My contact in California who is suing Amazon in small claims court suggests pursuing a class-action lawsuit against Amazon in a red (Republican) state (e.g., Alabama). She believes this would be a more favorable venue than the U.S. federal 9th circuit (Washington, Oregon, California) which tends to be Amazon-friendly. At the same time, Republicans often prioritize corporations over individuals’ rights to redress, so they may uphold binding arbitration clauses that prevent any court actions except small claims.
I contacted a lawfirm with this email. It may not be possible to pursue class-action due to the binding arbitration clause in Amazon’s terms, however.
I am writing to inquire about the possibility of a class-action lawsuit against Amazon.com, Inc. regarding the many customers they have blacklisted without explanation. They refuse to return pro-rated Prime membership fees, gift card balances, stored photos, Kindle e-books, et cetera. They also do not stand by their return policy for blacklisted customers.
Beginning on Friday, March 30, 2018, Amazon.com, Inc. has stepped up their blacklisting of customers, citing TOS violations such as writing a review for an item that a customer received a discount code from the seller. Many customers did not even appear to break the terms yet have been blacklisted. Some are saying this is a glitch, but Amazon has a history of illegal practices relating to blacklisted customers dating back to 2008. Members of Amazon.com, Inc. who were banned within the past week have a Facebook group, which already has 2,795 members.
Although Amazon’s terms claim they can seize a customer’s gift card balance at any time, I believe this is in violation of the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, Chapter 19.240 of the Revised Code of Washington, and Florida Statute 501.95. Amazon previously blacklisted me in August 2015 and stole my $451.20 gift card balance, but settled in February 2016 with me. However I am still trying to get them to discontinue these practices against other customers. With respect to blacklisted customers, Amazon fails to honor their return policy, does not pro-rate refunds of Prime membership, and does not allow access to order histories, purchased Kindle e-books, music, or saved files. This likely violates other laws.
One large hurdle is that Amazon’s terms say they can only be sued via small claims court. Otherwise, binding arbitration applies.
Please let me know what you think about this. If your lawfirm is not interested but you think another lawfirm would be interested, please refer me.
Richard Thripp, M.A.
Doctoral Student, Instructional Design & Technology
Graduate Teaching Associate – EME 2040 Instructor
University of Central Florida
In response, the lawyer said that Amazon’s Terms and Conditions prohibit anything but binding arbitration, to which I replied:
Hi, Attorney X and Jane Doe,
Jane Doe is in California and had contacted me about possibly submitting a written deposition as an expert witness regarding her small claims suit against Amazon for $3,400 of gift card balances. I had blind carbon copied her on my initial email to you.
In 2015, the NYT did an exposé, Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice. This is why Amazon and many other corporations cannot be sued via class-action, or at all, for that matter, besides small claims.
It is highly unlikely the SCOTUS would overturn their 2011 and 2013 decisions or that Amazon would be criminally charged. But, one option would be to flood them with small claims suits. Most consumers do not have the knowledge, time, or motivation to sue in small claims court unless their loss is relatively large. It would be interesting if a lawfirm could handle such suits at a large scale like traffic ticket mills.
Small claims allows discovery in some jurisdictions, which could be costly and get Amazon’s attention. In Washington state, discovery is not allowed, but in Florida, it is. Of course, people who just lost access to their photos probably wouldn’t have good cases, and losing an Amazon Prime membership is a max of $99 loss… It would make sense for people with large gift card balances to sue in small claims court, though.
Unfortunately, as a non-lawyer I am not permitted to give legal advice on my blog, the Facebook group, et cetera.
Note added 2018-04-11: Commentators should take note that a class-action lawsuit appears untenable against Amazon.com, Inc. due to the binding arbitration clause. In fact, any lawsuits except small claims suits are prohibited. Binding arbitration tends to result in decisions favorable to Amazon, while courts are less favorable to Amazon. This is why I have suggested law firms or individual attorneys should counsel consumers in small claims suits against Amazon at a massive scale, like law firms that specialize in traffic tickets at a low fee. Cases in which Amazon has stolen a customer’s Amazon gift card balance are especially viable in small claims courts.