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Contract Included Mandatory Arbitration Clause and Banned Class Actions

Cingular's Customer Contract Banning Class Actions is Unfair, Legal Group Charges

KING COUNTY, WA -- March 4, 2005 -- Cingular Wireless unfairly tried to ban its customers from participating in class actions against the company, according to a complaint made by the public law firm, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ). In July, 2003, Cingular sent out monthly bills and included an amendment to the customer agreement that prohibited class actions. TLPJ points out that these "bill-stuffers" were not readily apparent and would probably not be read by Cingular's 100,000 Washington customers. Another problem, TLPJ said, is that consumer disputes about telephone charges are usually for small amounts and do not warrant individual suits. However, taken together, the complaints constitute millions of dollars for Cingular.

Cingular customers are protesting charges for various long distance and "roaming charges." On an individual basis, each complaint is between $1 to $45 per month in overcharges--amounts not likely to attract a private lawsuit. During the trial, the plaintiffs called the Division Chief of Consumer Complaints in the Washington Attorney General office, Sally Garrett. Ms. Garrett testified that the state would most likely not have the resources to litigate on behalf of these individual consumers either, and generally relied on the private sector to do so. Cingular's Washington customers are therefore precluded from pursuing any remedy against AT&T, TLPJ argues.

Similar Agreements Were Prohibited in California

TLPJ has already won a leading case in California, Ting v. AT&T, striking down a consumer agreement in which AT&T required customer disputes with the company to be settled by arbitration, rather than in the courts. The clause effectively amounted to a class action ban. The telephone company's consumer telephone agreements were declared "illegal and unconscionable."

In the current Washington case, AT&T requires customers to arbitrate any claims against the company, but forbids the arbitrator to consolidate claims. TLPJ calls the agreement one-sided and unfair.

Brayton Purcell agrees with TLPJ's position in the Cingular case. We are also evaluating consumer class action claims, and invite you to contact us for more information about your legal options. We accept both individual and class action claims, and will analyze your case to determine what is the best course of action for you to follow.

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