In the ever-evolving world of consumer purchasing, companies are placing contracts in increasingly inconspicuous places. And the small print document that came with your recent electronics purchase, chances are it includes an arbitration clause. The clause likely prevents the purchaser from filing a lawsuit against the manufacturer in court, and allows for resolution of disputes only by a paid arbitrator. More than ever companies are attempting to force consumers to arbitrate any and all disputes by burying an arbitration clause deep within a booklet contained in a “shrink wrapped” product box—and if you don’t reject the clause within a certain period of time, you are deemed to have agreed with it. At Halunen Law, we think that’s not right.
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Almost $1 billion of $1.3 billion donated to “America’s Worst Charities” in the past decade went to for-profit solicitors rather than the intended beneficiaries of these donations, reported The Tampa Bay Times in conjunction with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and the Cable News Network (CNN). Entitled “America’s Worst Charities,” the exposé listed detailed information pertaining to the top forty-eight “worst” charities in the nation and their for-profit solicitors. In addition, charity executives used donation dollars for their own private gain, including the purchase of automobiles, luxurious cruises and trips, and meals at Hooters, alleged the Federal Trade Commission.
Courts have ordered several charities and for-profit solicitors to stop their illegal practices and pay millions of dollars to consumers who have been defrauded. However, there are charities that allegedly mishandled donation funds that have not yet been sued, including, according to the report, Woman to Woman Breast Cancer Foundation, Disabled Police and Sheriffs Foundation, and Firefighters Charitable Foundation.
Halunen Partner Melissa Wolchansky spoke on “The Effect of Pom Wonderful v. Coca-Cola on Commercial and Consumer Litigation” for the Food, Drug & Device Law and Consumer Litigation sections of the Minnesota State Bar Association. The presentation, given on August 7, 2014, addressed the impact of a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Pom Wonderful v. Coca-Cola on consumer class action litigation. From a consumer perspective, this was a positive case because it allowed the plaintiff to challenge label misrepresentations by Coca-Cola even when the label met certain FDA requirements.
When I tell people that I am an attorney, often their next question is “what type of law do you practice?” Answering “class action” frequently leaves them baffled. Most people have heard of class actions—the movie Erin Brockovich is usually mentioned—but they know little about them. Below are some of the frequently asked questions and brief explanations.
What is a class action?
When people think of a law suit they frequently think of areas of the law (i.e. criminal law, family law, bankruptcy law, etc.). Class action is not an area of law; rather it is a way of conducting a law suit. The subject of a class action can be as varied as debt collection or a group of people who all bought a faulty toaster. What makes it a class action is that a group of people (oftentimes who have never met and will never meet one another) are banding together to sue.
“What’s the point? They’re so big and I’m just one person.” Everyone has experienced this moment of frustrated defeat. It usually comes immediately after hanging up with some faceless person on the other end of a corporate “helpline.” For the hour and half of time you just wasted, all you receive is the knowledge that there was nothing that that person could do to help. The corporation has ripped you off, you tried to get them to fix it, and all they’ve done is make you even madder. AWWWW!!! It is at this moment that the crushing feeling of helplessness sets in. So what’s the point?
Actually, there may be something you can do. Perhaps you remember the ruckus raised over “natural” foods. As consumers became more health conscious, the food industries responded by providing “natural” foods. These ranged from granola to toothpaste. But some of these claimed “natural” foods were full of synthetics. The FDA refused to get involved, so some consumers began public awareness campaigns against these pseudo “natural” products. Individual consumers also turned to the courts. By using class actions, consumers caused whole industries to begin taking synthetics out of their “natural” products and today many (but not all) “natural” products are actually natural.
It can be terrifying to buy a new home. Like most new homeowners, you did the right thing and had your home inspected by a professional. The inspection revealed no problems so you signed the purchase agreement. The home was attractive to you because it had been outfitted with premium fiber cement siding that requires no maintenance, top of the line energy efficient windows, composite decking that is guaranteed to last longer than real wood without yearly maintenance, and roofing shingles that are backed by a 50-year warranty. For the first few years, you were content in your new home and experienced no problems, but soon enough one of more of the products installed on your home starts to fail.
Many of us have purchased codes for washes at a gas station pump and then not been able to use them. Then the next time we retrieve the car wash receipt from our dashboard we see that it has expired! This means that the gas station store got our money – a windfall – and we ended up with a useless piece of paper and no car wash. However, this expired car wash receipt may be illegal in many states, including Minnesota.
Public Justice Senior Attorney Paul Bland takes a look at the deeply flawed results of Mayer Brown’s “empirical analysis” attacking all class actions. Particularly striking, Paul explains, is the timing of this P.R. document — arriving the exact day as the Congressionally mandated study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on arbitration, which reached the opposite conclusion. Paul explains more about Mayer Brown’s fallacious arguments.
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A recent article by the Star Tribune reported on five current and former students of Globe University who have filed a class-action lawsuit against the for-profit school. The class-action suit follows shortly after a recent whistleblower suit awarded Heidi Weber, a former dean at the school, $395,000.
The students contacted Weber’s attorneys, Halunen Law about “potential legal grievances.” The students claim that Globe University in Woodbury, mislead and manipulated prospective students. They also accused the University of lying about its job-placement rates, accreditation, and transfer opportunities to other institutions. Their lawsuit was filed Wednesday, October 2 in Hennepin County District Court.
Apple’s stock may be taking a beating as the market becomes more volatile. Moreover, analysts are looking for the next big offering from the tech giant. But in the meantime, Apple is fending off class action lawsuits based on disputes over warranties applying to damaged iPod Touch and iPhone devices.
The case, In re Apple iPhone/iPod Warranty Litigation, involved a number of class actions brought to seek remedies when the company denied coverage under its liquid damage policy. Essentially, the devices had a Liquid Contact Indicator that would inform consumers of damage caused by water contact. (The indicator would turn pink or red, suggesting that the phone had come in contact with water).
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