers and workers are confronted with contractual “mandatory” arbitration clauses which are in small print and which are not “bargained for” in the process of buying a product or accepting employment.

The influence of big business on our Supreme Court and elected officials over the years has resulted in a reality that civil “justice” is a joke, particularly for consumers and most employees. Our “right” to go to court has been virtually eliminated and in its place, the process of binding arbitration now resolves most consumer, employment, anti-trust, and civil rights disputes. Arbitration has virtually eliminated an aggrieved person’s right to go to court and seek justice.

Read more HERE 

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