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Court Certifies Class-Action in Lawsuit Over Washington State Prison Phones

On February 23, 2012, a Washington State court certified as a class action a challenge to the failure of the prisoner telephone service in some Washington State prisons to provide rate information.

Sandy Judd, Tara Herivel and Columbia Legal Services are class representatives for persons who received phone calls from prisoners at certain Washington State prisons between June 20, 1996 and December 31, 2000, a period during which rate information that was mandated by the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission (WUTC) was not provided. They filed suit in state court alleging violations of the Consumer Protection Act, RCW ch. 19.86 and seeking class certification.

In 1988, the Washington legislature determined that provision of telephone services without rate disclosure was a deceptive trade practice. In 1991, the WUTC promulgated a rule requiring telecommunications companies to make rate disclosures to consumers, former WAC 480-120-141(5)(a)(iv). In 1999, it revised the rule to make it more specific, former WAC 480-120-141(2)(b).

AT&T received the contract to provide telephone services in the Washington State prison system in 1992. It subcontracted to several local exchange carriers (LECs) to provide local and IntraLATA services at specific prisons. T-Netix later took over from one of the LECs providing services to some of the prisons.

The named plaintiffs testified that they received collect phone calls from prisoners at Washington State prisons between June 20, 1996 and December 31, 2000 without receiving rate quotes or information on how to obtain a rate quote. The defendants did not contest this issue.

The court found that the contract made AT&T responsible for the inclusion of rate information even if the prisons in question were provided phone services by T-Netix or another LEC. The court agreed that the case met the requirements for class certification, but only against AT&T. It certified two classes. The first class is persons who--between June 20, 1996 and December 31, 2000--received InterLATA collect calls from Washington State Reformatory, Monroe; Twin Rivers Corrections Center; Indian Ridge Corrections Center, Arlington; Special Offender Center, Monroe; *Callan Bay Corrections Center; *Washington State Correction Center for Women, Purdy; *Olympic Corrections Center; *Pine Lodge Pre-Release; *Coyote Ridge; Washington Corrections Center, Shelton; McNeil Island Penitentiary; Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla; Airway Heights; Tacoma Pre-Release; Cedar Creek Corrections Center and Larch Corrections Center. The second class is persons who received IntraLATA collect calls from the above-prisons marked with an asterisk during the same time period. No class was certified for persons receiving local calls because none of the named plaintiffs had received a local call.

The court also held that, if a violation of the WUTC were proven, it would also prove both causation and injury, so long as the plaintiff remained within the statutory damages of the costs of the service provided plus 200 dollars per violation. Thus, the plaintiffs did not have to prove that they would have refused the phone calls had they known the rates.

The court also approved the class representatives. Finally, the court appointed the law firm of Sirianni Youtz Spoonmore, Chris R. Youtz and Richard Spoonmore as class counsel and ordered AT&T to assist them in preparing a class notice for the potential class members. See: Judd v. American Telephone and Telegraph Company, Wash.Superior Ct., King Co,. No. 00-2-17565-5 SEA.

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Related legal case

Judd v. American Telephone and Telegraph Company