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Imburgia, Mecca and Greiner v. DirecTv
Los Angeles Superior Court No. BC 398295
 
UPDATE: Court Denies Preliminary Injunction Against DirecTv

During 2008, Consumer Watchdog received complaints from the public concerning unexpected and undisclosed equipment charges by DirecTv when customers terminate satellite television service, either because they moved and the service wasn't available in the new location or the equipment stopped working. DirecTV would charge the customers an undisclosed "early cancellation fee" (ECF) of up to $480, often taking the money directly out of a consumer's credit card or bank account without the customer's permission.

On September 18, 2008, Consumer Watchdog joined with Milstein, Adelman & Kreger and the Law Office of Edie Mermelstein to file a lawsuit against DirecTv on behalf Los Angeles resident Kathy Greiner and all other Californians who were or may be assessed the ECF. Greiner's complaint was later consolidated with another lawsuit brought by plaintiffs Amy Imburgia and Marlene Mecca, also California residents.

The joint complaint alleges that DirecTv failed to disclose to purchasers that it imposed an 18 or 24 month term of service and that cancellation before the end of the term would result in enormous penalty fees. The company would also automatically extend the "contractual obligation" by another year or two if malfunctioning equipment needed to be replaced or the customer decided to make a change to programming or other services. DirecTv charged the fee to customers' credit cards, or even took the funds out of their checking accounts. These policies were not properly disclosed to purchasers beforehand, and consumers did not agree to them, the suit states. Similar suits were filed in federal courts throughout the country. They have since been consolidated in one federal court in Los Angeles.

In January 2009, DirecTv asked the Los Angeles Superior Court to place the case on hold until the suit in federal court in California was completed. Consumer Watchdog and other lawyers for Greiner, Imburgia and Mecca urged the court to let their case proceed. In July, the court agreed to allow the state case to move forward.

UPDATE: Court Denies Preliminary Injunction Against DirecTv

On September 22, 2009, Consumer Watchdog and its colleagues filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the Superior Court to block the company from automatically removing the fees from customers' bank accounts or charging their credit card accounts without their prior knowledge and written consent until the lawsuit is resolved.

The motion notes that DirecTv is systematically withdrawing the fees of up to $480 - which the lawsuit contends are unlawful - from customers' accounts without their knowledge or permission. The withdrawals have caused consumers' accounts to be overdrawn, customers' checks to bounce, over-limit penalties to be assessed and their credit reports to be harmed as a result. DirecTv is strenuously opposing the motion, arguing that Greiner, Imbrugia and Mecca have no right to seek an injunction and that they should be required to post a bond of over $1 million.

DirecTv has filed a motion asking the court to dismiss portions of the suit as well as another motion asking the court to hold the case in abeyance until the federal case is concluded. Lawyers for all the plaintiffs have filed briefs opposing DirecTv's attempts to delay and negate the lawsuit.

The court held a hearing on all three motions on November 24, 2009. The court denied DirectTv's motion to delay the case. However, the court also rejected the request for a preliminary injunction on the ground that consumers are not "irreparably injured" when DirecTv removes funds from their checking or credit card accounts.

The court delayed a decision on DirecTv's motion to dismiss a portion of the lawsuit until February.

Read the news releases issued by Consumer Watchdog.