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Top class action attorneys and lawyers near Chicago and NapervilleWhen a consumer feels she has been cheated by someone she bought a product or service from, the amount of her claim is often too small to warrant suing the seller. In that case, the consumer’s best bet is to collect a group of other consumers who have similarly been allegedly cheated and file a class action lawsuit. In order to successfully pursue a class action lawsuit though, a judge must grant the plaintiffs class action status, and in order for the judge to do that, the class of plaintiffs must fulfill certain requirements. These requirements include a class that is sufficiently large to warrant a class action, plaintiffs who can adequately represent the class, and complaints from class members that are sufficiently similar to warrant combining them into one action.

Another requirement that has caused much controversy in the courts lately is ascertainability, meaning there must be a way to identify all of the members of the class. This can be an issue in class actions filed against food producers or retailers, especially those who produce cheap food, for which consumers rarely keep their receipts. In Carrera v. Bayer, the plaintiff, Gabriel Carrera, sued Bayer on behalf of all consumers who had purchased Bayer’s One-A-Day WeightSmart diet supplement. According to the complaint, Bayer falsely advertised its diet supplement as having metabolism-boosting effects, based on the fact that it contained green tea extract. Continue reading

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Chicago qui tam and whistleblower lawyers near Springfield and JolietA lot of people lost money in the recent economic downturn. Stocks plummeted, 401K accounts shrank overnight, and for most people, there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it. In some instances, though, an investor’s loss was a direct result of negligence or fraud on the part of the company that was supposed to be protecting their money.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) that is exactly what allegedly happened to investors who trusted their money to MassMutual Financial Group, an insurance company based in Springfield, Massachusetts. Bill Lloyd worked for MassMutual for 22 years and allegedly had a reputation for being a straight arrow. Unlike the stereotypical agent who is interested only in making money for himself, Lloyd truly cared about his customers. As a result, when he encountered a situation in which his customers were allegedly getting ripped off, Lloyd could not let it slide.

In 2007, when money was gushing into variable annuities, MassMutual added two income guarantees: Guaranteed Income Benefit Plus 6 and Guaranteed Income Benefit Plus 5. The idea behind these products was that they would guarantee that the annuity income stream would grow to a predetermined cap regardless of how the investment itself performed.

When the investors retired, they could take six percent (or five percent, depending on which product they bought) of the cap for as long as they wanted or until it ran out of money, and still be able to annuitize it at some point. In theory, the money would never run out, and that is how agents like Lloyd were allegedly told to sell the product to customers. Before long, investors had put $2.5 billion into these products.

In 2008 it allegedly became evident that the products did not work they way customers had been told they would work. As a result of the market’s fall, it was according to Lloyd all but certain that thousands of customers were going to run through their income stream within seven or eight years of withdrawing the money. Continue reading

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Chicago non-compete agreement lawyers and attorneys near Naperville and AuroraNon-compete agreements have been in use in the top tiers of American companies for several years now. The idea is to protect the interests of the company by making sure that executives or other employees with trade secrets and confidential information  don’t take those secrets to a competitor, where they can be used against the company. Non-compete agreements began in the big tech companies, where keeping the company’s latest developments was of the utmost importance in order for the company to be able to effectively compete in the marketplace.

Non-compete agreements impose restrictions on when and where an employee can work after leaving the company. Usually, the employee cannot go to work for a direct competitor within a certain reasonable geographical radius of the company and within a certain reasonable time frame after leaving the company. This means that an employee is generally allowed to go work for a company’s competitor, only if the competitor is located in a different city or state from the company. Often, employees can work for whomever they want wherever they want within six months to a year after leaving the company. The lag time is usually sufficient to render useless any trade secrets the employee might have.

For executives or employees who are working with trade secrets, helping to develop new products for the company, etc., it may makes sense that the company would want to protect their investment by preventing those employees from going to work for a competitor. It does not make sense for companies to require hourly employees making sandwiches to sign a non-compete agreement, yet that is allegedly the case for certain Jimmy John’s employees.

It is hard to believe that the people making sandwiches, on the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder, have any valuable trade secrets that Jimmy John’s would not want shared. Other cases of hourly, minimum-wage employees have been reported, but it is rare for a company to enforce the non-compete agreements of these employees. Jimmy John’s, on the other hand, according to the New York Times has allegedly taken steps to actively restrict the alternate employment options of its sandwich makers.  The Time’s blog does say that there is no reported case of Jimmy John’s actually seeking to enforce this provision.

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Chicago qui tam and Whistleblower attorneys near Lake Forest and Highland Park, IllinoisIn 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enacted a law which encourages people in the know to “blow the whistle” on people or companies who are stealing from or cheating the government. The SEC rewards successful “whistleblowers” with up to 30% of sanctions collected by the agency.

Recently, an attorney has asked the agency to intervene in a legal battle between the attorney and his former employer. David Danon worked for Vanguard from 2008 to 2013, and according to Vanguard, sent company records to his home email address while he was employed by the company and “at the end of his employment”.

In May 2013, one month before leaving Vanguard, Danon filed an SEC whistleblower lawsuit against his employer and another lawsuit in New York state court. Danon alleges that Vanguard has been operating an illegal tax shelter for almost 40 years. According to the complaint, the company has avoided paying $1 billion in U.S. federal income taxes and at least $20 million in New York state taxes. The company allegedly accomplished this by providing services to the mutual funds it runs at prices that allow it to avoid federal and state income taxes.

Vanguard insists that the case is without merit and has said that it intends to defend itself in the courts. The company sent a letter to Danon after the filing of the lawsuit, saying that, “Vanguard intends to take all necessary and appropriate steps to protect its interests “. It also stated that Vanguard “reserves all of its rights to seek legal redress” if Danon fails to return the company’s documents immediately. Continue reading

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Chicago TCPA lawyers near Oak Brook, Naperville and HinsdaleMachines are wonderful pieces of technology that have made many aspects of modern life faster and easier. For example, machines that automatically dial many numbers very quickly have made it incredibly easy for large companies with thousands of customers to quickly and easily reach all (or most) of their customers. Unfortunately, many customers are not as thrilled about receiving promotional phone calls from a machine, particularly when the customers are the ones footing the bill for these calls.

In the days of landlines, phone calls were paid for by the person or entity making the phone call. When cell phones came about, that was reversed, and now many people are paying for the calls that they receive, as well as the ones they make. This means that owners of cell phones who receive automated calls on those mobile phones are not only annoyed, but may be paying for the privilege of being annoyed. To protect the rights of consumers who are being made to pay for phone calls they do not want to receive and for the annoyance and wasted time of dealing with these in most cases unwanted calls, Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which makes it illegal for companies to auto-dial customers in a non-emergency situation without the express consent of the customers.

Despite the law, many companies continue to use auto-dialers to reach customers about sales and promotions. In some cases, the defendants argue that, by providing their cell phone numbers, customers are agreeing to be auto-dialed in non-emergency situations. Consumers frequently disagree with this assertion, claiming that the TCPA requires consumers to provide more explicit permission. The result is usually a lawsuit, such as the class action that was recently filed against AT&T that alleges the phone company violated the TCPA by calling customers using an auto-dialing system. Continue reading

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Chicago business trial attorneys near Naperville and WheatonWe all know that the Supreme Court is responsible for interpreting and clarifying the law. When a dispute between two or more parties reaches the Supreme Court, the Court’s decision in that case has the potential to influence American laws for decades to come. Sometimes, the rulings made by the Supreme Court influence not just the laws, but how those laws are enforced, including when a decision can be appealed to a higher court.

Appealing a Consolidated Lawsuit

For example, in a recent dispute that the Supreme Court will hear this term, multiple lawsuits that have been filed alleging manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). A number of those lawsuits have been consolidated into one complaint. Courts will sometimes do this when one plaintiff is facing multiple lawsuits in which the complaints are all the same or similar. By combining them into one large lawsuit, the courts can deal with the case more efficiently and avoid repeating itself by dealing with the same issues again and again.

Many times, when dealing with a lawsuit that has multiple complaints, a court will dismiss some of the complaints while allowing others to continue through the court system. The question then becomes whether plaintiffs can appeal the court’s dismissal to a higher court. When plaintiffs tried to do this in the recent case involving alleged manipulation of the LIBOR, the Second Circuit Court declined to hear the case, claiming that, because the lower court had only dismissed some of the complaints, the Second Circuit Court lacked the jurisdiction for an appeal. The plaintiffs then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which will hear the case this term. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine whether such cases can move up the appellate courts piece by piece, or as one consolidated case.

The Defendant’s Burden in Moving a Class Action Lawsuit to Federal Court

The Supreme Court will also rule on the application of the 2005 Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). This act gave defendants the power to have a class action lawsuit moved to federal court, if the case fit certain requirements, in order to prevent plaintiffs from filing the lawsuit in the court that would be most likely to rule in their favor, also known as “forum shopping”. In order to move a case to federal court, the class of plaintiffs must consist of members from more than one state and the amount in dispute must be more than $5 million.

In Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Company, LLC v. Owens, the district court and the Tenth Circuit Court both remanded the case back to state court because the defendant did not provide sufficient evidence that the amount in dispute is more than $5 million. The defendant argues that the courts should not need evidence of the amount in dispute until the plaintiff denies the amount. The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will determine the amount of evidence a defendant needs to provide in order to have a case moved to federal court. Continue reading

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Best Libel Lawyers near Hinsdale and Clarendon HillsConsumers have long relied on recommendations from friends and family before buying products and services, and businesses have risen and fallen like empires on this tradition of word of mouth. Then, the Internet brought about the ability to broadcast your opinion of a business to practically everyone in the world, and to see reviews by people you’ve never met. The potential benefits to businesses of this have to be weighed against the potential detriment when people post negative reviews. Generally, people are only motivated to leave a review if they had a very positive or very negative experience, leaving a skewed perspective of the business on the world wide web.

Some businesses have tried to fight back by including language in their terms of agreement which punishes customers for posting negative reviews online. While the legality of such a measure is in question, consumers all over the Internet have made their displeasure known.

Recently, the Union Street Guest House (USGH), a New York hotel, took it a step further by allegedly including a clause which punishes customers if another customer posts a negative review of the hotel anywhere on the internet. According to the hotel’s policy, “If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event. … If you stay here to attend a wedding anywhere in the area and leave us a negative review on any Internet site you agree to a $500 fine for each negative review.” The policy further noted that the $500 charge would be removed once a negative review was taken down, and that the policy only applied to wedding parties and events. Continue reading

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Chicago class action lawyers near Schaumburg and ElginThe cost of everything goes up with inflation and insurance is no different. As the value of our things increases with time, it makes sense that people would want sufficient coverage for all of their belongings. This can become an issue though, when insurance companies insist on raising the limits on a plan (and thus raising the premiums) to levels that are much higher than the property can possibly be worth. Such is allegedly the case in a recent class action lawsuit against State Auto.

According to the complaint, the named plaintiffs, Mark and Andrea Schumacher, bought their home in 2001 for $234,000. They claim that they have made no improvements to the home since then, other than normal maintenance, and that its market value remains about the same. As evidence to support this assertion, the plaintiffs pointed out that the builder from whom they bought their home continues to construct homes in their neighborhood that are similar to the ones that they own, and sell them at a comparable price.

Despite that, State Auto, which has been insuring the Schumachers for years, allegedly increased their policy limit over the years until it stood at more than $500,000 as of 2013. According to the Schumachers, that is much more than what it would cost them to rebuild or replace their home, though it is important to note that there are two different ways of looking at that cost: 1) rebuilding from the ground up; and  2) buying a similar, older home. The cost of these two options can vary dramatically, depending on the market, and some people have a strong preference to buy insurance for one over the other. Continue reading