Judge consolidates class action lawsuits over Ventra transit cards

By Kenneth Lowe | Jan 29, 2014

A federal judge in Chicago has consolidated three class action suits over the Ventra transit card system that spurred commuter complaints shortly after it went into effect last year.

A federal judge in Chicago has consolidated three class action suits over the Ventra transit card system that spurred commuter complaints shortly after it went into effect last year.

U.S. Judge Joan B. Gottschall earlier this month consolidated the suits Stacy Allen, James D. Denger and Min Ro brought against Cubic Corp., its subsidiaries and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) over claims they were charged multiple times for a single fare.

The plaintiffs are expected to file an amended complaint showing the consolidation at some point today. A status hearing in the matter has been set for Feb. 28.

The Ventra system works by providing customers with a transit card linked to an account loaded with money and associated with a cardholder's debit card. Tapping the card on card readers at CTA stations deducts fare from the card, and when the balance is exhausted, the account automatically charges the cardholder's debit card to refill itself.

The CTA instituted the Ventra system Sept. 9, but soon faced irate customers complaining of malfunctioning machines and turnstiles and being charged multiple times. CTA has also said the Ventra system gave away free rides to some customers erroneously.

Describing the practice as “death by a thousand cuts,” Allen's suit, filed Jan. 4 and the most recent of the three, alleges the Ventra card system --which Cubic entered into a $454 million contract with CTA to install --frequently charged customers twice and sometimes three or four times for a single ride.

On  behalf of themselves and a proposed class, the plaintiffs are suing Cubic and the CTA for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act.

“Cubic misrepresented to the public that the Ventra system was fully operational and would work as advertised, despite knowing that the Ventra system has numerous bugs and would not perform as expected," Ro's suit alleges.

"Notwithstanding this knowledge," it adds, "Cubic implemented the Ventra system and encouraged and allowed customers to switch to the Ventra system from other forms of transit payment that were still available."

Kenger's suit details a number of incidents in September and October during which time he alleges his Ventra card was charged multiple times for a single ride.

It also notes that he was charged $2 "for the privilege of talking to a live customer service representative," something Kenger asserts he didn't notice until his debit card was automatically charged to refill his card and is a violation of Cubic's terms and conditions.

Kenger's suit, filed Oct. 10, and Ro's Dec. 2 complaint, both proposed class actions, had already been consolidated.

Allen on Jan. 7 filed a motion to consolidate her suit with the two others,  saying they seek the same relief, made substantially similar allegations and are being brought on behalf of a similar class.

Gottschall granted Allen's motion on Jan. 8, ordered the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, which is expected to be submitted at some point today, and scheduled a Feb. 28  status hearing.

So far, the plaintiffs' motions for class certification have been denied, but Gottschall noted in Allen's case that the denial was "in the interest of judicial economy," the "request for class certification remains pending as a placeholder, and no rights are waived" and that she would set a briefing schedule on the motions.

The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of actual and punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees and injunctive relief.

Allen is represented by Chicago attorneys Joseph J. Siprut, Gregg M. Barbakoff and Ismael T. Salam of Siprut P.C.

Kenger is represented by Cathleen M. Combs, James O. Latturner and Cassandra P. Miller of Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin LLC.

Ro is represented by Thomas A. Zimmerman Jr., Adam M. Tamburelli and Frank J. Stretz of Zimmerman Law Offices P.C.

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