$3 million Class action dismissed vs AT&T over $3.99 fee added to U-verse vacation hold bills

By Dana Herra | Jul 1, 2015

A class action lawsuit brought by a Chicago man against AT&T Inc. for $3 million over a $3.99 monthly surcharge applied to his U-verse television service bill has been dismissed.

Lincolnshire attorney Anthony B. Gordon filed the suit on June 25 on behalf of his client, Robert Gordon. The suit seeks class action status, and also names as plaintiffs all other AT&T U-verse customers who were billed the questionable surcharge.

An order entered in Cook County Circuit Court by Judge Peter Flynn on Nov. 23 declared the case dismissed for want of prosecution after counsel for the plaintiff failed to appear in court for scheduled hearings in October and November.

The $3.99 surcharge appeared on Gordon’s bill while he had the television service at his seasonal residence, described as “a condominium owned by plaintiff in Florida,” on an eight-month vacation hold, according to court documents.

Under his contract with AT&T, the lawsuit says, Gordon could place his service on hold for a $5 monthly fee while out of town. However, while the service was on hold, the suit claims his bill was nearly twice that high, due to the $3.99 surcharge.

When Gordon asked about the charge on June 2, the suit says, he was told it was a “regulatory tax,” but no such tax actually exists. The suit claims the charge was labeled “Broadcast TV Surcharge,” defined by AT&T’s billing glossary as a surcharge to recover a portion of the amount local broadcasters charge the telecommunications giant to carry local channels. The lawsuit points out that under Illinois law, television services like U-verse are only required to retransmit local broadcast signals if the broadcasters provide them for free.

That issue aside, the suit says, no broadcast signals – or any other stations – were being transmitted while Gordon’s television service was on vacation hold.

“The fees which appear at the bottom of the bill are a way for defendant AT&T to jack up the price of a service that they are not providing,” the suit says. “The only reason to bury the cost is to be misleading to the consumer.”

According to the lawsuit, “defendant has refused to discontinue this practice” in the three weeks since Gordon first spoke to a company representative. Court documents claim injunctive relief from the courts is the next appropriate action.

The lawsuit, filed in the Cook County Circuit Court Chancery Division, asked the court for a preliminary and permanent injunction to prohibit AT&T from continuing to charge the monthly fee to customers on vacation hold, and asks the court to require AT&T to reimburse all customers who paid the fee. The suit requested more than $3 million, plus court costs and attorney’s fees.

The complaint had indicated the class might include all people “in the United States who owned or rented summer homes, condominiums or cooperatives (who) had their systems on hold also when they were not in residence.” The complaint does not estimate how many people the desired class action might cover, saying only they are “so numerous” a class action is the only way to proceed in the matter.

The litigation is Cook County Circuit Court Case No. 15-CH-09936.

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