Court Venue should be in consumer's state!

blog Court Venue


I recently had an episode with a bank in California (I live in New Jersey) from which I had obtained a loan on a classic car. Very simply, I was required to keep insurance on the car. The bank claimed, correctly, the insurance lapsed for two months (while I switched carriers), and then according to the terms of the loan agreement charged me for insurance for those two months, the amount for which was never stated in my loan agreement, of course. Two months would cost me about $200. The bank charged $1,200. Obviously a profit center for them.

I disputed the charge immediately via certified mail (I recommend certified mail letters immediately when a dispute arises) and they failed to respond. They then demanded the $1,200 be paid or they would (and did) mark my monthly payments late (which they never were; it was that I refused to pay the extra disputed amount). After ten months my credit report had been marked late 10 times, and my credit was ruined.

Of course, I fought back. I filed suit in my local New Jersey court against the bank, and had them served in California. I represented myself (more on this later). The bank, at a cost of at least $3,000 hired a local law firm that submitted elaborate papers. It seems that in their lengthly loan agreement, there was a provision that any disputes would be heard in Orange County, California. The Judge fought for the bank, and I was then faced with having ruined credit, or going to California to fight the bank.

This loan was executed completely by phone and by internet and fax. I never visited the bank. The US Supreme Court has ruled (for those legally inclined, the Zippo… case) that such transactions can be heard in the resident state of the consumer. But the clause they had in the agreement (who reads and understand the legalese?) overrode that ruling, according to my unsympathetic local judge.

Fortunately I have occasion to travel to California, and so I filed a summons in Orange County, California, and served the bank. I planned a trip around the court date. The Judge threw the book at the bank, and awarded me $5,000. But that did not help. Although a small claims judge can award money damages, he cannot issue rulings to force the bank to undo what they did. The bank subsequently appealed, and at that appeal (my second trip) I settled, giving back the $5,000, but getting the bad marks removed.

This situation requires a change to the national credit law (the FCRA) which would set the venue of a consumer trial in the consumer’s home state, if the transaction was an internet transaction, as mine was. If not, the big thieving entities can abuse as they see fit, knowing that few, like me, would travel to sue them where they reside. I am glad I did, but I pity those who haven’t the means to do what I did. They would be stuck. If the bank has to travel to the consumer’s venue, they will be much more inclined to settle.

Representing one’s self is not as difficult as it may seem. The courts today have definite rules for those who represent themselves. For those not so inclined, I would urge community action groups to set up a legal advice department, which could be staffed with volunteer paralegals, not lawyers, to help the small guy fight back. Also, the law regarding venue definitely has to be defined and changed in the favor of the consumer.

I understand that the Justizz website will assist consumers in writing demand letters, filing legal actions, and have a legislative platform for laws that need to be made, changed or altered in favor of the consumer in cases such as mine.

Opinions about ObamaCare

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Thank you, Mr. Obama. You ruined my health coverage!

I am so distressed it is all I can do to refrain from using obscenities.

I had coverage, but it was recently cancelled, as a result of ObamaCare. It was a very acceptable health insurance policy with a large firm Aetna. I paid $453 a month, and I got free physicals, doctor visits, and catastrophic coverage with a $500 deductible. No drugs (I do not use any, and am averse to doing so) and no in-home rehabilitation or therapy (don’t need that either). Aetna says it was cancelled as a result of the changes made necessary by ObamaCare.

I remember clearly the President saying, (and addressing me and those like me, as “those folks”), that I could keep my existing plan. He either lied or was terribly misinformed.

So I signed up on the national health care website, and explored the plans offered. I first went to a catastrophic plan, that which would cover enormous surgical costs after a deductible of $5,000. No doctor’s visits, in fact, nothing else. There were a range of such plans depending on age. They started at $670 and went over $1,000. Mine would be maybe $800. So, far less coverage for 80-100% more a month! I called Aetna directly, and they have a similar catastrophic plan, starting at $860. A policy similar to the one I had, ranges from $1000 and up. More than double what I was paying.

Where is all that extra money going? My guess is that the handful of health providers, the greedy bums, are taking advantage of the confusion, to double their rates, and greatly inflate their profits, to pay for their corporate jets, resorts and private boxes. This entire mess was created by an administration that had no foresight as to how it would wind up, and now avoids discussing it. Millions of people like myself  have been abandoned.

Me, I will not be a part of it. I am opting out and I will self-insure from hereon.

Are Credit Reporting Agencies fair?

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The American Consumer’s Worst Enemies--The Three Major Credit Reporting Agencies.

We all rely on our credit every day, to obtain credit cards and mortgages, to use when applying for a job (most employers check, and will not hire a poor credit risk) and open a bank account (many banks will reject an applicant with a bad credit score).

To err is human, and many errors occur on the credit reports issued by the big three, Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. It is up to us, the consumers, to identify these errors, and request the three agencies to remove or change incorrect information. Many consumers do not even check their credit score for errors, and find out when it is too late, that their credit score is less than they thought. So, take it from me, check your credit score every six months.

I have always been on top of my credit reporting, and an amazing amount of errors and misinformation has turned up on my reports. So I needed to correct the problems. Now the fun begins. Because the three “bums” have no interest in helping you get the problems fixed. Why? Because it costs them money to do so, that’s why. So they would rather send you a form letter without doing a thing, because it is cheaper. They suggest you go to the offending party that reported the misinformation, which most of the time is a fool’s errand, because most companies ignore such requests, or send you their own form letter of denial. It is all a matter of bottom line to these terrible folks.

However, there exists (something government has done well) the Fair Credit Reporting Act, specifically aimed at the credit reporting industry. And, thank God and whoever pushed to have it made into law; it backs us, the consumers, completely. First, it puts the burden of investigating errors on the credit reporting agencies, so they are incorrect in asking, or demanding, that we do so. Next it provides very specific penalties against the agencies if they fail to correct an error within 30 days. And, happily again, judges in the small claims system, where the impasses eventually go, help and favor the little guy.

I had two situations, one six years ago, and one a few months ago. Six years ago, my letters of request for correction to the three agencies were denied. I wrote a second letter, and Equifax, which seems to be the best of the bunch, removed the misinformation. I sued the other two in in small claims court. At that point, a lawyer from TransUnion called and then offered to remove the misinformation, which they did. But the rotten bastards at Experian, by far the worst of the three, did nothing. They answered my summons using a fancy law firm, and (stupidly) moved the case to federal court. To make it simple, the court awarded me $5,000 in the end, and ordered them to remove the errors. Hooray! Victory for the consumer.

Experian was the firm investigated by 60 Minutes a couple of years ago. They interviewed ex-employees who told their reporter it was customary never to investigate anything, and just send a form letter back saying they checked and the information is correct. They rely on the fact that most of us are simply too busy to try to find out how to sue a credit reporting agency, all of whom use post office boxes, and a summons cannot be sent to a p.o. box. And I had to hire a process server near them to effect service. A complicated procedure. But they most always will settle, rather than pay an attorney $1,000-2,000 to fight you, if you gut it out. Once again, it is all the bottom line in the end.

Nonetheless, do not give up. Go after them. You will win in the end. And do not use those “credit repair” services that advertise all over. They will take a few thousand from you and simply write the same letters you could write. I did not give up, and I got what I needed to get done.

The Justizz website has easy to use form letters you can fill in and email to the three agencies, and failing success, makes it easy for you to bring your case before a local small claims judge at minimal cost.

How to Stop Annoying Callers

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Getting Rid of Annoying Callers 

We are supposed to be able to enroll on the federal Do Not Call list, and the myriad of phone solicitors are not supposed to call us. Of course, some still do, because the law has no teeth to fine or encumber those who do not play by the rules. If you are unaware, Google the Do Not Call List and sign up, and the number of calls you do not want, but get anyway, trying to sell you things, or solicit donations, will at least greatly diminish, I have found.

Nonetheless, there is one foolproof way to stop them in their tracks after the first call. With regard to landline phones, some phone manufacturers have equipped their phones with a Call Block function. I have used Panasonic phones for the past several years, most of which have this feature (look for it in the specs), and I find that their system works well. When a pest calls, you search and find the number that called, and can then save it to the blocked file. It’s pretty simple. The next time the bums call, they will get a rapid busy, which is usually enough for them to remove your number from their list of victims.

On my home phone only calls where the number is identified can even ring through. My carrier, Time Warner, allows me to block unidentified callers, who obviously cannot be blocked using the blocking system, because they hide the calling number. So for me it is not an issue. I think they charge $3 a month or so for the extra service, but it is worth it.

I have not had the problem yet on my iPhone, but I am told there are various apps that do the same thing. So, in conclusion, do not replace your home phone hardware unless you know it has the call blocking feature. And if you need it, get the appropriate app for your portable.

Airline Fees--Price gouging?

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Stupid Airline Fees

Finally our Congress is introducing legislation to limit airline fees for checked bags, ticket changes and cancellations. They say the practice amounts to price gouging.

This is a typical example of big companies in a strong position socking it to the consumers to enhance their bottom lines. I am the first to defend against government interference in private businesses. But due to the stupidity of our Justice Department within the last five years, the six biggest airlines were allowed to merge into three. Aside for a couple of smaller competitors, these big three own the marketplace. And they have flexed their muscles by increasing charges to unconscionable levels. Wouldn’t have happened if they denied those mergers as anti-trust which they could have done.

Maybe they can do something about the cramped flying conditions? Of course the prices we pay would have to go up a bit, but would we really mind. Hooray for our Congress for standing up for the consumers with regard to airline fees.

How best to handle a dispute?

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You have a dispute? Write a certified letter, the consumer’s best friend.

I have had various problems with shippers, traffic courts, credit agencies and others over the years. Today, these large adversaries want or insist that you and I call them to resolve any problem. Why? First, they man their phones with operators generally who cannot develop an understanding of what you are talking about, and then put you on hold (if you haven’t waited 20 minutes already just to get to them), and then hope you just give up. Second, by sticking you with someone half a world away that costs them less than our minimum wage per hour, they do not have to hire bright, well-educated staff to reply to your problem in writing. But do not let the bastards get their way!

I have always documented my disputes in a simple, easy-to-understand letter. It should clearly explain the dispute, and propose your solution to the problem. Then, I always mail it by certified mail. If I follow up with a call, or I get a call about it, I record the date and time on the bottom of my copy of the letter I sent. Now, if I have to eventually take the matter to a higher authority, or a Judge, I am looked favorably upon since I took the trouble to explain my problem in its entirety, and the offender has almost always failed to respond to me in writing. Again, because they simply haven’t anyone able enough to do so. And generally they could care less about your problem and hope you get frustrated enough to just go away. Don’t do it.

I agree that putting one’s thoughts in writing is not that quick and easy, and if it is not for you, then certainly there is a friend or relative who can dash off such a letter for you if you give them the facts. Remember to attach copies of any receipts or notices you have received. And do not forget; certified mail--do not send regular mail. Oftentimes the receipt of a certified letter is enough to spur the offenders to action; they know they are not dealing with a weak-kneed, or less capable consumer, who is likely to just give up. Certified mail, which can be done only by visiting your local post office, costs a bit more than $3 in addition to the regular postage. No need for a return receipt. Once signed for, a record is made of the delivery which can be printed out and which courts will accept as proof of delivery. Use the number on your receipt and go to the website.

The Justizz website will have form letters that will make it easy to write your protest letter. Justizz also has as a proposal in its Legislative Agenda, that all companies shall have 30 days to reply to any certified letter, or be judged wrong in any subsequent court proceeding.