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Satellite TV Company Charges Unlawful "Early Cancellation" Fee, Consumer Advocates Contend
 
Santa Monica, CA -- A class action lawsuit charging that DIRECTV, the satellite entertainment company, imposes unlawful early cancellation fees of up to $480, often taking the money directly out of a consumer’s credit card or bank account without the customer’s permission, may proceed, a California Superior Court judge has ruled.
 
“This is a major step forward in our mission to obtain justice for California consumers cheated by DIRECTV,” said Harvey Rosenfield, founder of the non-profit Consumer Watchdog, who, along with Litigation Director Pamela Pressley, is one of the attorneys in the case.
 
“California consumers who continue to have their bank accounts plundered without their consent by DIRECTV deserve their day in court, and the court’s recent ruling will allow the plaintiffs to move forward with uncovering and exposing the extent of DIRECTV’s deceptive practices,” said Ms. Pressley.
 
In a complaint filed last September in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of current and former California DIRECTV customers who were charged an early cancellation penalty, Los Angeles resident Kathy Greiner explained that when her DIRECTV receiver stopped working, she ordered a new one. It began experiencing problems, but DIRECTV would not resolve the problem. So Greiner, a six-year customer of the company, cancelled her service and returned the equipment. DIRECTV subsequently levied a $240 “early cancellation” penalty on Greiner, which the company took directly from her bank account (after deducting some amounts she had previously paid) without her knowledge or permission.
 
Greiner’s complaint was later consolidated with another lawsuit brought by Amy Imburgia and Marlene Mecca, also California residents. The joint lawsuit, Imburgia, et. al, v. DirecTV, Inc., 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.
 
DIRECTV Sought to Block State Case In Favor of Federal Lawsuit
 
In addition to the joint lawsuit in California state court, numerous lawsuits against DIRECTV have been filed in federal courts, including in California. The state case was temporarily delayed while the court considered DIRECTV’s request to stay the California case pending the conclusion of the federal case filed in the Central District of California, which would have effectively ended the state litigation. Attorneys for consumers in the state court suit pointed out that the federal case had already been severely delayed due to DIRECTV’s litigation tactics and argued that there was no reason for the state court to defer to the federal court at this juncture. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias lifted the temporary stay at a hearing last Friday, July 10, after receiving assurance that lawyers for consumers in the state case would coordinate with their colleagues in the federal case to minimize duplication of effort.
 
Along with lawyers for Consumer Watchdog, Greiner is represented by the Law Offices of F. Edie Mermelstein, based in Huntington Beach, and Wayne Kreger and Jennifer Steinberg of the Santa Monica-based firm of Milstein, Adelman and Kreger, LLP.   Click here to download a copy of the joint amended complaint.
 
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Consumer Watchdog, formerly The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.