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The Orange County Register
May 24, 2005

by Nancy Luna

Suit against Nextel tossed on Prop. 64 grounds

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed an unfair-billing practices suit Monday against Nextel in what could be the first of several consumer cases thrown out under Proposition 64.

Under the measure voters approved last year, a California business cannot be sued unless someone has suffered a financial or property loss.

In the case against Nextel, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights filed a lawsuit against the wireless operator in 2003, alleging it unfairly charged its customers $ 2.50 a month for an itemized bill.

But Judge David Workman threw out the case Monday after Nextel argued the suit violated Proposition 64, saying the billing policy did not financially harm the foundation. Workman agreed despite the foundation's attempt to amend the suit to include Nextel consumers hurt by the billing practice, said Harvey Rosenfield, a spokesman for the Santa Monica watchdog group.

Rosenfield said the ruling illustrates the flaws of the measure, which consumer and environmental groups opposed because it would lead to the dismissal of "legitimate" consumer cases against big businesses.

"These voters were snookered," Rosenfield said. "This is a huge issue.

Corporations in the state are trying to escape liability." Nextel declined Monday to comment about the suit.

Rosenfield said Proposition 64 puts other consumer cases in jeopardy, including its suit against wireless carriers who "lock" handsets to prevent customers from switching carriers.

The foundation will appeal Monday's ruling.

In the meantime, the group could catch a break if the state Supreme Court rules later this year that Proposition 64 cannot be used to block cases filed before the measure was approved. The foundation's lawsuit against Nextel was filed in 2003.

WHAT IS PROPOSITION 64?

Adopted in November by voters, the measure tries to stop shakedown, or "frivolous", lawsuits against California businesses. The law states that plaintiffs who sue California businesses must have suffered an injury or lost money or property.


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