FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 15, 1999
Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr. announced today his opposition to the proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit against Publishers Clearing House ("PCH"). Curran and the Attorneys General of 20 states filed comments with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, alleging that the settlement fails to adequately compensate consumers who were deceived by sweepstakes mailings and makes it difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to seek relief.
According to Attorney General Curran, under the proposed settlement, consumers must wade through a small print notice of legalese in order to figure out how to file a claim for a refund. Additionally, to receive a refund for merchandise they purchased, consumers must return the merchandise at their own expense and provide the amounts they paid and the dates of their purchases.
"Rather than help consumers, this proposed settlement hinders them," said Attorney General Curran. "It will send many vulnerable, elderly consumers into the same confusing legalistic quagmire they confronted when they tried to understand the actual sweepstakes rules."
According to the Attorneys General, even if consumers do figure out how to correctly file a refund claim, the proposed settlement will not adequately compensate deceived consumers. Curran said that PCH told Congress that, in 1997 alone, 125,000 consumers spent more than $1,000 each. Additionally, the Attorneys General note that $3 million of the restitution fund can be used for attorneys' fees for class counsel and another $3 million can be applied toward expenses.
In addition to Maryland, the other states joining the objections in the case of Vollmer, et al. v. Publishers Clearing House are Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The Attorneys General are also concerned that the 43 million consumers who were mailed Notices will not understand that, if they do nothing, they will be bound by the settlement. The proposed settlement provides that consumers are bound and cannot pursue any independent action against PCH unless they affirmatively "opt-out" of the settlement. Curran expressed concern that many consumers will wrongly believe that, if they do nothing, they will not have participated in the settlement.
Curran and the other Attorneys General also expressed concern that the settlement will not prohibit PCH from continuing to deceive consumers in the future. The Court has scheduled a hearing on the fairness of the proposed settlement for January 25, 2000.