By Jon Hood
December 14, 2009
A class action lawsuit says that wireless provider MetroPCS promises unlimited international calls for only $5 per month, but fails to mention that calls to many countries are excluded. The suit accuses MetroPCS of using bait and switch/deceptive trade practices, including misleading advertising, to lure customers into signing up for the plan.
The suit, brought in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, accuses MetroPCS of violating two New York consumer protection laws and substantially similar statutes of different states.
Specifically, the action says that MetroPCS offered unlimited international calls for a mere $5 a month, on top of the $45 flat fee attached to the company's Ultimate Unlimited plan, but never mentioned to consumers that the plan excludes calls to many foreign destinations. According to the suit, class members bought the service in reliance of such advertisements.
MetroPCS's appeal comes from its non-traditional, flexible plans marketed to city dwellers. The company offers unlimited service for a flat monthly fee, and doesn't use contracts. It primarily serves customers in larger cities, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Miami, and San Francisco. It doesn't take much effort to find ads sporting MetroPCS's trademark orange and purple logo plastered on the walls of subway trains or bus depots.
Lead plaintiff Eli Friedman decided on a MetroPCS plan in November after seeing such advertisements throughout New York City. The ads suggested file:///home/jhood/caweb/news04/2009/12/metropcs_suit.htmlthat international calls were practically free under the company's wireless plans. A representative ad cited in the complaint read, Add the World. $5. Unlimited International Calling.
Some countries excluded
Enticed, Friedman bought a phone, plan, and threw down the extra $5 for international calls. According to the suit, neither the ads nor the contract Friedman signed mentioned that calls to certain countries were excluded from the carrier's offer of unlimited international calls. MetroPCS's salespeople also neglected to mention the plan's signficiant limitations.
Despite MetroPCS's best efforts, it didn't take Friedman long to figure out that the plan was nothing to write home about.
Shortly after signing up for his plan, he tried to place two calls to the United Kingdom and Israel hardly third-world nations and was unable to connect. He was told that placing the calls successfully would require him to buy a MetroPCS-provided calling card, defeating the purpose of buying a phone plan that includes unlimited international calls. Friedman's plan became of little or no value once he learned of the number of important locations that were off-limits under the plan.
The suit seeks an order of specific performance, asking that the court compel MetroPCS to provide the international calls that customers had to pay for out of their own pockets. In the alternative, the class seeks reimbursement for the calls they already made.
Orders for specific performance are rare; the planitffs are much more likely to receive damages than they are a court-ordered modification of their respective calling plans. The plaintiffs also seek an injunction prohibiting MetroPCS from charging for international calls going forward.
In addition to violations of state consumer protection laws, the suit alleges breach of contract and unjust enrichment.