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U.S. Supreme Court

Justices Appear Reluctant to Overturn Calif. Ruling Favoring Consumer Class Actions

Posted Nov 10, 2010 8:16 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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U.S. Supreme Court justices appear sympathetic to a couple’s bid for class action status in a lawsuit challenging AT&T cell phone charges, according to one account of oral arguments on Tuesday.

“A victory for consumers and class action litigators seemed possible on Tuesday,” the National Law Journal reports. The case has attracted attention because of warnings a ruling against the couple could essentially end class-action litigation in America.

The couple, Vincent and Liza Concepcion, are suing AT&T for advertising free cell phones while charging $30 in taxes and fees. AT&T’s contract requires arbitration of disputes and bans class actions, but federal courts applying a California Supreme Court ruling found those provisions were unconscionable.

Justice Antonin Scalia was among the justices who appeared unwilling to overturn California precedent, according to the NLJ and the New York Times. "Are we going to tell California what it has to consider unconscionable?" Scalia asked.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed similar misgivings. “We have to serve as reviewers of state law?" she asked.

A lawyer for AT&T, Mayer Brown partner Andrew Pincus, argued that the Federal Arbitration Act, which favors dispute resolution through arbitration, pre-empted California contract law. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. appeared more sympathetic to his arguments, the Washington Post reports.

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