The Alabama Supreme Court Hates Working People and Loves Big Corporations. Here’s Yet Another Example.
On June 26, 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida v. Gladys Tellis. Now, for those of us who have been living for a while under the extreme anti-consumer regime of the current Alabama Supreme Court, the outcome of such a case can be predicted just by its name. American Bankers Insurance Company (a huge and rich insurance company) against a lady named Gladys Tellis (an ordinary woman seeking justice after she’d been defrauded). Whenever a big company is sued by a worker or consumer or anyone who isn’t also a big powerful corporation, the Alabama Supreme Court, whose 9 Republican Justices were elected with millions of campaign dollars paid for by those very banks and insurance companies, is almost certain to find a way to rule against the working man. So this case was no exception: they handed down a decision that dealt yet another blow to regular people seeking justice.
In this case, the issue before the Court was whether the insurance company could enforce a mandatory arbitration agreement against the Plaintiffs in that case. Normally, arbitration agreements are enforced due to a federal law called the Federal Arbitration Act, which since a major US Supreme Court misreading of that statute in 1995, has basically been applied to every contract in the United States. Note here that though I’m complaining in this article about the extreme pro-corporation bias of the Republican Alabama Supreme Court, in the Allied Bruce Terminix case of 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-consumer decision was a 7-2 decision, where the only justices who rightfully dissented were the most conservative members of the Court: Scalia and Thomas -both Republican appointees. So don’t think for a minute that I’m just against Republican judes. I’m not. I’m against judges who are biased against workers, the poor, and those who have been done wrong by the rich and the powerful
So enforcing mandatory arbitration agreements, no matter how Rumplestiltskinian they may be, is commonplace in the United States. Why does this matter? Because arbitration is a grossly unfair proceeding that deprives people of many, many rights that they are supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution: the right to join together with other people in lawsuits (not just in class actions, but even cases where a handful of friends have been screwed in the same way by the same company), the right to a trial by jury, the right to obtain evidence in their favor that is held by the other side, and, most importantly, the right to appeal a decision that is flat-out wrong.
But in this case, the Plaintiffs had a solid defense to the arbitration agreement in question: they never signed it.
Now anybody with common sense can understand the issue: if you don’t sign it, it isn’t binding. That’s the normal rule. Certainly the opposite rule applies: if you sign a contract, it is binding, right? And of course, the latter rule has always been enforced by our courts. And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?
Not in Alabama.
Somehow, the Alabama Supreme Court found a way around the common sense rule that only contracts you actually agree to can be held against you. They said that by paying premiums, the insurance company’s customers implicitly consented to the arbitration agreement. This is crazy. The only explanation, of course, is that these judges were just looking for any excuse to help out their corporate sponsors, and they did so at the expense of all of Alabama’s citizens.
This is what happens when we allow our highest court to be sold to the highest bidder. It is literally justice for sale. That is a very evil phenomenon, and the worst part of it is this: our voters don’t care. Because this is a conservative state, and the millions of dollars of insurance company money floods our televisions, radios, billboards, and emails with false messages that if we don’t elect these extreme Republican justices, then our state will descend into crime and chaos.
Until people start caring about protecting their rights, this is going to continue. We are going to keep losing, and our citizens are going to continue to be screwed by big out-of-state companies that don’t care about Alabama.
Finally, I’d like to mention one thing that should be remembered. There was, at that time, at least one ray of hope on the Supreme Court: Chief Justice Roy Moore. Many people criticize him for his popular image in the media of being a crazy conservative, but the truth is that while he was on the bench, he was the only justice that actually cared about doing justice for ordinary people who had been defrauded or harmed by the rich and the powerful. In the Tellis case, he wrote a powerful and eloquen dissent explaining just how important the right to trial by jury is, and he saw right through the majority opinion to show just what is happeneing in cases like this: the victims of fraud are excluded from the courthouse. They have lost their constitutional rights and are forced into an arbitration system that makes a mockery of justice.
Unfortunately, even that ray of hope has been extinguished, as Justice Moore was removed from the bench for his stance in defense of traditional marriage.
The full opinion in the Tellis case can be found here: