A Class Action Farce


I recently received a notice via email that I am a plaintiff in a class action suit/settlement vs.  Classmates.com. Each "plaintiff" will apparently receive a $3 credit that may only be used to purchase services from the defendant. Big question is, should each attorney receive $1.4 million or $1.05 million? Here is a case, I suspect, in which the cure is substantially worse than the disease, unless, of course you are Mark. A. Griffin, Amy Williams-Derry or Richard L. Kellner, Esquires. The cause of action hinges on the fact that Classmates.com sent some 18 million emails to people informing them that they had old classmates looking for them. In order to see who these old friends were, one had to pay $18 for a shiny platinum membership. After paying the fee one would discover that, in fact, nobody was looking for them. An obviously egregious and nefarious violation of the laws of nations for which the attorneys were to receive over a million dollar payday.

I posted the above statement on my Facebook page and was surprised when all of my attorney friends jumped, before getting any facts beyond what was posted, to the defense of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. My learned friends pointed out that:

  1. “There's a LOT of work involved, and a lot of expense, which is usually initially borne by the firm doing the work. Lawyers should be paid for their work.”
  2. “Holding a wrongdoer legally responsible for past bad acts does have a deterrent effect on future conduct. I think it's pretty clear we live in a safer, cleaner environment due in no small part to our legal system in general and some class action lawsuits in particular.” [This, ironically, from a person who doesn’t believe that capital punishment has that effect.]

I agree that it is wrong for companies to defraud people, and I certainly agree that lawyers deserve compensation for their labors. But that's not really the point in this case, which is bloody ludicrous on its face. I am not generalizing that ALL class action cases are ridiculous, but dammit, this one is! The attorneys got a big payday that I’m not sure they worked all that hard to win. The attorneys themselves noted that, when discussing the case, they realized that there were millions of people who received the email. From there they only had to argue before the judge that their two actual clients (Michaels and Valesquez) had been harmed, and so, by extension, had millions of other people. The two people who actually contacted the attorneys got $2,500 each, the "class of plaintiffs" got (really) nothing except a $3 credit for an $18 service from the defendant. 

The reported $9.1 million payout is really only some $6 million, the rest is a credit to potential Classmate.com customers. Classmates can now write emails to all 8 million (of so) of the people the company initially "egregiously defrauded," and say, "Sorry about the spam we sent to you. As a result of the settlement we can now offer you this $18 service for a mere $15." If 750,000 of some 18 million decide to buy the new, discounted service, Classmates pays off its liabilities, makes a tidy profit and justice has been served. Part of what's at least ironic, is that all things considered, Classmates was not punished, but was actually given an opportunity to do the same thing that got it in trouble in the first place, that is, Classmates can now solicit potential customers by email with an offer of a $3 credit for an $18 service.

Benjamin L. Price