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Supreme Court Ruling in A.T. & T. v. Concepcion Approves Class Action Bans in Consumer Contracts

posted by Nathalie Martin

What a depressing day in the law of consumer protection. We’ll get to that in a minute, but in the meantime, I heard a humorous radio program this morning in which Europeans were complaining about how you never know the real price of anything in America. Things seem cheap, but once you consider the taxes, the tipping, the hidden ad-ons, the price is so much more.  There is no transparency. Boy, they don’t know the half of it. At times it seems everywhere you turn, you find a scam or an unauthorized fee. Thank goodness for the legal system, right? The way we can all fight back?

Ahem...not so fast. Most Americans can’t access attorneys. A Huff Post article reports on a world-wide survey, that ranks the U. S. lowest among 11 developed in providing access to justice to its citizens, and lower than some third-world nations.

When it comes to access to legal services in civil disputes, the U.S. ranks 20 out of the 35 nations surveyed, below not only developed nations but also such countries as Mexico, Croatia and the Dominican Republic. This survey was taken last year, at a time when consumers could still recover small amounts of money for rip-offs through class actions. This may no longer be true. 

Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, A T & T v. Concepcion, appears to hold that companies can stick No Class Action clauses into their adhesion contracts, essentially cutting off access to attorneys in any action in which the amount at stake is too small to interest an attorney. Tell me I am reading this wrong….pretty please?

The ADR Prof Blog has suggested that the decision can be interpreted narrowly and all I can say is, I hope so.


So would you rather sue in Croatia or the US? Regardless of the survey, I can't imagine a single lawyer opting to pursue claims there if both are options.

Having once gone to a free, government funded, lawyer in Mexico, I can assure you that I'd rather be pro se in the US! It was a nightmare.

it's not lack of access to a lawyer that is the miscarriage of justice. defendants like these aren't affected by individual lawsuits. only class actions concern them, and hence only class actions influence these defendants to be better corporate citizens.

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