WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2012 -- Today, consumer advocates announced the formation of Consumers Count, a non-profit organization aimed at restoring consumers' constitutional right to trial by jury in cases where they have been wronged by a corporation.
That basic right was eliminated by the Supreme Court last year when, in a 5-4 decision in AT&T v. Concepcion, the Court upheld the notion that corporations may force consumers to litigate their claims for corporate wrongdoing before corporate-friendly private arbitrators rather than before a jury of their peers.
Now at ConsumersCount.org, individuals can identify, discuss and aggregate their claims so they may face corporations together, defying the efforts of a company – and an anti-consumer Supreme Court – to isolate their complaints in a way that limits accountability and encourages unethical behaviors.
"Arbitration is a pseudo-judicial process that overwhelmingly favors corporations, substituting impartial juries for hand-selected private decision-makers," said Philip Friedman, co-founder and president of Consumers Count. "Using social media tools, Consumers Count is designed to turn arbitration into an unexpected nightmare for corporations, expose forced arbitration as the kangaroo court that it is and lead a movement aimed at restoring consumer rights and the constitutional right of trial by jury."
Since the decision in AT&T v. Concepcion, in which the Court sided with AT&T over a customer who was forced to pay for a "free phone," a number of cable TV, mobile phone, satellite radio, automobile, paying lending and bankcard companies have added mandatory arbitration clauses to their contracts, eliminating a consumer's ability to avail himself of the legal system.
At ConsumersCount.org, the organization has identified a number of alleged unfair corporate practices for which out-of-court arbitration has been prescribed as a remedy. These include Nissan's refusal to refund lease payments to military veterans under the provisions of a federal law; BB&T's persistence in charging overdraft fees even when the account contains sufficient funds to cover the payments; and title insurance companies' indifference to a law requiring them to provide a mandatory discount to those who have refinanced their homes within the last 10 years.
In each of these cases – and in dozens of others involving companies including T-Mobile, Dell, Microsoft, DirecTV, Comcast, eBay and American Express– the affected consumers have been pushed into arbitration.
"Arbitration is not about giving you speedy resolution for a complaint you may have against a corporation," said Gary Mason, co-founder and vice president of Consumers Count. "Arbitration is making sure that if you have a grievance against a company, you are alone in fighting the corporate wrongdoer. And given that fact, Corporate America is betting big that you will not have the energy, the resources or the time to pursue your claim. But if enough people, galvanized by Consumers Count, come forward and press their case, we believe corporations will be forced disavow arbitration and return to a legal system guaranteed by the Constitution."
"As the head of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, I've seen firsthand how far too many corporations have used unfair and deceptive practices, from predatory lending to abusive fees and penalties, to squeeze unsuspecting consumers," said Ira Rheingold, NACA's executive director. "One essential way of holding these businesses honest and accountable is by simply restoring a consumer's right to take corporations to court. I commend Consumers Count for giving a voice to those wronged by Corporate America and for creating a movement to reinstate consumers' fundamental right to seek justice in our public court system."
"Most corporations that use arbitration clauses in their consumer contracts do so to get a big advantage over their customers," said Paul Bland, senior attorney at Public Justice, a national public interest law firm. "The advocates behind Consumers Count have some creative ideas, and they hope to even the playing field for consumers. Given the way corporations have tried to rig the deal, I wish them success in their endeavors."
"It is shameful that a narrow Supreme Court majority has promoted the excesses of corporations over the freedoms of individuals, from AT&T v. Concepcion to Citizens United," Friedman added. "As the Supreme Court begins its new term, Consumers Count is telling Corporate America that no matter what a politicized Court says, we will not relinquish our Seventh Amendment rights without a fight, and the American people will stand up for their basic right to have their day in court."
For more information about Consumers Count, visit us at http://consumerscount.org.