Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deputy Dopey strikes again

Word comes to the remote precinct where coyotes abound that its state senator, Geoff Michel, the Deputy, was a chief author of SF149 which passed the Minnesota Senate today. The bill was carried mostly on Julianne Ortmann’s broad shoulders, but the Deputy and a couple of others were in on it too.

It is a bill that in essence destroys class action suits for consumer fraud in Minnesota. Here’s the pertinent part of the bill (this is from the Revisor’s page; it is possible that the bill was amended on the Senate floor, but I don’t think it was):

Private remedies for Unlawful Trade Practices Act, Prevention of Consumer Fraud Act, False Statement in Advertisement Act.

Civil actions pursuant to subdivision 3a for violations of the Unlawful Trade Practices Act (sections 325D.09 to 325D.16), Prevention of Consumer Fraud Act (sections 325F.68 to 325F.70), or the False Statement in Advertisement Act (section 325F.67) or other laws against false or fraudulent advertising may be brought only by persons who purchase or lease goods, services, or real estate for personal, family, household, or business purposes. Each such person seeking to recover damages for violations of these sections, either in an individual action, a class action, or any other type of action, is required to plead and prove on an individual basis that the deceptive act or practice caused the person to enter into the transaction that resulted in the damages. No award of damages in an action covered by this subdivision may be made without proof that the person or persons seeking damages suffered an actual out-of-pocket loss. The term "out-of-pocket loss" means an amount of money equal to the difference between the amount paid by the consumer for the good or service and the actual market value of the good or service that the consumer actually received.

Please read the highlighted sentence. Ordinarily, the only way that you are entitled to “plead” something in court is if you make an appearance and pay the filing fee. The plaintiff’s filing fee in Hennepin County is somewhere north of $300.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that a company defrauded 100,000 residents out of $300 each. That’s $30,000,000. To administer the payment of a judgment in that amount – even if was obtained in a class action – under this bill, there would apparently have to be a pleading of some kind entered on behalf of each claimant – and perhaps a filing fee paid; the bill doesn’t say – and maybe a hearing on each individual claim. A pleading is only an allegation, after all. To prove something, a court has to take evidence and make a ruling.

Who is going to go through all that effort, and maybe pay an unrecoverable filing fee, for $300? And that, boys and girls, it really what this bill is all about. It isn’t as though class action rules in court don’t already provide ways to be sure that a declared class includes only legitimate claimants, because they do.

This is just another example of how the Deputy and the rest of the Republicans in the Senate care as much about you as they do, say, poor people who need health care.

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