October 21, 2015

By Erin Rode

Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez has the potential to shift the nature of class-action lawsuits in America, deciding whether companies can pay the full amount to the individual lead plaintiff before the case goes to court. The case revolves around the issue of text messaging advertising.

California resident Jose Gomez, age 40, received unsolicited text messages from the U.S. Navy. The messages were meant to recruit 18- to 24-year-olds, and opened with the phrase “Destined for something big? Do it in the Navy.”

The recruitment campaign managed by Campbell-Ewald in 2006 for the U.S. Navy was meant to reach 150,000 people, chosen from a list of people who had agreed to be contacted through text messages. The campaign only sent a total of 100,000 text messages, some unsolicited and sent to people like Jose Gomez.

However, the possible implications of this case go beyond text-message advertising, and include the question of whether a company can end the suit by paying the first person who sued in full, before the case becomes a full class-action lawsuit.

Campbell-Ewald Company offered to pay Gomez $1,503, the equivalent of Gomez’s entitlement if the lawsuit were to end. This payment is far less than what the company would pay after a class-action lawsuit, in which they may be liable for hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs. While this makes it easier on Campbell-Ewald Company, it would mean that thousands of other plaintiffs would not be reimbursed with settlement money.

Gomez refused the payment, instead choosing to bring the issue to court. As of now, the Supreme Court seems to be split on whether the case is even valid, given that Campbell-Ewald already offered to pay the maximum amount that Gomez stands to gain during the suit.

Chief Justice John Roberts was one of the conservative voices that doubted whether the lawsuit could go forward.

“You won’t take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Roberts told Gomez’ lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell.

On the other side was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who, according to US News, said federal courts should have a role to play in deciding whether the company’s offer was sufficient.

“You get to say on your own, unilaterally, ‘I offered you complete relief,'” Sotomayor said to Gregory Garre, who is representing Campbell-Ewald.

If the court decides that the case isn’t valid due to Campbell-Ewald’s offer, it could set a precedent for the future of class action suits. Today’s young people may not be eligible to receive settlements like generations before them did, unless they are the first to file a suit. This in turn could make it more difficult to hold large corporations accountable for their actions.

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