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Preliminary Settlement in Lawsuit Against JPay Over Prison Video Calls Ending Early

by Scott Grammer

Oumer Salim, a resident of Colley­ville, Texas, wanted to communicate with his brother, who was in an Ohio state prison. The facility used JPay for video calling, at a cost of $9.90 for each 30-minute session. So Salim began using the system. He noticed a recurring problem, however – the video calls consistently cut off before the 30 minutes were up. After that happened around 30 times, Salim, represented by Dallas attorney Bruce W. Steckler, filed a class-action lawsuit in federal district court on October 12, 2018.

According to his suit, “complaints from around the country indicate families and friends of inmates consistently complain that video sessions do not last the entire 30 minutes session.” The total amount of damages was estimated to be in excess of $5,000,000. 

The complaint alleged that “JPay intentionally manipulates the 30-minute session to provide less than 30 minutes of video time; ... JPay engaged in unlawful unfair methods of competition, unconscionable acts or practices, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices; ... JPay breached its contracts with Plaintiff and the Class; ... JPay breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing with Plaintiff and the Class; ... JPay was unjustly enriched through its dealings with Plaintiff and the Class; [and] ... JPay acted unconscionably through its dealings with Plaintiff and the Class.” 

On April 16, 2019, a preliminary settlement was reached. The district court, in accepting the preliminary agreement as “fair” and “reasonable,” provisionally certified the class and defined the class members as “all natural persons who paid a fee to JPay for a thirty minute Video Visitation session and allegedly received less than a thirty minute session for any reason. Excluded from the Claimant Class are JPay’s officers, directors, affiliates, legal representatives, employees, successors, subsidiaries, and assigns. Also excluded from the Claimant Class is any judge, justice, judicial officer, or arbiter presiding over this matter and the members of their immediate families and judicial staff.” The class was further limited to people who did not opt-out of the suit and who made such video calls between December 1, 2009 and April 16, 2019.

The settlement requires JPay to provide one free 30-minute video call to each class member, which must be made within 60 days after the settlement is finalized. Further, “JPay will ensure there is a method for consumers to receive a reasonable credit for additional video visitation time, if in good faith, JPay is notified within twenty-four (24) hours by that consumer of his or her video visit, that, as a result of JPay’s system, he or she did not receive the full thirty (30) minute video visitation session they paid for.”

 “I’m pleased that JPay agreed to an amicable resolution and allowed a vehicle for people to get their money back,” remarked Steckler, Salim’s attorney.

In fact, however, they will not get their money back; JPay is not required to pay monetary damages to the class members who were short-changed when making video calls to prisoners. Instead they receive just one free video call. The preliminary settlement does include $223,000 in attorney fees and costs, payable to Steckler’s law firm. Salim, as the named class representative, has requested an “enhancement award” of $2,000. Given that the estimated class damages were $5 million, the settlement seems to vastly favor JPay.

“It’s a shame that people who are incarcerated are in a position where they can be taken advantage of,” said Jennifer Erschabek, with the Texas Inmate Families Association. “Families have no say or choice in these matters, but it’s what we have to live with.”

The settlement, which is scheduled for a final approval hearing on November 18, 2019, does not require JPay to admit fault or wrongdoing. If more than 10% of the class members opt out of the settlement agreement, JPay may, at its discretion, nullify the agreement. All eligible class members should have received notification from JPay of the proposed settlement with instructions for filing a claim form or opting-out of the case. See: Salim v. JPay, Inc., U.S.D.C. (E.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:18-cv-00730-ALM-KPJ. 

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Additional source: chron.com

Related legal case

Salim v. JPay, Inc.