A New York law firm opens a fight against the AT&T, T-Mobile merger by getting AT&T customers to use the arbitration clause of their wireless contracts against it-promising a $10,000 payment in the process.
AT&T customers are being sought by the New York law firm of Bursor &
Fisher to help fight the merger with T-Mobile. The basis for the fight is loss
of competition, possible higher prices and a return to the Ma Bell monopoly.
To accomplish this, the law firm is using the arbitration clause in AT&T
customers' contracts to open a huge series of arbitration cases against the
company. According to the version of the contract Burton and Fisher is using on
its new Fight the Merger Website, the arbitration agreement promises each user
a payment of $10,000
if they are
unable to reach an arbitrated agreement with AT&T.
The idea is to bring AT&T to the arbitration table by each customer
demanding that the merger be stopped, and that the demand be put to
arbitration. Since it's unlikely that AT&T would accept the arbitration decision,
the company would then have to pay the money. AT&T, as you might expect, is
blowing the whole thing off. It says that the arbitration clause can't be used
in that way.
But Bursor & Fisher has a pretty good track record in fighting wireless
providers in unconventional actions. One of those was a series of actions in
California in which Sprint and Verizon were taken to court in class actions
regarding early termination fees. The company has won judgments in actions
Sprint 4G phones
and T-Mobile early termination fees, as well as in a suit
against Facebook for misusing private data and against CitiBank for illegally
foreclosing on property owned by deployed troops.
In other words, this is an aggressive law firm that seems to have a habit of
winning. It's notable that in most of these cases the companies that ended up
on the losing side took virtually the same stand that AT&T has, which is
that the cases can't be won.
What's also notable is that Bursor & Fisher isn't charging any
attorney's fees to the AT&T customers it's recruiting. Instead, it plans to
take those from any settlement, a factor that's clearly spelled out on the Website
(unlike the somewhat murky language in most cell phone contracts). Basically,
it boils down to this: You'll get the part of any settlement that's left over
after the firm collects expenses and its portion of the settlement. This is a
pretty normal approach for law firms in class action suits. Whether it's one
you like depends on you, but Bursor & Fisher is making no secret of how
it's broken out.