Class members of the lawsuit allege that Amazon wrongfully charged them for Amazon Prime memberships. The plaintiffs further claim that Amazon engaged in false advertising of its services. This is not the first time Amazon has been sued in connection to its Prime memberships. The current lawsuit suggests that there may be more to come.
Amazon Prime is a membership program that offers various perks to its members—most notably, free two-day shipping. These members pay $99 each year for the services. It also includes video and music streaming, photo storage, and early access to deals and sales. As a promotion for the program, Amazon offers a 30-day free trial. But after the free trial ends, Amazon automatically charges customers the annual membership fee unless they cancel in advance.
The Lawsuit’s Allegations
The recent class action lawsuit filed earlier this month consists of a group of Amazon customers from California and Texas. The plaintiffs allege that Amazon deceived them into paying for unwanted Prime memberships. They claim they purchased products from Amazon. The company then charged them for Prime memberships for years without their knowledge or consent. Once the plaintiffs discovered the unauthorized charges to their accounts, they allege that Amazon refused to provide refunds. According to the complaint, Amazon represented to its customers that Amazon would not charge them for the Prime membership. No written terms regarding the price of membership were provided to plaintiffs. The complaint alleges that Amazon “knew that their representations and omissions were untrue and misleading, and deliberately made the aforementioned representations and omissions in order to deceive reasonable consumers.”
The lawsuit, Laura Makenna, et al., v. Amazon.com LLC, 17-CV-04412, was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. It alleges that Amazon violated California and Texas consumer protection laws and the federal Electronic Funds Transfer Act. The plaintiffs, some of whom Amazon charged $100 to $400 for Prime membership fees, are seeking damages and an order requiring Amazon to provide notice to its customers regarding their Prime marketing.
Another Lawsuit Against Amazon
This isn’t the first time that Amazon faced accusations of wrongfully charging their customers for Prime services. Earlier this year, another class action lawsuit was filed against Amazon. The plaintiff in Latoya Christmas v. Amazon.com LLC, et al., 17-CV-01301, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleged that Amazon charged her debit card, without her consent or knowledge, for the purchase of Amazon goods and a $99 Amazon Prime membership. Amazon agreed to cancel the Prime membership and refund the $99 fee. However, Amazon then withdrew another $99 from the plaintiff’s bank account, which Amazon never credited back.
According to the complaint, Amazon “concealed, suppressed and/or omitted” the fact that Amazon charged the plaintiff an additional $99 fee despite her cancellation of the Prime membership. The lawsuit seeks to represent consumers who Amazon wrongfully charged for Prime memberships after they had already submitted cancellation requests. The suit alleges Amazon violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The plaintiff is seeking damages in the amount of $1,000 per violation of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.
And Another Lawsuit Concerning Amazon Prime
Similarly, in Harris v. Amazon.com LLC, 16-CV-967, the plaintiff alleges that Amazon charged him for Prime membership without his knowledge or consent. The lawsuit was originally filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court of California but was later removed to the United States District Court of the Central District of California under federal question and Class Action Fairness Act jurisdiction. Lead plaintiff, Gregory Harris, alleges that Amazon charged him more than $100 for Amazon Prime after he purchased products from the retailer in June 2015.
The complaint alleges that these actions constitute a “common scheme to mislead consumers and incentivize them to purchase products from its website.” The complaint further alleges that Amazon violated the California False Advertising Act by “making misrepresentations and untrue statements about its services, namely…that it would not charge [customers] for membership fees in order to purchase products on its website, and made false representations to Plaintiff and other putative class members in order to solicit these transactions.”
The litigation of these class actions will require the assistance of various consumer fraud and products liabilities experts, particularly in light of Amazon’s experienced and innovative role in the online retail market. In order to establish a class action, the plaintiffs must prove the alleged conduct injured each proposed class member and that common proof can determine the damages.
An expert versed in conducting empirical research could help break down the individual customer transactions on Amazon.com to find common issues pertaining to all customers. As the complaints against Amazon allege that the company engaged in false advertising and failed to disclose the Prime membership fees, an attorney would need a consumer fraud expert to establish the general practices in the online marketing industry and if Amazon deviated from said practices. The lawsuits also present technological issues, i.e., credit cards, debit cards, and checking accounts being debited without authorization. An expert in consumer finance can help describe the mechanisms that Amazon used to automatically charge their customers and whether Amazon adequately disclosed said charges.
Amazon is undoubtedly a retail giant that continues to gain traction in its industry. Consumers and litigants alike should keep a watch on any developments in these class action lawsuits. The suits just might change the way Amazon conducts business in the future.