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AT&T Makes Its Terms of Service Even Worse, To Discourage Lawsuits 412

Posted by timothy
from the even-more-fine-print-to-read dept.
techmuse writes "AT&T has changed its terms of service (including for existing contracts) to prevent class action suits. Note that you are already required to submit your case to arbitration, a forum in which consumers are often at a substantial disadvantage. Now you must go up against AT&T alone." This post on David Farber's mailing list provides a bit of context as well.
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AT&T Makes Its Terms of Service Even Worse, To Discourage Lawsuits

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  • Great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by imamac (1083405) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:09PM (#29005647)
    Now I can cancel my contract with no fee...
  • ... for a class-action lawsuit over their attempt at preventing class-action lawsuits.
    • by SBFCOblivion (1041418) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:01PM (#29006483)
      I agree. Years ago PayPal had this in their terms of service. In addition they had a stipulation that you could only sue them in their home state, which I now I forget.

      At the time people were having bogus charges taken out of their accounts, we'll say $100, and because you couldn't form a class action it wasn't worth the money to sue them independently.

      Some people did get together and sue them over not being able to form a class action and it was ruled that their TOS weren't fair or some such.

      I could go dig through my old Cyberlaw book if anyone is interested but I can't remember the specifics off the top of my head.

  • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:11PM (#29005669)

    Only in a thoroughly corrupt society can big corporations get away with saying "you can't sue me because I don't agree to be sued", while other big corporations win judgments against common people for thousands of times the actual damages. I thought only sovereign nations were supposed to be able to just decline a lawsuit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by palegray.net (1195047)
      This will not hold water in the courts. Don't panic.
      • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:30PM (#29005829)

        This will not hold water in the courts. Don't panic.

        Probably not. The problem is that it raises the bar, and makes it that much harder to actually get to court. I presume that's the whole idea.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by palegray.net (1195047)
          Stuff like this won't make it any harder to bring suit. In many jurisdictions, the law has specific prohibitions against the validity of this kind of blanket clause in contracts.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:24PM (#29006237)

          Probably not. The problem is that it raises the bar, and makes it that much harder to actually get to court. I presume that's the whole idea.

          When AT&T said more bars, that's not quite what I had in mind.

        • by shadowofwind (1209890) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:27PM (#29006671)

          This will not hold water in the courts. Don't panic.

          Probably not. The problem is that it raises the bar, and makes it that much harder to actually get to court. I presume that's the whole idea.

          Right. A few years ago when my wife sued PayPal to recover $1200 they stole from her, the judge threw it out both on grounds of wrong jurisdiction and that the PayPal contract says they can't be sued. The fact that PayPal just flat took the money and repeatedly lied about even having it, did not outweigh the fine print in the PayPal user agreement in the mind of that particular judge. (This was back before eBay bought PayPal, and their internal policies may have been more corrupt then.) Fortunately, PayPal did promptly give the money back (with no explanation) when a state Attorney General inquired about the case. So the system isn't completely broken, and the outcome was right. And at least the lawsuit forced PayPal to pay a lawyer for a few hours to show up in court. But the point is the bogus clause in the user agreement did stop the lawsuit in this case. (The jurisdiction question was a separate issue - there was some contradictory guidance about what state to sue in since the theft occurred online.)

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            You should have gone to the AG first, and sued after. $1200 is well above the $500 required to be considered a felony, and that doesn't go to piddly small claims court, that goes to federal court. No doubt when your AG found out and started poking around PayPal's lawyers began shitting bricks, hence the reimbursement.

            Now, that judge was obviously a dumbass, and if you had opportunity to vote on her re-appointment (I don't think you normally do for local courts) I hope you voted no.

            For breach of contract (

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by winwar (114053)

              "$1200 is well above the $500 required to be considered a felony, and that doesn't go to piddly small claims court, that goes to federal court."

              No it doesn't. Sure, you can take it to federal court. But you would either have to be a moron or willing to spend serious time and money to make a point. Great if you have the time and money...

              "No doubt when your AG found out and started poking around PayPal's lawyers began shitting bricks, hence the reimbursement."

              I doubt they panicked. One person is an annoya

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Repossessed (1117929)

        That depends on the state. I know New York allows this.

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:47PM (#29005955) Journal

      Only in a thoroughly corrupt society can big corporations get away with saying "you can't sue me because I don't agree to be sued",

      You can (or can't) sue a company based on your State's laws.
      Just because AT&T puts it in the contract doesn't make it enforceable.
      If your State allows a ToS to ban class actions, change your laws.

    • Welcome to the age of the EULA and TOS agreements that limit our freedoms and rights as a consumer.

      Ordinarily if they violated the US Constitution they would have been thrown out by our founding fathers. But the USA is no longer a Democracy or Republic but a Corportism where Corporations rule and use lobbyists and lawyers to get away with whatever they want so they can earn more profits.

      There exists even Employment Contract Agreements that are basically slavery, and companies can easily get away with them and treat employees as slaves. If the employee refuses to be treated as a slave, there are "No Fault" employment laws that says they can be fired for no reason, and then they are blackballed by other corporations so nobody will want to hire that "troublemaker" and then they become homeless or died from lack of food and health care.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by moxley (895517)

      That is a good point you make. We have institutionalized corruption in America - and it has evolved with a diabolical incrementalism, and its not like it has just happened at random, via some fucked up legal natural selection.

      Things never seem to get better for the average person, and if they do, it's one step forward and two steps back. ...I wish there was a way to do an end run around all of this bullshit and get some sort of protection for the common people....Like, a contract with government that define

  • by symbolset (646467) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:19PM (#29005717) Journal
    We're the phone company.
  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:20PM (#29005735)

    Aren't they, as cosigners, required to honour the original contract?

    Someone else wrote "great, now I can get out of my contract for free", but are you really required to rip up the contract you already have? That they won't renew the existing contract is fine, but ... telling you to rip the one you have up?

    I'm fairly certain you couldn't do it the other way around.

    "AT&T? Hi, I'm just calling you to tell you, that I've faxed over the new terms of our contract, stipulating that I get to spank your CEO in public every Saturday afternoon. You can either sign it or release me from my contract. Yours truly $name."

    Somehow I think that'd just be ignored by AT&T and the courts alike.

  • EULAs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stagg (1606187) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:21PM (#29005743)
    This is very reminiscent of lengthy, legally binding EULAs on software and webpages that the average consumer doesn't read or understand.
  • Hey guys... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RabidMoose (746680) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:26PM (#29005781) Homepage
    ...I know nobody ever reads TFA, but there doesn't actually seem to be one here. Just a link to the company's website, and two articles to provide context to the non-existent article.
    • Re:Hey guys... (Score:5, Informative)

      by stagg (1606187) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:32PM (#29005841)
      "Notwithstanding the foregoing, either party may bring an individual action in small claims court. YOU AGREE THAT, BY ENTERING INTO THIS AGREEMENT, YOU AND AT&T ARE EACH WAIVING THE RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY JURY AND TO PARTICIPATE IN A CLASS ACTION WITH RESPECT TO ARBITRATION CLAIMS. This Agreement evidences a transaction in interstate commerce, and thus the Federal Arbitration Act governs the interpretation and enforcement of this provision. This arbitration provision shall survive termination of this Agreement." I assume this is the part being referenced.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fatalwall (873645)
      Also if you go on the site there is no date stamp telling you when the contract was last updated. The date stamp leaves me rather displeased with ATT though as i should not have to guess when it was last updated
  • by introspekt.i (1233118) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:27PM (#29005789)
    ...take away consumers right to class action lawsuits? I thought requiring arbitration was one of those things like signing a waiver from liability, it gives the illusion of some legal protection, but it's not always the case? IANAL Please advise/inform if you know.
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:29PM (#29005811) Homepage Journal

    I find this repulsive because AT&T services are something that should be considered a life necessity. Since AT&T is the only business that provides these services, consumers have no choice where to get this required need to sustain their lives.

    What we really need is another option than AT&T, so that when we are given the contract to sign, we can just say "no" and go to a competitor with a less stringent contract.

    That will be the day, friends, when the first competitor to AT&T arrives and gives us an option.

    Oh, wait...

  • by hedrick (701605) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:36PM (#29005875)
    A number of cases like this have gone through the court. Often enforcement is at the State level, but several state courts have indicated that terms like this are not enforceable.
  • by v1 (525388) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @07:56PM (#29006045) Homepage Journal

    There are a lot of specific examples of where you can't just dump in certain exemptions into your TOS and wash your hands of liability. I'm surprised this isn't one of them.

    I don't see why it's legal in a generic sense to be able to surrender your rights to legal action as a TOS.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:01PM (#29006087)

    This is a great reason for public-owned internet services. Once they get monopoly power, you feel the business end of their business.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Aladrin (926209)

      It's not a free market. There are government controls that prevent it from being a free market, like allowing people/corporations to own certain frequencies of radio waves.

  • Forgive my non-lawyer ignorance, but can you actually forbid someone from suing you? As a retroactive clause in a contract, even?

    "By downloading this pirated video off BitTorrent, you have implicitly agreed to forfeit any and all options of initiating a lawsuit for copyright infringement."

    Wonder if that would work.

    Hint: Probably not. :P

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:38PM (#29006323) Homepage

    AT&T/Cingular already tried these terms with their cel-phone service. They failed. [consumerwatchdog.org]

  • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by compro01 (777531) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:46PM (#29006381)

    Didn't Comcast already get it's ass handed to them in court over similar terms?

  • by wbren (682133) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @08:52PM (#29006411) Homepage

    Notwithstanding the foregoing, either party may bring an individual action in small claims court. YOU AGREE THAT, BY ENTERING INTO THIS AGREEMENT, YOU AND AT&T ARE EACH WAIVING THE RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY JURY AND TO PARTICIPATE IN A CLASS ACTION WITH RESPECT TO ARBITRATION CLAIMS.

    This is a big win for the consumer. We can finally rest assured that AT&T cannot enter into a class action against its consumers.

    You might laugh, but this is AT&T we're talking about. To quote Angels in the Outfield: "It could happen."

  • by Kohath (38547) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:10PM (#29006543)

    Class action lawsuits are almost always a complete abuse of the legal system. They deliver huge multi-million dollar profits to lawyers. The "class" of plaintiffs usually gets a coupon or something worth less than $5. And the rest of us innocent people who just want phone service (or whatever) are forced to pay an extra de facto "tax" to cover the costs of the huge payout to the lawyers -- lawyers who are essentially free riders, who produced exactly nothing of practical value in return for the money they've taken.

    In theory, class-action lawsuits protect consumers. But the current system harms consumers much, much more than it helps us.

  • by unity100 (970058) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @09:18PM (#29006611) Homepage Journal

    putting terms into contracts that prevent/prohibit constitutional usage of rights by citizens ...

    i never heard this thing in any other country, except african countries that are run by dictatorships. BUT, somehow, corporations do this in america, and not only they do not get their ass fined by constitutional courts, but also get away with it and even win cases.

    please, noone give the 'great american system' bullshit to anyone, anymore. that kind of crap is unheard of. you dont have a fucking system, only something that enables big ass money holders to crample individuals and citizens.

    • by freedom_india (780002) on Sunday August 09, 2009 @11:16PM (#29007349) Homepage Journal

      I agree with you.
      Andrew jackson and Woodrow Wilson would be turning in their graves, while JP Morgan would be clapping.
      In India, the reserve bank forced banks to cross-accept debit cards in their ATMs without surcharges. Naturally banks balked at this, but the reserve bank simply bulldozed over them. Now i can use any bank's card on ANY ATM without any surcharge. What's more the Reserve bank has forced them to put this on display in all of their ATMs.
      Secondly, the local telephone companies wanted the ability to trash a consumer's credit score based on his telephone bill payment. The courts refused it.
      Indian laws specifically make the corporate veil invisible in many criminal cases. So there are no "settlements" here. The CEO is prosecuted and jailed. No golden parachute crap, no evading responsibility.
      My contract with my 16Mbps broadband provider specifically states that for every day the service is out, the company prorates the rental amount and credits my account with the money. Similarly iam free to use torrents, or any other crap. No restrictions.
      if the speed goes below 12Mbps, the company of forced to charge me only for that plan rates.
      Of course the company didn't like these terms: tough luck. The LAW and courts included this clause by force.
      Preventing access to courts by arbitration is prohibited by law. Our Supreme court once thundered against this and put the CEO in jail for this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:24AM (#29007985)
    ... courts have specifically held that you can't contractually waive the right to bring or participate in class actions for things like cell phone contracts, where the lawsuits probably aren't financially worth bringing one at a time. For two cases discussing this, see

    I'm not sure how it works in other states.

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