Ohio Supreme Court rejects attempted class-action suit

Individuals may try cases in Fulton Co.


COLUMBUS — A would-be class-action lawsuit alleging negligent business practices on the part of a phone company was dismantled by the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday after eight years of bouncing around the legal system.

The high court voted 5-2 that the lawsuit against United Telephone Co. and its parent, Sprint Corp., could not proceed in Fulton County Common Pleas Court as a class action in which multiple customers accuse the company of similar wrongdoing in a single case.

The suit, started by the business Stammco and its owners, Kent and Carrie Stamm, accused the telephone companies of allowing “cramming” — a practice in which third parties add unauthorized charges to customer phone bills.

The case had bounced back and forth between the Fulton County court, the Toledo-based Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals, and the state Supreme Court. The dispute was over whether customers could be certified as a single class or would have to pursue their allegations individually.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court has held that the Fulton County court was right in finally rejecting the class. It sent the case back to the lower court to be pursued on an individual basis.

The Supreme Court found that the lower court was permitted to delve into the merits of the case when deciding whether it met the requirements of a class action.

“…(T)he proposed amended class is too broad,” Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote. “UTO has no records regarding which charges are authorized and which are not. Under the proposed amended class, every person who was billed a third-party charge for which UTO had no prior authorization is now class member even if the third-party charge was proper.”

She was joined in the majority by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Lanzinger, and Judith French.

But Justices Paul Pfeiffer and William O’Neill dissented.

“As a practical matter, Ohio citizens who suffer small, individual damages as a result of a business’ serial bad conduct are without a meaningful remedy unless they can convince the Ohio attorney general to get interested in their cases,” Justice Pfeiffer wrote. “This court is well on its way to consigning class actions in Ohio to the dustbin of legal history, joining workplace intentional torts.”

Attorneys from both sides did not return calls seeking comment.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.