Business v. Class Action


A contract signature.  Photo by Frank McMains, of, licensed via Creative Commons.
How much are you signing away to get that sweet, sweet 1994 Toyota Tercel?

An article in the New York Times caught my attention today.  It’s about the fallout from the 2011 Supreme Court decision in AT&T v. Concepcion, which stated that corporations can write clauses into contracts to prevent class action lawsuits.  To do this, the clauses require customers to settle disputes through arbitration (instead of in an actual court of law) and to relinquish their right to litigate as a class.  In effect, the contracts waive the customers’ right to due process.  Since that decision, the legal world has changed.  For the better or for worse?

Keep reading the full post to see what’s up with these clauses and to learn a tip on how to get around them.

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200 Electric Car Quick Charging Stations to Be Built in California

Oil rigs in Texas, by Flickr user "mayhem", licensed via Creative Commons
Soon-to-be things of the past?

It’s always interesting to see what an entity does with its settlement money, whether required to or not.  The recent $25 billion federal mortgage settlement, although recommended to be used for debt relief and foreclosure fraud investigation, has been earmarked by states for a variety of purposes.  Most notably, the state of Georgia is using their slice of the pie to boost local infrastructure projects, arguing that the settlement includes no legally binding provisions for the money’s use and paving the way for other states to do the same.  Companies also pop up in the news sometimes for funneling settlement money into investment funds or, more commonly and in the interest of good press, towards charity, as is the case when Gordon Ramsay donated $66,000 USD after skipping out on a charity function.

Which brings me to an interesting tidbit in today’s news: as part of a settlement regarding an electricity contract, NRG Energy will be investing $120 million to build charging stations for electric cars across California.  They will be building 10,000 charging outlets at 1,000 locations across Southern California.  Two hundred of these will be publicly-available “fast-charging stations”, which give electric cars about 50 miles of use in 15 minutes of charging.  Fewer than 5 of these quick-charge stations are currently operative in California, meaning this settlement effectively increases the amount by a factor of 40.

This is exciting stuff.  Oil prices being as high as they are and climbing, the move to low-cost high-efficiency electric vehicles is going to depend on access to electricity on the road and in a pinch.  In other words, charging a car needs to become as quick, convenient, and nigh-ubiquitous as a trip to the gas station.  A small part of NRG’s settlement is putting $20 million towards reducing home utility rates — another step in the right direction, since you can’t get gasoline at home unless you live in a little-used utility closet in a refinery like I do.  As electric cars become cheaper and more fashionable, and as miles per gallon becomes a higher selling point for consumers, I suspect electric companies are going to start building these types of stations on their own, without a court order.  We’ll see — some people just plain don’t like oil.