Posted on January 14, 2013 in General
On Tuesday, January 8th, Jordan M. Lewis, Esq., of Kelley/Uustal addressed members of the Broward County Justice Association at their monthly dinner meeting. Mr. Lewis, a class action specialist with favorable verdicts in several health insurance and worker’s rights litigation matters, discussed the implications of Concepcion v. AT&T, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011) – the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision stating the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 preempts any state laws which prohibit contracts from disallowing class-wide arbitration. By permitting contracts to exclude class action arbitrations, the high court’s decision will make it much harder for consumers to file class action lawsuits, a position Mr. Lewis considered to be against the public interest.
Although the decision has been widely understood and accepted to be a blow to individual consumer rights and the ability to form and file class actions, Mr. Lewis’ discussion explored other implications of the case. He believes the case represents a significant moral shift towards arbitration and private adjudication of disputes, and this trend – supported by the high court – can have a deleterious and chilling impact on the law. This negative effect on the status and development of case law will deplete common law of the precedent setting value of certain cases.
Furthermore, it will allow large corporations, who single-handedly draft the arbitration clauses, to impose their desires and preferences to keep disputes out of the public eye. They get to impose those restrictions on consumers who, more often than not, have no idea they are signing away their rights to a jury trial should a dispute arise. And these clauses have become common place: from everyday consumer agreements (credit cards, mortgages, phone services, etc.) to a variety of insurances (health, auto, even life).
Mr. Lewis also demonstrated that oftentimes, the only way certain cases can survive is through the development of a class, as individual claimants may have insufficient damages to warrant a lawsuit. For example, in his dissenting opinion in Concepcion – Justice Breyer stated “… that without class actions, minor frauds would not be remedied. What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Concepcions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim?”
Additionally, many individual claimants may not have the resources needed to wage the fight against large corporations and insurance companies, who often have large legal teams at their disposal to reduce their legal liabilities and protect their assets. That reasoning holds true in the variety of cases such as: improper debt collections, false advertising and fraud cases, unfair billing and reimbursement practices by insurance companies, as well as worker’s rights and discrimination cases. By limiting and/or eliminating this avenue for redress for consumers, the Concepcion decision severely hinders the remedies available to every day plaintiffs.
In regularly speaking about and presenting these matters to the public, Mr. Lewis and the attorneys at Kelley/Uustal will continue to fight against these positions and defend the rights of consumers, seeking Justice for All.