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Supreme Court: AT&T Can Force Arbitration

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the anywhere-it-wants-to dept.

Businesses 415

suraj.sun writes with this unhappy news, as reported by Ars Technica: "The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that AT&T — and indeed, any company — could block class-action suits arising from disputes with customers and instead force those customers into binding arbitration. The ruling reverses previous lower-court decisions that classified stipulations in AT&T's service contract which barred class arbitration as 'unconscionable.' ... In cases where an unfair practice affects large numbers of customers, AT&T or other companies could quietly settle a few individual claims instead of being faced with larger class-action settlements which might include punitive awards designed to discourage future bad practices."

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415 comments

Oohh.. (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967810)

Mandatory corporate kangaroo courts! What could possibly go wrong?

Re:Oohh.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968352)

US, land of the corporate

Absolutely nothing. (4, Interesting)

KingSkippus (799657) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968646)

Absolutely nothing, pretty much guaranteed.

...If you're a corporation.

I think that was the whole point over fighting such a silly case all the way up to the Supreme Court--to virtually guarantee that you can never be subject to a class action case again. Let's not kid ourselves, who here thinks that any company will ever again sell any service again without a clause in it forcing arbitration and disallowing class action lawsuits?

South Park (2, Funny)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967822)

Basically, the Supreme Court saw last night's South Park [southparkstudios.com] and said "Yeah, that's exactly how the legal system should work!"

Re:South Park (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967952)

Hilariously, of course, Justice Antonin "the originalist" Scalia was on the side of the majority, voting against the idea that states had the right to regulate the limits of contractual obligations; because that would be at odds with the intent of the FAA... Though, this was the guy who gave us the broadest definition of "interstate commerce" that could (un)reasonably be imagined in Gonzales v. Raich.

Common?? (1)

softWare3ngineer (2007302) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967840)

I can only assume languages such as this is fairly common? Can companies do this to employees also??

Re:Common?? (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967886)

They certainly can try, apparently [go.com] . It sure is a good thing that we have arbitration clauses to prevent people gang-raped on the job from having the hassle of an actual trial, when they could simply have a closed-door proceeding run by somebody hired by their employer instead...

Re:Common?? (2)

sorak (246725) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968626)

They can. And I would recommend you read fuzzyfuzzyfungus' link. Al Franken proposed a bill placing limits on what companies could arbitrate, which did pass, with GOP opposition. The bill stated that the Government cannot hire contractors that require arbitration in cases of rape, sexual harassment, discrimination, etc.

In Canada... (4, Interesting)

awehttam (779031) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967876)

For contrast: B.C. consumers can't sign away class-action right [www.cbc.ca] : Canada's highest court ruled Friday that British Columbia consumers can pursue class action lawsuits even after signing contracts that appear to waive that right.

*shrug*

Re:In Canada... (0)

just_another_sean (919159) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967904)

Go Canada! At least someone has some common sense left.

Re:In Canada... (1)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967972)

Only in certain matters; that 25GB bandwidth cap is still on the table.

Re:In Canada... (3, Interesting)

Jailbrekr (73837) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967970)

We also have pretty good labour laws. Non compete clauses are difficult to enforce as no contract can cause a person undue hardship when seeking gainful employment. So if you're only recourse is to leave the city to find work or take a significant pay cut, that non compete clause essentially evaporates.

Yay for common sense.

Re:In Canada... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968154)

We also have pretty good labour laws. Non compete clauses are difficult to enforce as no contract can cause a person undue hardship when seeking gainful employment. So if you're only recourse is to leave the city to find work or take a significant pay cut, that non compete clause essentially evaporates.

Crazy Nucks with your "people are people, too" mentality...

Re:In Canada... (3, Informative)

debrain (29228) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968450)

Several provinces also have legislation protecting the right to pursue remedy by Courts (effectively allowing class proceedings).

This sort of legislation arose in response to arbitration clauses such as the one in AT&T, and in particular one in an agreement with Dell Computer (see Dell Computer Corp. v. Union des consommateurs, 2007 SCC 34, [2007] 2 S.C.R. 801 [canlii.org] ), that prevented class proceedings. See e.g. paragraph 64 of Griffin v. Dell Canada Inc., 2010 ONCA 29 (CanLII) [canlii.org] .

An example of the legislation in question is in section 7 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2002 [gov.on.ca] in Ontario.

Lawyers (4, Interesting)

increment1 (1722312) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967880)

I'm slightly torn on this. On the one side, this means that there won't be ridiculous class action settlements where the class members get a $5 coupon towards future purchases while the lawyers get millions of dollars. On the other side, it effectively removes the only real consumer protection from wide spread practices.

I'd have to say, I'm leaning more towards it being a bad thing.

Re:Lawyers (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968030)

The fun thing about arbitration is that and individual is likely to only be involved in one or two cases, if that. This makes them a poor "customer" of arbitration services. Large companies, on the other hand, might deal with hundreds or thousands of cases a year. Guess which side an arbiter hoping for future work might consider favoring...

Sure -- if you remove the risk of disbarment. (1)

GodInHell (258915) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968404)

i.e. -- Congrats, ATT loves you, you're no longer a lawyer!!

Re:Lawyers (4, Insightful)

shadowfaxcrx (1736978) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968138)

Class actions aren't intended to bring restitution to the victims of corporate malfeasance. They're intended to apply enough leverage to significantly punish the corporations. If you want restitution, file your own lawsuit. If you want to teach the corporation never to do that again, join the class action.

Basically, in a class action, you've already been screwed, and there's no way to get unscrewed, but at least you can take down the SOB who screwed you.

Re:Lawyers (5, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968538)

The problem is that the contract prohibits private lawsuits. So, if AT&T "forces" you to go the individual route, they are then entitled to have the case thrown out as a contract violation. The supreme court only ruled that AT&T could force individual arbitration, it said nothing about AT&T then having to allow said arbitration to proceed.

Re:Lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968328)

Or it might start choking off the endless stream of stupid lawsuits by ambulance chasers looking to get rich by suing companies every time some tiny flaw emerges in one of their products (with the nice byproduct of a less clogged court system). "What? An iPhone screen might get a scratch if I drop it on the concrete? Lawsuit! Consumers deserve millions in compensation!" And bang! Apple (or whoever) ends up paying millions to settle because it's cheaper than fighting the lawsuit. It's one step removed what patent trolls do...and we know how Slashdotters feel about that particular strategy. It's just not that different.

Under this Supreme Court decision, some of these ambulance chasers might think twice about filing those suits. Instead of facing the choice between an expensive settlement or a lengthy lawsuit decided by a tech-ignorant, easily inflamed jury, now the company can demand arbitration and the lawsuit-happy lawyers on the other side would have to convince an arbiter with some actual tech-savvy that they've got a case.

Now imagine that... (5, Informative)

GodInHell (258915) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968452)

McDonalds requires every employee to sign away class action rights -- boom, they can nick a buck off each employee every day and it will never be worth an individual suit. They can just fire you as the total from you approaches the cost of filing your claim.

Add in Walmart and all the other chain stores and shady dealers. This ruling was NOT limited to consumer cases.

-GiH

(Yes, IAAL)

Re:Lawyers (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968680)

I'm slightly torn on this. On the one side, this means that there won't be ridiculous class action settlements where the class members get a $5 coupon towards future purchases while the lawyers get millions of dollars. On the other side, it effectively removes the only real consumer protection from wide spread practices.

I'd have to say, I'm leaning more towards it being a bad thing.

Uh, yeah. Class action suits suck, but in some cases they're all you have. This decision says you don't even have that.

Wonderful, just wonderful (3, Insightful)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967888)

This is what 8 years of Bush bought us folks, a Supreme Court on the take (look it up, it's a fact that Clarance Thomas took bribes). Hopefully a few of 'em 'll retire while the Dems are in and Obama'll man up and put some liberals in.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (3, Interesting)

NevarMore (248971) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967998)

This is what 8 years of Bush bought us folks, a Supreme Court on the take (look it up, it's a fact that Clarance Thomas took bribes). Hopefully a few of 'em 'll retire while the Dems are in and Obama'll man up and put some liberals in.

Which will go stunningly well I'm sure. The courts will run like a well oiled machine then.

Call me jaded, but when I choose between modern liberals and modern conservatives I'm really choosing which set of rights I want them to try and take.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (3, Insightful)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968226)

Comparing "modern" Liberals or Conservatives, I find little different...

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (0)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968026)

Fuck Obama, and all this stupid politics.. He and the party are on their side.. Always have been, in case you haven't noticed yet. It's time for the damn customer to man up and read their contracts, and mark out the parts they don't like..

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968198)

You might want to see how Obama's appointees ruled in this case before ranting about how they're all on the same side. Because, you see, there were two sides to this ruling and his appointees ruled against the corporations.

You don't just get to make up your own damn facts.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968238)

Good luck every getting a cellphone or cable or Internet service again.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (1)

Ruke (857276) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968312)

Seriously? Mark out the parts of your phone contract that you don't like? You just don't get a phone, then. AT&T absolutely, positively, will not budge on this.

I assume you mean that if everyone did it, the phone companies would have to play ball. So instead of having a justice system that makes just decisions, you merely propose enacting a significant change in the lifestyle of every person within the United States? This won't happen. I'm truly sorry; it would be wonderful if it did, but it is an unrealistic expectation. We have to make decisions based on the world that we live in, not the world we wish we lived in.

contracts my arse (1)

fregare (923563) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968396)

And? You have no bargaining power! Most people are sheep. For example in NJ you have to give 2 months deposit for a lease as opposed to NYC's 1 month. I guess I could move to NYC and get 1 month in a lease. Sure I can say strike that from the lease and their response will be go strike the sidewalk.
Landlords have a lobby group and change laws at their whim via political contributions and lobbying. Renters do not have such an option because they do not have a profit motive and the American mentality as evidenced by people driving SUVs is that everyone is basically out for themselves. We have no national health system and never will. If we do have one it will be a ridiculous implementation which only helps drug companies, drs, etc. as evidenced by Obrama care. Our medical care is one of the worst in the world as measured by band for the buck.
Yeah right stike that from the contract. Fat chance.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (2)

wardred (602136) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968478)

Aaaaannnndddd, what, not accept cell service, phone service, cable service, not go to any live shows of any sort, not have power, or any other service because we don't like the contract, the company won't change it for you - though they'll happily change it on a regular basis to make it more restrictive and/or more difficult to read?

I don't think there's a single EULA out there that I agree with, and I'd argue they shouldn't be binding as a rule since you can't even read them in many cases until AFTER you've opened the product you purchased. (At least where computers, phones, consoles, etc. are concerned. Good luck with returning the thing if you don't like the terms of service after you've opened it.)

Even in the cases where you can read the contract before you get the service, you're in a position where "bargaining" won't do you any good. It's either service their way, or no service at all for many things - power, broadband, cable, etc. If you don't want it, one customer protesting on principles is no skin off of their nose. Heck, I'd argue the sheer number of times the legalese changes is abusive. Who actually has the time / money to go through and see how line item 5 in paragraph 15 of page 20 in their service agreement is reaming them?

A LITTLE bit of leverage in the way of class action law suits, and a government that tells companies they CAN'T put certain things in these "one way" contracts isn't unwarranted. Way back when, when book publishers tried to put in EULAs in physical books to prevent the used book market, we ruled that they couldn't Now we seem to be sliding back to the "you've bought it, but we own it and get to tell you what you can do with it." model.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (4, Insightful)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968054)

Hopefully a few of 'em 'll retire while the Dems are in and Obama'll man up and put some liberals in

Do we even have any real Liberals left anywhere? Obama, Pelosi, Clinton, and their ilk are basically so centrist they're "Republican Lite". Surely I'm not the only left-leaning person who feels unrepresented. As far as that goes, the Republicans don't do a particularly good job at representing conservatives, either.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (2)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968338)

Obama, Pelosi, Clinton, and their ilk are basically so centrist they're "Republican Lite".

Centrist? I don't think that's a good description. They are all conservatives, with a few notable exceptions on specific policies (namely, health care). But even then, they ushered in a healthcare reform that other developed nations laugh at -- even if it is better than nothing.

I think we need to come up with another, better, descriptive axis on the US political viewpoint chart that reflects what I think frustrates both you and me.

I hate how loaded the terms are, but really it's about the bourgeoisie and the proletariat... make no mistake, the "corporatism" that has infected both major political parties in the US is really just another term for those who favor the bourgeoisie. While I don't advocate a Marxist revolution, we need to find a solution to the problem of domination of the proletariat.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (1, Interesting)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968212)

It is not a fact that Clarence Thomas took bribes. It is a left wing interpretation of a situation based on the fact that Clarence Thomas is a black Republican. Democrats believe that the only reason a black man would hold the views he does is because someone bribed him. Of course, I have trouble understanding how a black man can support the Party that opposed the abolition of slavery and created the Ku Klux Klan.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968418)

Once again, you ignore the fact that the party makeups have change over the last 60-150 years. Dishonest, or just stupid? I suspect you're probably a lot of both.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (1)

omnichad (1198475) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968568)

I have trouble understanding how a black man can support the Party that opposed the abolition of slavery and created the Ku Klux Klan.

And I suppose you want to boycott Volkswagen because they support a country that brought about the Holocaust.
 
Face it, today's Republican party has nothing to do with the party of even 100 years ago. Same goes for Democrats.

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (5, Informative)

MaskedSlacker (911878) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968574)

I have trouble understanding how a black man can support the Party that opposed the abolition of slavery and created the Ku Klux Klan.

You might want to crack open a history book sometime. Lincoln was a Republican. The Republican party was founded as an abolitionist party. At the founding of the KKK the south was nigh universally Democratic (because the Republicans had abolished slavery).

Sure, the Republican party has radically changed in the last seventy years so that it's senseless to say it's the party of Lincoln or the party of Teddy Roosevelt, but that doesn't change the fact that you have no clue what you're talking about.

Er.. define "retire." (1)

GodInHell (258915) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968516)

Because the 5 conversatives are all relatively young . . . I'm not about to pull a Robertson anytime soon, but it seems thats the only way this court will shift under Obama.

-GiH

Re:Wonderful, just wonderful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968608)

George W Bush appointed two Justices (neither of which was Thomas, btw). Obama has also appointed two. I'm not sure how "blame Bush" flies here.

Class actions lawsuits are ridiculous anyway. (3, Insightful)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967894)

They're just a way for legal firms to make ridiculous amounts of money. They're an abomination.

Re:Class actions lawsuits are ridiculous anyway. (4, Insightful)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968196)

Class action suits are good for one thing, though. Class action suits means that a firm doing something wrong will get punished with a hefty fine, especially if punitive damages are added in, which discourages them from continuing their wrongdoing.

By contrast, arbitration claim means that individual claimants must make individual claims which is harder and results in fewer claims against the company, and thus a much lower payout.

A company would much rather get 1000 people making individual arbitration claims and pay them 100 bucks each instead of a 10,000 people class action suit and pay out $5 million at once.

Re:Class actions lawsuits are ridiculous anyway. (1)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968324)

Nothing stopping a jury/judge in an individual claim from laying out a hefty punitive judgment. If that couple won and got $50 in damages and $50k in punitive, probably 50000 more people would be lining up to get their money too. At that point AT&T might be begging for a class action.

Basically, lawyers love class action suits. Anything lawyers love is inherently evil - there's really not much you need to know or think about beyond that.

"Class action" should be stripped from our legal system, or drastically changed - it's bullshit.

Re:Class actions lawsuits are ridiculous anyway. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968430)

No, they would be forced into binding arbitration. Since AT&T hires the arbitrator you can be sure the waiting list is years long and the outcomes vastly in their favor.

Re:Class actions lawsuits are ridiculous anyway. (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968426)

Shame that they can't just not be assholes, and not have to pay at all (because they didn't fuck everyone)

... if you agreed to it (4, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967926)

AT&T can only force arbitration if you agreed to it in your contract. Which you did. All major companies make it a condition of the sale.

What the court decided is that you can't get out of your contractual agreement with a class-action suit.

The unconscionable part here is the law that they're upholding, the Federal Arbitration Act [wikipedia.org] , which basically lets you give up your right to sue. You don't have to, but they don't have to give you the service, unless you agree to meet in a court of their choosing. Which, of course, they'll always require, as long as the law allows them to.

That's been upheld before. This case is just deciding that the federal law trumps state anti-arbitration laws. I find it unconscionable in both cases, and "unconscionable" is supposed to be a way out of contracts, but the existence of the federal law and 5 Republican appointees on the Supreme Court says I'm wrong.

Re:... if you agreed to it (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968064)

Which, of course, they'll always require, as long as the law allows them to.

It's bigger than just the Federal Arbitration Act law. Cell phone companies enjoy a natural N-opoly (where N is a small integer) because it's hard to set nationwide coverage, and the FCC doesn't just let anyone use the airwaves.
There's no market incentive to offer a service where you don't have to sue, since all the other players put these clauses into their contracts. The cell phone providers don't actually collude on this, they just have to see what the others use in their contracts. (Anyone know when they started doing this? If ever there was a case for business practice patents, this is it. Perhaps we can award the originator of bad practices a retroactive patent so that only they will be able to use a particular bad practice.)

Re:... if you agreed to it (2)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968530)

The problem is that AT&T is a regulated monopoly. If the only companies that offer the service are monopolies, and they all force you to sign a contract that denies your right to sue, then the government has effectively taken away your right to sue. They just did it indirectly. Ex: There are two phone carriers that operate in my area: AT&T and Verizon. If both of them have contracts that deny my right to sue, then my only option is to forego service. That isn't reasonable.

Official: Law no longer applies to corporations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35967946)

Woo! This sounds like a good idea!!

The United Fascist States of America (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35967956)

The corporate dictatorship of America shits on it's citizens again.

Anyone else tired of the treasonous supreme court?

Re:The United Fascist States of America (1)

mdarksbane (587589) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968466)

As opposed to the congress that passed the law to begin with?

Or the democratic congress that did nothing to change it?

By the letter of the law, I'm having a hard time seeing the unconstitutionality. Federal law generally trumps state, and free association is protected. It's an awful law, but bad law doesn't make it unconstitutional.

What is arbitration? (4, Interesting)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967982)

Arbitration = "impartial" non-accredited non-monitored unaccountable random person bought and paid for, who if he decides for the customer more than once in a great while is fired in favor of another "impartial" random person. Alternate definition: how to bribe a civil court judge legally.

No arbiter can be impartial. Their livelihood depends upon bias and outright prejudice (as in "pre-judging"). It is not an honorable profession.

Re:What is arbitration? (4, Insightful)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968140)

No arbiter can be impartial. Their livelihood depends upon bias and outright prejudice (as in "pre-judging"). It is not an honorable profession.

Like a judge appointed for life?

Anyway, the state could set up their own arbitration board, and when a case comes up, they assign someone from the board. The companies would pay for the board, but they wouldn't have hiring and firing decisions. That would make it more impartial.

Re:What is arbitration? (2)

NevarMore (248971) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968204)

That would be worse. With private arbiters there are records and standards of conduct and a very obvious financial link between the arbiter and one of the parties in the case.

With a board appointed by the state you'd either have another minor election the voters don't understand or a backdoor system of favor and connections to be appointed to it. It would also eliminate a very obvious link and replace it with one of political donations and favor that makes it easier to obscure the source of money.

Furthermore, when you think of state boards do you think of sources of fairness and efficiency?

Finally, arbiters are usually paid either 50/50 by both parties or by the 'loser' of a decision rather than 100% by one party.

Re:What is arbitration? (2)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968332)

Finally, arbiters are usually paid either 50/50 by both parties or by the 'loser' of a decision rather than 100% by one party.

If an arbiter finds against the corporation enough times, they get paid $0 when the company stops using him or her.

Re:What is arbitration? (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968620)

With the current system, the arbitrators find for the companies something like 90% over the time. You think a backdoor system could get much worse. (Ok, maybe)

Another poster wrote:

If an arbiter finds against the corporation enough times, they get paid $0 when the company stops using him or her.

Here's a fix. I bring my professional arbitrator and the company brings their professional arbitrator. (both licensed and registered) At the beginning of the meeting, a coin is flipped and one arbitrator goes home.

A Supreme Court No More (4, Insightful)

dmgxmichael (1219692) | more than 2 years ago | (#35967990)

Justice Roberts once again proves his obedience to his corporate masters. Once upon a time the SCOTUS was seen as above such petty matters. Now it is clearly the pawn of the corporations - and this has been obvious ever since the ruling which allowed the corporations unlimited access to fund/bribe politicians.

Re:A Supreme Court No More (2, Informative)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968262)

SCOTUS didn't say you have to submit to arbitration in all cases, just in dumb suits like this one.

most states have a law where you pay the sales tax on the full pre-coupon price. AT&T had a special on a phone where they gave it away for "free". idiot couple paid the tax. instead of giving back the phone they sued. this should have been kicked back to small claims court not a class action lawsuit that will cost millions of $$$ to fight

So, you know, Sony, here's some low hanging fruit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968008)

Damn, and I was going to jump on the class action against Sony for the PSN/Qriocity security breach fiasco.

It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contract (1, Troll)

DavidinAla (639952) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968020)

The headline is inflammatory and wrong. AT&T can't force you to do anything. All this says is that AT&T can have an element in a contract -- that you can enter into or not -- that if there's a dispute, it goes to arbitration instead of court. If you aren't willing to accept that clause, you don't sign the contract. It's just like any other condition. If you don't like a price or a part of the service or whatever, don't sign a contract.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968094)

Yeah, just pick one of the zero phone companies that have no arbitration clause. What the heck do you need phone service for? Or natural gas, or electricity!

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968112)

And you are not a slave if you agree to work for free for the rest of your life with the option of transfer...

Yeah, sure. (3, Insightful)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968126)

So next time you'll have a choice between two operators. Both of them will have 'mandatory arbitration' clause.

Sure, no pressure. You can always move to another country, right?

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968132)

Umm, given the fact that AT&T is gradually regaining monopoly status, soon it will be able to force anyone who wants a cell phone to do things.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968294)

AT&T (the current company) never had monopoly status. The company that was named AT&T that had a telephone monopoly made the wrong choices as to what services to offer and went out of business. The name was purchased by one of the local telephone companies that was split out of the original AT&T along with a few business divisions that had some value.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (1)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968158)

So where is the consumer's power to resist such a thing if every phone company uses it (which clearly they will)?

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (2)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968496)

Well, "supposedly" you can negotiate your contract.

Nevermind that the squibs in the stores (or on the phone, whatever) would look at you like you're insane if you even tried to do so.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968180)

Perfect. So when all cell phone companies add this clause, I guess my option is to not have a cell phone. Same for cable, or the contract I have with the guy who cuts my grass. No problem. Of course when the same clauses start showing up in EVERY contract, that whole idea of, "Well, it's your choice, just don't enter into the contract." kind of falls apart when it comes to electricity, and a car, and a house, and a job, and....

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (1)

Zeromous (668365) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968182)

So what happens when Binding Arbitration Clause is in every EULA and Service Agreement available?

What now David? And here I thought you might have more sympathy for taking down giants.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968184)

And even if you do sign the contract that doesn't mean the company has to do it. I had a problem with US Cellular and tried to get binding arbitration and it never happened. One hand was saying, "You can't sue because you signed the contract." While the other was saying, "You'll have to wait in line behind everyone else." After a year I gave up. (Which is probably what everyone else did as well.) :P

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968202)

Right, except that every major corporation includes such language in their contracts and terms of service, etc. Your choices are really don't have any modern services, or "agree" to bad faith contracts.
      One of the major reasons i have a cheap prepaid cell phone is I don't have to sign such a bad faith contract for it. You can't get a reasonable offer from version,at&t, sprit, whoever. Internet service, or renting are just about hopeless on that count though. Noone is offering fair terms. noone.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (1)

YesDinosaursDidExist (1268920) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968246)

Yeah ok - AT&T can do it and save millions of dollars (while screwing the customer)...so I guess all those other large companies in the US won't do the same thing because its "wrong" and money doesn't mean anything to them...they're not for profit right?!

Well if that's the case I;ll just take my money and invisible hand and go to another company......oh wait.....

.

....maybe my only option is not not have a phone, not have internet, not have TV....and just like never buy anything and just not do business with ANY large company that will of course change their policies to reflect the ruling? Sure...ok...you're right...its not forced...I'll just have no modern product or service that most people consider necessary to live...im better than them anyway.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (1)

SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968284)

Within a couple of months, ALL the companies will have this provision in their contracts. Then there is no choice if you want the service.

Some "free" market.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968458)

If a company writes in it's EULA that you revoke your body and soul to Lucifer and Co. it's still slavery \ prostitution \ heresy to the flying spaghetti monster.

They might as well sign people on clauses of no liability to quality and service of the products. This way they can sell you cars that don't drive, software that doesn't run and drugs that don't cure - but poison. Then, refer any complaints to the now industry standard contract, and PROFIT.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (1)

Ruke (857276) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968472)

The dispute is whether you're able to sign away your right to sue. There is a term in contract law called Unconscionability [wikipedia.org] , which basically prevents one party from abusing their superior bargaining power to write provisions into the contract that overwhelmingly favor their own interests. There are certain things that you cannot be pressured into signing away, and, until recently, the right to a class action lawsuit was among them.

Re:It's not "forced" if you agree to it in a contr (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968522)

The problem is that there are enough people out there who *will* sign the contract, regardless. And for the most part, these people will be unaffected, which gives them no indication that they made a poor decision.

Similarly, since people continue to waive their rights, there's no incentive for the corporation to change its policy; there's no indication that they made a poor decision. Which leaves those of us who *don't* want to sign our rights away with two equally unpleasant options: 1) Sign up and waive our rights, or 2) opt out and do without what's considered a standard part of modern life.

This is exactly the sort of thing that cries out for regulation. There is no free market solution to this problem. Even if an entire population suddenly decided they did not want to agree to binding arbitration, they would be powerless to change it, because it's neither practical nor economical for everyone to cancel their contracts. And so having achieved its critical mass, especially in light of its market dominance and barriers to entry for new competition, AT&T and other corporations are free to continue their abuse of the consumers from which they derive their existence. What a beautiful relationship.

Felling A Little Snug (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968034)

I've always found the concept of binding arbitration interesting. Especially when the companies are always the ones who already know who the arbiters are.

Inconvenient Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968062)

Is binding arbitration actually in the contract people sign when they sign up for the service?

Re:Inconvenient Question (2)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968552)

Is binding arbitration actually in the contract people sign when they sign up for the service?

It is. It is also in your contract for your loans, your contract for your bank accounts, your contract for your HOA, your employment contract, your insurance policy, your airplane ticket, your computer purchase, and probably even in real fine print at the bottom of your menu when you go out to eat.

Don't worry though, it's only binding to you. If you don't like the outcome the company bought from the arbiter of their choice and dare to complain about the company online, they're free to use real courts to sue you over and over until you stop making them look bad.

Re:Inconvenient Question (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968618)

Come to think of it, wouldn't it be hilarious if someone fucked up and all that boilerplate contract cruft floating around out there binds both parties to arbitration?

Sony finally tracks down the guy who hacked PSN, and on the first day of court the guy waves the PSN contract at the judge and says "see here, everything to do with PSN has mandatory binding arbitration, as upheld by the Supreme Court" and gets the case dismissed. Then Sony goes to an arbiter, who says "uh, yeah, don't do that, it's not nice" and the guy says "gee, I won't". And then does it again.

Re:Inconvenient Question (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968616)

Yes, it is.

Imagine that, I actually read my contract.

This is no problem, (1)

fortfive (1582005) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968068)

...because Congress will step in and provide rigorous consumer protection laws to fill in any unfairness in these kinds of agreements.

Re:This is no problem, (1)

SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968310)

You forgot the /s at the end.

Wow. So its official ? (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968076)

Entire body of citizens, have legally became whores to the whim of corporate interests now ?

Re:Wow. So its official ? (2)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968188)

Just don't use a cellphone. Or a landline. Or cable TV. Smoke signals are right out, but Semaphores between the hours of 10am and 4pm will still be allowed. (Tin cans and string will be allowed, as long as you don't have to cross a public street and it's not a permanent installation)

Re:Wow. So its official ? (1)

demonbug (309515) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968558)

Just don't use a cellphone. Or a landline. Or cable TV. Smoke signals are right out, but Semaphores between the hours of 10am and 4pm will still be allowed.
(Tin cans and string will be allowed, as long as you don't have to cross a public street and it's not a permanent installation)

I enjoy a good semaphore production of Wuthering Heights.

Re:Wow. So its official ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968308)

I don't know if whores is the right word... whores at least get payed by those who screw them.

One more step (1)

Bookworm09 (1321243) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968106)

And America takes another decent-sized step toward becoming a straight-up corporatacracy.

Re:One more step (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968270)

Don't you really mean Kleptocracy?

In the absense of justice (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968120)

In the absence of real justice, vigilantism will inevitable fill the vacuum. The SCOTUS should have considered that...

Time to hack AT&T into the ground.

Re:In the absense of justice (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968286)

Time to hack AT&T into the ground.

Yes! Everybody go out and buy some more iPhones! [tomsguide.com]

Oh, wait.

Re:In the absense of justice (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968384)

you know..  copper is 3-5$ a pound and interconnects aren't lite..   quick to remove a pain for them to install..  i'm not suggesting anything - but if we where all to go to the nearest bell box and pull out the interconnect and just drop it in someones recycling box..  just the shear volume would cripple them..  but of course for that to work it has to be everyone at about the same time..

they abuse the public land they where entrusted - lets pull their wires out and get rid of them.

Re:In the absense of justice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35968630)

Are you 12?

Just another reason... (1)

HikingStick (878216) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968176)

This ruling provides just one more reason why the AT&T purchase of T-Mobile, if allowed, would be bad for consumers.

Say no to hippies. (0)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968242)

And again, the Supreme Court has to step in to halt the stream of utopian effluvia flowing from the 9th circuit. When will they learn?

This is the end of class action lawsuits (1)

SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968252)

Which is probably the goal of the five conservatives on the court.

Perhaps Congress will change the statute.

Punishment should be up to a jury (0, Troll)

Kohath (38547) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968258)

Good. People and companies should not be subject to "punitive awards" without a jury trial and the presumption of innocence.

And the court system shouldn't be a lottery for the sleaziest lawyers to hit the jackpot.

What should be illegal (2)

C_Kode (102755) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968260)

What should be illegal is a company's contract blocking your legal recourse if they screw you over. This is what Paypal did too and pretty much robbing their own customers who could not sue them in return because of the same type of garbage.

Wrong attitude. (1)

v(*_*)vvvv (233078) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968446)

"larger class-action settlements which might include punitive awards designed to discourage future bad practices"

I hear this line often, and it is wrong. Big corporations have no memory, and these "crimes" are hardly ever done on purpose. You cannot adjust your intentions if the outcome that needs correcting was never intended in the first place. Before getting into any details at all, it is blatantly obvious that any corporation would try to avoid a class action lawsuit of any kind. Same with recalls. The damage is done and the outcome is already secondary.

Of course, if it was done on purpose, then the outcome is already factored in, so they're just pissing on the system.

Re:Wrong attitude. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968654)

Are you hired by one of these firms or hopelessly naive?

Dell for instance bought cheap caps and refused to do a recall on the impacted products. They will do this again if they get the chance. They want to save money, even if it means selling a bad product.

Corporations avoid class actions lawsuits by now requiring arbitration, so they can abuse the customer all they like. Either you can have bad service or no service, those are now your options. You no longer can sue for restitution, welcome to modern America.

Do They Know The Law? (5, Insightful)

StormReaver (59959) | more than 2 years ago | (#35968550)

Don't Supreme Court justices know the law anymore? This decision is so out in right field that it doesn't even pretend to be supported by law passed by Congress. Contracts used to be invalid if:

1) They are so one-side as to be entirely unfair.
2) They force one party into a position because there is no alternative (the offer you can't refuse).

Carrier-forced arbitration meets both these points. Carriers, by the nature of their enormous power relative to consumers, will always win arbitration because the arbitrators are, for all practical purposes, on the carriers' payrolls. This is because carriers are repeat customers, whereas carrier customers are not. This severely biases the arbitrator in favor of the carriers. There is no easy way to make this even remotely fair to carrier customers. This, by itself, would be enough to nullify arbitration clauses in any sane country.

Carrier customers have no choice but to have a phone of some sort. You just can't exist in most modern markets without the ability to communicate with other people. And all carriers have the same arbitration clause in their contract, so customers have no alternative. This should also, all by itself, be enough to nullify arbitration clauses in contracts in any sane country.

Put these two things together, and it's clear that the Surpeme Court has no intention of applying the law. It seems that they don't even bother reading it anymore. They just want to apply their own sense of right and wrong as it aligns with their political philosophies. If we had a Constitutional Supreme Court, meaning a Supreme Court defined and authorized by our Constitution, prior to this ruling, it just evaporated.

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