The bait and switch tactic of selling goods and services is a trick as old as time, but it’s not always legal. If a customer signs a contract agreeing to pay a particular price for something, it is expected that the price will not change for the duration of the contract, unless both parties agree to the change in writing. That change can happen, either as an amendment to the contract, or as part of a new contract.
According to a federal class action consumer lawsuit that was recently filed in California, Comcast allegedly lured new cable customers with promises of low rates, which they then jacked up without warning or gaining consent from their customers. The fees in question are: the “Broadcast TV Fee,” which allegedly went from $1.50/month in 2014 to $6.50/month in 2016; and the “Regional Sports Fee,” which allegedly went from $1/month in 2015 to $4.50 in 2016.
When customers complained to Comcast, they were allegedly told by company representatives that the fees were government-related taxes or fees over which the company said it had no control – an assertion the plaintiffs claim is a blatant lie.
Comcast asked the court to dismiss all the claims put forth by the plaintiffs, saying its online order submission process was not enough to constitute a legally-binding contract. On the other hand, the Subscriber Agreement and Minimum Term Agreement were binding contracts in which the customers had allegedly agreed to pay Comcast’s fees.
Judge Vince Chhabria, of the U.S. District Court of Northern California, rejected Comcast’s motion to dismiss, saying that, by submitting their order, Comcast customers were agreeing to pay Comcast’s advertised prices, in addition to government-related taxes and fees. Chhabria denied Comcast’s assertion that consumers agreed to its higher fees in the Subscriber Agreement. As far as the Minimum Term Agreement was concerned, the plaintiffs allege they never saw it when submitting their order, in which case they cannot be bound by its terms. Chhabria said the plaintiffs had plausibly asserted that they never saw the agreement, although determining it in fact will have to be left to the more in-depth analysis of a summary judgment.
Chhabria further pointed out that, although customers agreed to pay the cost of services when they signed the Subscriber Agreement, no specific price for any service was given, whereas specific prices were provided before customers submitted their order. As a result, Chhabria pointed out the order submission process and the Subscriber Agreement might not even be related as far as the claims of the present class action lawsuit are concerned.
The one point Chhabria did grant Comcast was in dismissing the claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Since the plaintiffs had already provided sufficient evidence of the existence of a contract between themselves and Comcast, Chhabria said the claim for implied contract was overkill.
On the other hand, the judge recommended the plaintiffs file a separate state lawsuit if they wanted to seek injunctive relief to prevent Comcast from practicing these alleged price hikes in the future.
Our Oak Brook, Illinois consumer rights private law firm handles individual and class action gift card, data breach, privacy rights, deceptive advertising, predatory lending, unfair debt collection, lemon law and other consumer fraud cases that government agencies and public interest law firms such as the Illinois Attorney General may not pursue. Class action lawsuits our law firm has been involved in or spear-headed have led to substantial awards totalling over a million dollars to organizations including the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumer Law Center, and local law school consumer programs. The Chicago consumer lawyers at DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle are proud of our achievements in assisting national and local consumer rights organizations obtain the funds needed to ensure that consumers are protected and informed of their rights. By standing up to consumer fraud and consumer rip-offs, and in the right case filing consumer protection lawsuits and class-actions you too can help ensure that other consumers’ rights are protected from consumer rip-offs and unscrupulous or dishonest practices.
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