When Patrick Renners received his first phone bill from Verizon Wireless, he was surprised to learn he'd been charged a $70 activation fee despite assurances from a local sales representative to the contrary.
Add to that the inclusion of calling plan amenities Renners didn't want, and had specifically not requested, and you have a disgruntled customer seeking remedy.
"All he wanted from Verizon was a phone he could use to make and receive calls, nothing else," said Charles P. Yezbak, III, a Nashville-based sole practitioner who represents Renners in a lawsuit filed June 15 in circuit court here.
Renners sued Verizon Communications Inc, and Vodafone Group, PLC, along with a number of subsidiary companies, alleging breach of contract, fraud, fraudulent inducement, negligent misrepresentation and various and sundry violations of the Tennessee and New Jersey consumer protection and fraud acts.
Although the monetary damages to Renners are nominal, the larger issue, according to Yezbak, is the "arbitration only" clause found in all Verizon Wireless sales agreements, which Yezbak claims is illegal. Hence the reason Yezbak is requesting the court grant Renners' suit class-action status.
"As it stands now, you can only sue Verizon on your own behalf and nobody else," Yezbak said.
The term in the Verizon Wireless sales agreement, which is not an uncommon provision found in most large product and service oriented companies, is a "mandatory arbitration agreement" clause prohibiting customers from seeking a class-action claim against the company.
Yezbak said, historically, the court system in this country was the great equalizer, creating a level playing field and giving ordinary folk a decent chance at winning a case. Now, the law leans toward the large corporation.
"These cases are not worth pursuing if you have no chance of winning," Yezbak said.
A Verizon spokesperson, contacted for this story, said she could not comment on pending litigation matters citing company policy.
The trouble began when Renners, after noticing the activation fee and the inclusion of unwanted services on his bill, called Verizon's customer service number. A representative told Renners in-store sales employees had no authority to waive activation fees despite a note in Renners' account, the complaint states, indicating the activation fees were not to be charged. Renners was also charged fees for a text messaging plan he's didn't want as well as an international call service arrangement.
Frustrated by these events, Renners called Verizon Wireless on October 28, 2010 and requested his service be terminated. According to Renners' complaint, Verizon began calling and asking for payment of a $500 early termination fee and payment of one month's service.
Click here to read more about the Verizon Wireless arbitration clause found in the company's sales agreements.
- ALEX B FRUIN INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDACE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; CANDANCE F STEFANSIC INHERITANCE TRUST; FRUIN, ALEX B TRUSTEE; FRUIN ALEX B INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC, CANDACE F TRUSTEE; STEFANSIC CANDACE F INHERITANCE TRUST; STEFANSIC CANDANCE F INHERITANCE TRUST
- ROSS, BRIDGETT D
- COOKE, ETHEN LANYARD TRUSTEE; COOKE, ETHEN LEWIS ESTATE
- JACOBS, JESSICA ALEXANDRA; JACOBS, ERIKA BESS