ARE OUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS BEING EATEN AWAY? FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Corporate America, with the help of the U.S Chamber of Commerce, is using its power and influence to weaken individual rights. Encouraged by recent Supreme Court decisions upholding the enforceability of clauses requiring disputes to be resolved through arbitration and not by trial by jury, these forced arbitration clauses have become commonplace. Unbeknownst to most consumers, these clauses appear in contacts the public enters into when using credit cards, cell phones, cable and satellite television, computers, etc.  With the growing use of the internet to make consumer purchases and arrange such things as reservations, the imposition of these forced arbitration clauses have become much more expansive.

Recently, Paul Bland, a respected public interest attorney at Public Justice blogged that the restaurant chain “Daily Grill” has placed on its website a forced arbitration clause which the restaurant claims is agreed to by anyone who uses and perhaps even just  visits its website.

The language appears as follows:

YOU UNDERSTAND AND ACKNOWLEDGE THAT YOU ARE GIVING UP THE RIGHT TO HAVE ANY DISPUTE REGARDING THIS AGREEMENT HEARD BY A JURY AND DETERMINED BY A COURT OF LAW.

YOU AGREE THAT YOU WILL FILE ANY DISPUTE YOU HAVE WITH Grill Concepts, Inc. WITHIN ONE (1) YEAR OF THE TIME THAT SUCH CLAIM AROSE AND THAT ANY DISPUTES RAISED BY YOU LATER ARE FOREVER BARRED. YOU AGREE THAT YOU WAIVE ANY ENTITLEMENT, AT LAW OR EQUITY, TO A LONGER PERIOD TO RAISE SUCH DISPUTES.

EVEN IF THE APPLICABLE LAW PROVIDES OTHERWISE, YOU FURTHER AGREE BY USING THIS SITE THAT ANY DISPUTE AGAINST Grill Concepts, Inc. SHALL BE BROUGHT BY YOU INDIVIDUALLY AND NOT ON BEHALF OF ANY OTHERS.

As Paul Bland points out in his blog:

“Legal Notices.  (For steak?)  And, as with so many other corporations, the Legal Notices include a provision for “Resolution of Disputes.”  The usual – the consumer has to arbitrate with a company picked by the corporation, the arbitration clause shortens the statute of limitations to a year (was THAT really necessary?), imposes a secrecy (“confidentiality”) provision, and it bans consumers from bringing class actions.”

While it may seem that the appearance of a forced arbitration clause on a restaurant’s website is harmless, the implications are quite serious.  The right to a trial by jury is a constitutional right.  Additionally, the ability to bring a lawsuit has economic ramifications and limitations sometimes requiring the need to seek damages or relief in the form of a class action because the damages on an individual basis are economically unfeasible for an attorney to undertake representation.  Each day, these individual rights are being whittled away.

When it comes to the Daily Grill’s policy, I guess the philosophy of “The Customer is always right.” has become “The Customer has no rights.”

Eat that, Daily Grill.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Armand Leone says:

    The insertion of mandatory arbitration clauses that curtail the right to a jury trial is becoming an all too common practice. As you point out, it is not harmless and people need to be aware of this. Thank you.

  2. James Cook says:

    This is an insidious problem, which arguably encroaches on our 7th amendment rights.

  3. Thomas Greer says:

    Great article. Thanks for highlighting this important issue. If something is not done to curtail forced arbitration clauses, the courthouse doors will soon be closed to ordinary Americans for most claims.

  4. While the restaurant’s arbitration clause may be a bit tongue-in-cheek (pun intended), other businesses are definitely serious about it. As consumers we should carefully read the “fine print” on all contracts and agreements for goods and services where these are usually hidden. Consider taking your business elsewhere or strike through the clause, write “rejected”, and initial it, before you sign the contract.

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