He Who Complaineth Shall Go Without

January 08, 2014   |   John O’Neal

You purchase a product or service and are not satisfied so you decide to complain. Isn’t this your right especially if you are paying your hard-earned money? If you complain you would hope the company would acknowledge your complaint, discuss it with you, and arrive at a resolution to keep your business and keep you satisfied. Well, one company decided they had enough of one consumer’s complaints and cut off his accrued benefits. Don’t believe me? Read on…

In Northwest Inc. v. Ginsburg (12-462) the consumer is a rabbi who frequently traveled on Delta Airlines (which has since been gobbled up by Northwest Airlines) thereby racking up thousands of frequent flyer miles. Unfortunately, he had several not-so-friendly experiences while flying the friendly skies including multiple incidents of his baggage showing up late at the baggage carousel. Having been victimized at the baggage carousel myself (although in my case the missing bag was due to a mixup by another passenger and not the airline’s fault; the airline I flew did an outstanding job to locate and recover my bag and deliver it to my hotel room before my return flight to North Carolina) I can understand the feeling of not seeing one’s bag(s). After receiving what it believed to be too many complaints from one customer, Northwest terminated the rabbi’s membership in the WorldPerks Platinum Elite program. The rabbi sued in federal court in San Diego in 2009 and the case has now arrived at the United States Supreme Court where the nine Justices will have to determine if federal law (i.e., deregulation of airlines) prevents a consumer from suing an airline for common law contract claims such as breach of contract or breach of the implied covenant of fair dealing.

Last month attorneys for the parties argued the case before the nine Justices and a ruling is expecting in Spring 2014. The result could greatly impact the airline industry and is worth watching. In recent years the Court has decided several cases of significance to consumers and the companies with whom they do business. Let’s hope this one results in a win for the consumer and, for lack of a better term at the moment, the right to complain and obtain relief.

John T. O’Neal is a practicing attorney in Greensboro, NC who focuses his practice in Personal Injury/Wrongful Death, Consumer Law (includes Auto Dealer Fraud/Vehicle Issues and Debt Defense Lemon Law), and various types of Civil Litigation. A long-time NCAJ member, he is a former Chair of the NCAJ Consumer Areas of Practice Section and a two-time Ebby Award winner.