Distant Forum Abuse
Mr. and Mrs. Z are an elderly Spanish-speaking couple who own a home in San Jose. After the couple purchased a furnace, a dispute arose over a $700 amount which was billed over and above the initial contract price. Our clients refused to pay and the business claiming the $700 sued our clients in Small Claims Court in Orange County. We assisted the clients in making a number of informal requests to the court and the company to move the case to Santa Clara County. Nevertheless, the business persisted in pressing forward and obtaining judgments against both of our clients in Southern California. This practice of suing consumers far from their homes is known ‘distant forum abuse’, and is prohibited by California’s Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. KGACLC students responded by filing suit against the business. The students were able to negotiate a favorable settlement whereby the small claims judgment against our clients was vacated, the underlying $700 claim against our clients was released, and the business paid our clients $8,630 plus attorneys fees.
Debt Collection Harassment
Mrs. U came to the Law Center regarding a dispute with a car dealer. Mrs. U had visited the dealership at the request of a friend who had bad credit. One of the dealership’s salesmen promised Mrs. U that if she co-signed for her friend and the friend made the first three payments, that the dealership would then rewrite the contract with only the friend’s signature. Mrs. U returned to the dealership three months later but the dealership refused to rewrite the contract. The Law Center wrote a letter to the dealership and finance company informing them that Mrs. U was not responsible for payments under the contract due to the dealership’s fraud and its failure to make disclosures required by law. The finance company continued to call Mrs. U and demand payment. Law student Jared Ensign filed suit against the dealership and the finance company. Jared negotiated a favorable settlement whereby Mrs. U was released from any obligation under the contract. Furthermore she received three times the amount she had paid under the contract.
Mr. E came to the Law Center after he learned that a used car he had recently purchased was a prior rental car which had been involved in an accident. California law requires that dealers disclose that used cars are prior rentals if their status is known to the dealer, but this particular dealership had failed to make the required disclosure. The Law Center litigated this matter for nearly two years. Students took and/or defended four depositions and defeated the dealer’s motion for summary judgment. Law student Mr. Curd finally negotiated a favorable settlement at a Mandatory Settlement Conference. The settlement allowed Mr. E to cancel his contract and receive a refund of all monies paid.
Ms. U, who works for a child care center, came to the KGACLC regarding a dispute with a used car dealership. The dealership had promised Ms. U that the car she was buying was in good condition and that the dealership would fix any problems with the car. When Ms. U brought the car in for the promised repairs, the dealership refused to make the repairs or return the vehicle to her. A KGACLC student identified additional claims against the dealership for violating federal and state credit disclosure laws. The student sent a demand letter and negotiated a settlement whereby the dealership refunded all of Ms. U’s payments and also paid her an additional $4,000.
Ms. E approached a paralegal for help with a bankruptcy petition, and paid him $700. The paralegal informed her that the documents would be completed within 90 days. Ms. E did not hear from the paralegal for 8 months, despite many attempts to contact him. Ms. E came to the Center for help. The Center aided Ms. E in filing a claim in small claims court, and she won a judgment. The paralegal appealed. A Center student successfully represented Ms. E at the appeal and the judgment was upheld. The paralegal then refused to pay. After the Center student prepared and served an Order of Examination on the paralegal, he finally paid the $1000 he owed. (3/01)
Telemarketing/Door-to-Door Sales Fraud
Mr. D and his wife purchased a computer system from a door-to-door salesman after a high-pressure sales pitch in their home. The finance company provided a monthly payment figure but failed to disclose that Mr. D and his wife would have to pay over $1,000 in interest over the life of the loan. The Law Center filed a class action suit against the computer company and the finance company. Mr. D and his wife received $5,000 and the class received $690,000 in cash and over a million dollars in debt relief. The Law Center also obtained an injunction against the computer company.
Mr. S is a San José resident who works part-time as a janitor. He is developmentally disabled and relies on the help of friends or family whenever he has to make any kind of substantial purchase. He takes someone with him when he goes grocery shopping because he is unable to correctly calculate change. Mr. S owns a trailer and lives in a mobile home park.
A door-to-door salesman came to Mr. S’s trailer one day. The salesman convinced Mr. S that he needed to pay $1,600 for a new vacuum (the salesman claimed it actually retailed for $3,200). The salesman had Mr. S sign a contract that financed the vacuum at a disclosed annual percentage rate (APR) of 21.98%.
When Mr. S’s sister found out about the contract, she brought her brother to the Alexander Community Law Center. A student determined that the true APR for the contract was 23.84%. After a demand letter failed to bring about the desired result, the student filed suit. A second student settled the case shortly thereafter. The defendants agreed to cancel the contract and paid a total of $15,000 as a penalty for their abusive business practices. Mr. S was extremely appreciative of the help he received from our students.
Ms. L, a 59-year-old domestic worker with excellent credit history, was victimized by identity theft. An imposter forged a credit card check for over $4,000 under her name. Ms. L was sued, damaging her credit history and causing her to be unable to sleep or stop crying for days afterward. The Center succeeded in having the suit dismissed and all negative credit information removed.
Credit Card Fraud
Ms. O noticed some unauthorized purchases on her credit card bill. She initiated a dispute with the credit card company, who provided her with receipts with signatures not resembling her own. Ms. O continued to dispute the charges, but the creditor rejected her dispute and continued to send collection letters. Ms. O came to the Law Center for assistance. The Center sent a demand letter pointing out that the signature on the receipts bare no resemblance to that of Ms. O. The creditor then admitted that fraud was involved. It removed the disputed charges and had all negative credit information deleted from Ms. O’s account. (6/01)
Wage and Hour Clients
Mr. F., A 17-year old from Central America, was employed as a construction laborer to work on a home remodel. Initially, the employer, an unlicensed contractor, paid him in cash on a regular basis. However, as time went by, he was paid only part of his earnings and sometimes nothing at all. He sought the assistance of the Community Law Center in collecting his unpaid wages. Law students at the KGACLC interviewed Mr. F. They then prepared and filed a claim with the Labor Commission for unpaid wages, overtime, and penalties. During the hearing, the Hearing Officer recommended that the homeowner and the unlicensed contractor consider resolving the claim by settlement. The KGACLC law students were then able to negotiate a settlement of $4,000, which represents all of Mr. F’s unpaid wages and most of the penalties. Moreover, should the employer fail to pay the settlement as agreed, a judgment for the full amount of the wages and penalties will issue without additional litigation.
Ms. M was employed by a large electronics corporation in Silicon Valley for 36 years. Her position brought her into contact with numerous chemicals and required her to routinely lift 40-pound containers. Unfortunately, in March of 2006 Ms. M was diagnosed with breast cancer. After receiving treatment, she was cleared by her doctor to return to work with restrictions, including light lifting and no work with chemicals. Her employer refused to return her to work. Ms. M filed a claim of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that the employer failed to reasonably accommodate her disability. In June 2007, a law student at the KGACLC undertook Ms. M’s representation in mediation with the employer. Through the assistance of the EEOC mediator, the KGACLC law student was able to resolve the claim for Ms. M, obtaining approximately $14,000 in cash, in addition to other benefits.
Ms. O is from a Latin American country. She had a daughter who married into a wealthy family who owned a moving business, mainly handling contracts for the government. One day, she received an alarming call from her daughter, so Ms. O went to see her, only to find her lifeless body in the living room. She suspected foul play and went to the police and various government agencies, but she was advised to “leave things alone.”
Ms. O’s own investigations led her to suspect that her daughter had found out about her son-in-law’s shady business, which was being used to transport drugs across the country.
Her suspicions became justified when her son-in-law’s family attempted to kidnap her five-year old granddaughter–the only witness to the crime. One night, her son-in-law came to Ms. O’s house and told her to leave the country with the little girl; their lives were in danger.
Ms. O arrived in San José and eventually sought the assistance of the Alexander Community Law Center. In one of the longest-running cases that involved several law students, the Law Center helped Ms. O to process her asylum request successfully. It also introduced her to a local attorney, a former Law Center student, who helped her obtain legal custody of her granddaughter.