With relatively little fanfare, wireless carriers, mobile content vendors and some plaintiffs’ attorneys are quietly settling massive litigation involving claims that charges for ringtones, games, graphics and other mobile content were charged to subscribers’ monthly bills without their authorization. But there’s more to the story on those suits (McFerren v ATT Mobility, Gray v Mobile Messenger Americas et al. and in marketing litigation involving VeriSign, AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Jamster International) and other class actions targeting wireless carriers.
All wireless consumer lawsuits are not equal, even when allegations are identical or virtually so in claims filed in different venues around the country. A huge deciding factor can be money, the amount trial lawyers and defendants are willing to shake on to the make the whole thing go away. The smaller the settlement figure, the more likely wireless providers are apt to do deals that can be far-reaching but may or may not be in consumers’ best interest. Trial lawyers get peeved when their brethren – especially those who’ve invested less time and money on similar cases — promptly reach settlements that can have the effect of wiping out other class actions elsewhere. When such situations arise, trial lawyers go to war with each other. It can get nasty. While this kind of feuding (or collaboration) among plaintiffs’ lawyers is no revelation to the legal profession, it nonetheless provides for the rest of us an intriguing window into the rock’em, sock’em world of caustic class action combat.
After it surfaced last May that AT&T Mobility and VeriSign had cut a class-action deal with McFerren’s lawyers in Georgia state court – one encompassing 15 other class actions in which AT&T Mobility is named as a defendant – other plaintiffs’ attorneys in separate marketing litigation cried foul in California federal court. They sought to have AT&T Mobility sanctioned because the No. 2 wireless carrier allegedly failed to notify the California federal court of goings-on in mobile content litigation in Georgia state court. California U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller subsequently barred AT&T Mobility from settling deceptive marketing claims in Georgia court.
The same sort of settlement sparring among pugnacious plaintiffs’ lawyers is also playing out on both coasts in early termination fee class action litigation against Sprint Nextel. It’s hard to say whether things will get as messy for U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly of Illinois, picked by a judicial panel to oversee the mounting number of antitrust class action lawsuits against national wireless carriers for allegedly conspiring to hike text message prices over the past few years. There must have been close to 40 of them the last time I checked.