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Companies can block customers’ class-action lawsuits, Supreme Court rules

Justices rule in a Southern California case that firms can force customers to arbitrate their complaints individually. The ruling is seen as a major victory for corporations

By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times April 28, 2011

The Supreme Court dealt a blow to class-action lawsuits that involve small claims affecting thousands or even millions of people by ruling that corporations may use arbitration clauses to block dissatisfied consumers or disgruntled employees from joining together.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices said Wednesday the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, originally aimed at disputes over maritime and rail shipments, trumps state laws and court rulings in California and about half the states that limit arbitration clauses deemed to be “unfair” to consumers.

The ruling was “the biggest ever” on class actions, said Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick, an expert on such litigation.

“It gives companies a green light to exempt themselves from all class actions from their customers or from their employees,” Fitzpatrick said. “Companies can basically escape from the civil justice system. And why wouldn’t a company take advantage of that?”

It has become routine now that when someone opens a bank account, subscribes to a cable TV service, buys a cellphone, a computer or a new car or makes a purchase online, he or she agrees to let disputes go to arbitration.

Many employers include the same kind of fine print for new hires, blocking class-action suits for employees with discrimination or wage complaints.

These arbitration clauses typically require individuals to bring claims on their own, not as a group.

Nonetheless, the California Supreme Court in 2005 said companies should not be allowed to “deliberately cheat large numbers of consumer out of small amounts of money” by shielding themselves from being sued.

But on Wednesday, the court’s conservative majority overruled those state judges and said arbitration clauses must be enforced even if they may be unfair.

Justice Antonin Scalia said companies like the “streamlined” arbitration proceedings because they are faster and cheaper.

Deepak Gupta, the Public Citizen lawyer who represented a California couple who sued over what was purported to be a free cellphone but cost about $30.22, agreed that the ruling in their case would have a broad effect.

It allows companies to use “the fine print of take-it-or-leave it contracts” as a “shield against corporate accountability,” he said.

Not all products or services come with arbitration clauses, but many do, he said. Some products, such as appliances, come with a box that includes fine-print contracts and an arbitration clause. These have been upheld as binding, even if the consumer did not sign the agreement, legal experts said.

Several business lawyers said class-action claims rarely work to the benefit of consumers anyway.

“I think this decision will help consumers, not hurt them,” said Alan Kaplinsky, a Philadelphia lawyer for the American Bankers Assn. “The only people who do well in the class-action suits are the lawyers. The attorneys get millions in fees, and the consumers get a worthless coupon. For them, it’s better to go through arbitration.”

Still pending before the court is a major dispute over class-action suits involving job discrimination.

Lawyers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have asked the justices to throw out a sex-discrimination claim brought on behalf of 1.5 million current and past female employees. Though the Wal-Mart case has attracted far more attention, Wednesday’s ruling on arbitration contracts could have a greater effect in blocking future class-actions suits on behalf of employees.

The decision is in line with a series of pro-arbitration rulings from the high court since the 1980s. They are all based on an obscure 1925 law that speaks of “maritime transactions.” It was passed to protect shippers and dealers who exchanged goods across the country. It said that if they agreed to arbitrate disputes, those deals would have to be enforced.

But in recent years, the court’s conservative majority has wielded that law to knock down objections to unfair arbitration clauses involving consumers.

Vincent and Liza Concepcion, who live in the San Diego area, were charged $30.22 in sales tax for what was promoted as a free cellphone. They tried to join a class-action suit against AT&T Mobility, but the company said the they would have to go to arbitration as individuals. Their cellphone contract prohibited class-action claims, the company said.

Judges in California — both federal and state — agreed with the Concepcions and ruled that the company could not enforce its ban on class-action claims. The Supreme Court reversed that decision in AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion.

“Arbitration is poorly suited to the higher stakes of class litigation,” Scalia said. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The dissenters said a practical ban on class actions would be unfair to cheated consumers.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the California courts have wisely insisted on permitting class-action claims. Otherwise, he said, it would allow a company to “insulate” itself “from liability for its own frauds” by denying consumers a practical remedy.

Breyer added that a ban on class actions would prevent lawyers from representing clients for small claims.

“What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Concepcions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim,” he wrote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined his dissent.

The court itself divided along partisan lines. All five Republican appointees formed the majority, while the four Democratic appointees dissented.

david.savage@latimes.com

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/la-fi-court-class-action-20110428,0,2654787.story

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NOVEMBER 3, 2010

(excerpt)

This letter is a reminder that I am still entitled to the documents requested in my June 2008 Public Records Request and that the HCSD continues to have a legal obligation to preserve documents material to this request until inspection as requested has been completed and all disputes regarding the availability and production of documents have been finally resolved. Please reference the June 2008 Request to be sure that the HCSD preserves what is mandated by law pursuant to my Request.

As a reminder, the purpose of my request is threefold:
1) to permit public scrutiny of the HCSD customs, practices, and procedures material to contact with homeless and/or transient people, people sleeping and/or camping outside, and people sitting on public sidewalks;
2) to permit public scrutiny of the specific actions of HCSD in the Garberville/Redway area in relation to homeless and/or transient people, people sleeping and/or camping outside, and people sitting on public sidewalks, and;
3) to evaluate the need for additional training, guidance, oversight, and monitoring regarding HCSD interactions with homeless and/or transient people, people sleeping and/or camping outside, and people sitting on public sidewalks to prevent the violation of said peoples’ rights (rights established by law, by the California and United States Constitutions, and by international treatises).

Due to the HCSD’s initial and now long-time refusal to comply with the request, and due to the HCSD’s increased and escalated activities related to and against homeless and/or transient people, people sleeping and/or camping outside, and people sitting on public sidewalks, the records that the HCSD is now required to produce responsive to my June 2008 Request have increased exponentially.

To see the letter in its entirety, CLICK HERE

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Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department Refuses to Comply with California Public Records Request

In 2008, while Sheriff’s made nasty raids of houseless peoples’ camps in Southern Humboldt and attacked houseless and travelling people in the day (for “crimes” like sitting under shade trees during record heat) a Southern Humboldt resident made a CA Public Records Request.

Click on the title link above to read some of the background and see the documents.

Because the Sheriff’s Dept. has failed to comply with the request, it has dragged on to now. Now that Humboldt Sheriff’s Officers are doing STREET SWEEPS and CHECKPOINTS FOR LOCAL ID (with none, you’re run out of town or arrested), they are going to have to give up lots more info in response to the request about what they are doing to people. If they don’t give it up soon, it’s going to court.

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Tiny (aka Lisa Gray–Garcia) is a poverty scholar, revolutionary journalist, PO’ Poet, spoken word artist, welfareQUEEN, lecturer, Indigena Taina/Boriken/Irish mama of Tiburcio and daughter of Dee and the co–founder and executive director of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork in the San Francisco Bay Area.

http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/04/04/18643798.php
Tiny (aka Lisa Gray–Garcia) is a poverty scholar, revolutionary journalist, PO’ Poet, spoken word artist, welfareQUEEN, lecturer, Indigena Taina/Boriken/Irish mama of Tiburcio and daughter of Dee and the co–founder and executive director of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork. POOR is a grassroots, non–profit, arts organization dedicated to providing extreme access to media, education and arts for youth, adults and elders struggling with poverty, racism, disability and border fascism locally and globally. Tiny is a teacher, multi–media producer, and author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America, published by City Lights.

She has innovated several revolutionary media, arts and education programs for youth, adults and elders including the first welfare to work journalism program in the US for poor mothers transitioning off of welfare, PoorNewsNetwork — an on–line magazine and monthly radio show on KPFA, and several cultural projects such as the Po’ Poets Project, Youth in Media, welfareQUEENs, and many more. She is also a prolific writer who has authored over a hundred articles on issues ranging from poor women and families, interdependence, and the cult of individualism to gentrification, homelessness, police brutality, incarceration, art and global and local poverty. For more information see http://www.tinygraygarcia.com.

Angola 3 News: How did POOR Magazine get started?

Tiny: POOR Magazine is a poor people led/indigenous people led grassroots, non-profit, arts organization dedicated to providing revolutionary media access, education and art to youth, adults and elders locally and globally

POOR the magazine was launched in las calles, welfare offices, social security lobbies, and shelters in 1996 by an Indigenous Raza mother and daughter team who barely survived homelessness, extreme poverty, disability, criminalization, racism and survived on underground economic strategies. We began with community journalism workshops focused on telling our own stories, reclaiming our own scholarship and redefining in and of itself what media even is and who controls it.

We practice eldership, ancestor worship and interdependence as a resistance to the destruction of capitalism, imperialism, colonization and white supremacy.

POOR Magazine defines indigenismo within an urban indigenous context of shared identities and shared struggles. We are landless African, Taino/ Boricua, Mexicano/Mexica/Raza, Iroquois, Pomo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Celtic, Hawaiian, Samoan, Jewish, Arabic, South Asian, Oaxacan, Guatemalan, Salvadoran and many more, We are Elders, Youth, Children, Mamaz, Fathers, Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Families and Individuals brought together through the shared struggle of poverty, survival and ‘thrival.

To this end, POOR Magazine has implemented the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples as a revolutionary resistance document. This is one of the ways we practice redefining the capitalist systems of oppression, philanthropy, the prison industrial complex , the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC), and systems of controlled and stolen resources, land and information.

In 1999, while my Mama and I were still “in the life” and while I personally was being told by my welfare worker that I needed to realize what a waste of taxpayers resources I was, taught myself how to write an RFP for a welfare to work grant to teach poor mamas like me and my mama how to be journalists, writers, and media producers.

I successfully mastered the linguistic domination skills necessary to reclaim those stolen government resources and give it back to the people. With it we were able to start our indigenous news-making circle (which up-ends the hierarchy of both independent and corporate media), our KPFA radio show, our on-line news service and our media training classrooms.

In 2002, we lost all of the government dollars when they saw that we were teaching people how to write about the very systems that were oppressing all of us (ie, the welfare to work locus of control).

This almost killed us—but we are not sorry that we reclaimed those funds. It would elitist and illogical. But that government-sponsored inquisition still almost killed us. And when the government dollars left, so did all of the philanthro-pimped private donations.

This tragedy led us to not only fight harder, but to build a curriculum around the myths of philanthropy, and launch The Race, Poverty, & Media Justice Institute as well as a completely new concept we call Revolutionary Giving.

A3N: How is POOR Magazine different than the corporate media? What kinds of stories will readers find?

Tiny: First of all, POOR Magazine is not just a media organization, we are a family of poverty scholars teaching on and speaking on issues of poverty, racism, disability, border fascism and indigenous resistance. To this end we have launched:

• PeopleSkool—Escuela de la gente—Education for ALL peoples outside the Institution.

• FamilySkool is our multi-generational teaching and learning project.

• The Race, Poverty, & Media Justice Institute teaches folks enmeshed in Akkkademia about different and other forms of knowledge and scholarship.

• POOR Press—the publishing arm of POOR Magazine—aimed at infiltrating the racist, classist publishing industry that demands a series of access channels.

• The Po Poets Project and the welfareQUEENS’ revolutionary poets and cultural workers in poverty and resistance.

• Hotel Voices is a play on the experience of surviving and thriving Single Room Occupancy hotels .

• HOMEFULNESS—our most important project—is a sweat-equity co-housing project for landless families in poverty, which includes a school, media center and micro-business projects. This has the goal of reclaiming stolen lands and resources and moving off the grid of controlled systems of housing and budget kkkrumbs. This project is informed by the teaching of MOVE founder John Africa.

As far as media, POOR Magazine aligns ourselves with other poor people led/indigenous people led movements such as the Shackdwellers Union in South Africa, POCC, and the MST (landless peoples movement in Brazil) who actively reject the ideas that someone else has to tell our stories for us, perpetuating the 21st century missionary/default kkkolonizers position that just because you have access to a computer, a micro-phone or a camera, our stories suddenly become your stories, your property.

We also resist the myth of objectivity and how if an author or media producer writes in the “I” voice it automatically takes away its legitimacy.

How do you ensure that the silenced voices of people in poverty are heard? By addressing the subtle and not so subtle ways in which our voices and research and scholarship is separated out and suppressed. We teach on our forms of media revolution and media justice at the Race, Poverty, & Media Justice Institute and PeopleSkool.

We redefine media as art, hip hop, graffiti, spoken word, poetry and talk-story.

All of our media, whomever makes it includes the lens and voices of the writers who have experienced positions of poverty and oppression first-hand. For our allies who have different forms of academic privilege, we also ask for the same inclusion of “I” voice and personal scholarship.

A3N: In regards to the issues of homelessness and poverty, what do you think are the biggest lies propagated by the corporate media?

Tiny: That we, houseless folks, are a tribe that walks the earth, rather than people who need a roof; That we are all criminal by design; That our voices are irrelevant and our solutions un-informed.

We at POOR no longer use the NPIC term, “homeless” because it is another way to turn our problems into profit for NGO’s and NPIC’s across the globe.

A3N: How does the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex (PIC) relate to issues of poverty and houselessness?

Tiny: It completely relates. It is why I was incarcerated in Amerikkka and why I wrote the book Criminal of Poverty: Growing up homeless in America. It is illegal to be houseless in the US and arguably it is illegal to be poor. We have modern day apartheid and slave plantations called prisons, and they have to constantly feed this machine with fresh meat so the PIC industry can make revenue. Racism, poverty, and disability are all linked and are alive and well.

Throughout my childhood – my poor mama of color and I were houseless and living in our car, and I was eventually arrested for those “crimes.” I am light-skinned and look white even though my mama is Boriken, Taina and Afrikan. I look like my kkkolonizer dad, so I could lie to a landlord about being a single adult with a job and the landlord would accept it rather than that my mama was a hard worker who was responsible.

But it isn’t just houseless folks. Its migrant workers, youth of color, people in poverty living with a mental disability, micro-business people, foster youth and on and on. Our struggles against racism and criminalization are linked.

A3N: What are the most recent projects that POOR Magazine is working on?

Tiny: We just completed the very beautiful anthology, Los Viajes/The journeys, which is a beautiful compilation of peoples crossing over false criminalizing borders across pacha mama.

We are trying go to the US Social Forum and the Allied Media Conference in Detroit to lead a PeopleSkool workshop on media, akkkademia and research, as well as a forum on linguistic domination.

Also, we are gearing up for a new session of PeopleSkool in Summer 2010, and we launched the equity campaign to raise funds or acquire land for HOMEFULNESS- in 2010/2011.

–Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is http://www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.
http://www.angola3news.com

§The Race, Poverty, & Media Justice Institute
by Angola 3 News Thursday Mar 25th, 2010 7:21 PM


http://www.angola3news.com

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