The decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion is as big a pro-business, pro-corporate ruling as we've ever seen from the Roberts' Court
On Wednesday morning, the United States Supreme Court gave the world a preview of its coming Walmart class action ruling -- and right now things don't look good at all for the legions of female employees and former employees who claim the giant retailer discriminated against them based upon their gender. In AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Court's five conservative justices banded together to hand Big Business yet another huge legal victory, this time in the context of compelled arbitration clauses, which sets back for decades the rights of individual consumers.
Here is how the Supreme Court described the facts and history of the AT&T Mobility case:
The cellular telephone contract between respondents (Concepcions) and petitioner (AT&T) provided for arbitration of all disputes, but did not permit classwide arbitration. After the Concepcions were charged sales tax on the retail value of phones provided free under their service contract, they sued AT&T in a California Federal District Court.Their suit was consolidated with a class action alleging, inter alia, that AT&T had engaged in false advertising and fraud by charging sales tax on "free" phones. The District Court denied AT&T's motion to compel arbitration under the Concepcions' contract. Relying on the California Supreme Court's Discover Bank decision, it found the arbitration provision unconscionable because it disallowed classwide proceedings. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the provision was unconscionable under California law and held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which makes arbitration agreements "valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract," did not preempt its ruling.
I'll leave it to others to parse the details of Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion, which overturned the 9th Circuit, voided the intended impact of California's consumer law and case precedent, and declared that the Federal Arbitration Act allows corporations to force individuals to adhere to individual dispute arbitration no matter how unjust the results. Suffice it to say that the Court's decision completely defies the very federalism principles which are so often articulated by the very conservative members who agreed Wednesday to strike down a state's effort to level the consumer playing field for millions of its residents. This is as big a pro-business, pro-corporate ruling as we've ever seen from the Roberts' Court -- and it will take explicit Congressional action to overturn it. Paging Lilly Ledbetter!