Plaintiffs brought this suit in the Superior Court of Washington for King County, in 2000, against six telephone service provider companies. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, were recipients of collect intrastate and interstate telephone calls from prisoners in the State of Washington's prisons, where the six telephone companies provided "0+" operator-assisted service to prisoners wishing to call non-prisoners. The prisoners had no other telephone service available to them, nor could the recipients call into the prisons to speak to prisoners. According to their complaint, the recipients of these calls were not advised by the companies of the rates for these calls nor had the companies advised the appropriate state regulatory commission of the rates for the calls (except for post-November 1999, limited advisement as to interstate rates, only). The defendants' conduct was alleged to constitute per se unfair or deceptive trade practices under state law. Plaintiffs sought damages, including treble damages for each instance of violation for each member of the plaintiff class, and injunctive relief to preclude further violations of state law requiring telephone rate disclosures, citing violation of the state of Washington's Consumer Protection Act. The plaintiffs defined the class they sought to represent as all persons who had received a collect call from any prisoner in Washington's state prisons since June 20, 1996, except for those individuals who received only interstate collect calls after November 1999, and to whom timely disclosure of rates was offered.
On November 8, 2000, King County Superior Court Judge J. Kathleen Learned ordered several issues of law and fact to be considered by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission through a "primary jurisdiction referral." At that administrative agency, the defendant telephone companies argued that the case should be dismissed as the complainants lacked standing, being unable to show personal harm from any conduct, given that the calls from prison were carried by two other telephone companies who had exemptions from the rule requiring rate disclosure, whereas the defendant companies provided only a connection (i.e., operator service) which did not trigger an obligation to disclose rates. The administrative law judge denied the motions to dismiss, saying that the issue of standing was not within the referral from the Superior Court and that only the referred issues could be addressed, according to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction (under which the court retained jurisdiction over all non-referred issues).
A telephone company-defendant returned to the King County Superior Court and filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiffs lacked standing. In orders dated September, 7, 2005, and October 4, 2005, King County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey M. Ramsdell granted the summary judgment motion and found the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring claims against the two telephone companies that remained in the lawsuit as defendants. On October 17, 2005, Judge Ramsdell rescinded the primary jurisdiction referral to the state's administrative agency. That agency, in turn, ruled on October 28, 2005, that as the court had dismissed the complaint for the plaintiffs' lack of standing and had rescinded the primary jurisdiction referral to the agency, the agency no longer had any basis upon which it could justify jurisdiction. Accordingly, it dismissed the administrative proceedings at the request of one of the telephone companies.
Plaintiffs appealed, and on December 18, 2006, in an unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the plaintiffs "presented one disputed issue of material fact and one mixed question of fact and law which survive summary judgment." The disputed fact issue was whether the alleged telephone calls actually occurred, and the open question of law was whether the carriers were required to disclose rate information. Judd v. AT&T, 2006 Wash. App. LEXIS 2741.
Earlier decisions in the case include Judd v. AT&T, 66 P.3d 1102 (2003) and Judd v. AT&T, 152 Wn.2nd 195 (WA 2004).
As summarized by Prison Legal News, "after more than a decade of litigation before the state superior, appellate and supreme courts, and before the state utilities commission, the case boiled down to T-Netix and AT&T arguing over which company was responsible for providing notice to the call recipients. On April 21, 2010, the utilities commission held it was AT&T." The commission also concluded that AT&T violated the disclosure regulations. AT&T and T-Netix sought judicial review of the commission's decision in the Thurston County Superior Court, which confirmed that AT&T was an operator service provider but reversed and remanded the question whether AT&T and T-Netix violated disclosure regulations, back to the commission. On February 12, 2012, AT&T filed a motion in the King County Superior Court to terminate and withdraw the Court's primary jurisdiction referral to the commission. The motion was granted, and the remaining issue of whether AT&T and T-Netix violated the rate disclosure regulations was to be decided by the King County Superior Court.
On June 21, 2013, claims against AT&T were resolved through a settlement agreement for $45 million. After payment of claims submitted by class members, attorney's fees, case contribution awards, and expenses, a residual fund of about $20 million was expected to be available for cy pres distributions. At least 25% of that amount was to be awarded to the Legal Foundation of Washington, with the remaining amount to be awarded to the Legal Foundation or other designees who met the criteria of CR 23(f)(2).Mike Fagan - 05/05/2008
David Cho - 12/28/2014