I Sued Dish Network And Won (Because Dish Never Showed Up At Court)

One of the more common complaints we get about cable and satellite providers is that, while customers are held to ironclad contracts that lock them into strict terms lest they pay a penalty, providers too often change their end of the agreement with impunity. Luckily, there are people out there like Consumerist reader Alex, who took Dish Network to court and walked out victorious… when the satellite company was a no-show.

Here’s Alex’s story in his own words:

I signed a 24-month agreement with Dish back last January and everything was going great with them. Until a few months in, they started changing my monthly rate $2/mo more without asking/telling me.

I called them and informed them a contract is a two-way agreement and said if they wouldn’t change it to the rate I agreed to, I would just cancel service with them. They transferred me over to their retention department where the guy asked if I would stay with them if they gave me a $2/month credit. I said well, of course I would, since that would be what I agreed to.

A few months later now, I check my bill in February and see my rate has gone up $5. No explanation, although I notice there is now a notice of “Free Starz!” (Oh boy! A channel I didn’t want for free and all I have to do is pay $5 more). This is on top of that $2 increase a few months earlier (though the $2 credit was still applied).

I call them and go through the same spiel, only this time they seem to be less understanding and immediately, without even needing to consult anyone, inform me the exact wording in their agreement which states they “reserve the right to change rates at any time” and if I decide to cancel I will pay an early termination fee.

I tell them I will not pay their new rate and I will cancel and they went ahead and immediately shut it off. Then they informed me I owe them $165 for early termination and it would automatically be charged to the credit card that I last used to pay my bill.

Now livid, I told them not only was I not going to pay their late fee, I was NOT, nor did I ever, give them consent to automatically charge my credit card and if they attempted to do so I would make sure my bank did not let the charge clear. Immediately after this call, I called my bank and had them reissue me a new card.

After constantly writing them and demanding the refund for the last month of service I paid for but did not get, they refused and just said “I’m sorry, this is our policy and we will be charging you the difference of the early termination fee and the credit on your account.” I finally gave up arguing with them and decided to take them to small claims.

Alex may or may not have been able to convince a judge that he deserved to win, but we’ll never know since no one from Dish ever bothered to show up. Thus, the judge ruled in Alex’s favor.

Has anyone else out there had success with suing a large company in small claims court?

Comments

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  1. MickeyMoo says:

    Can’t wait to see the followup story where he goes to their comms center with a Sheriff and forecloses on their satellite uplink antenna(s)

    • OutThere says:

      …cuing a flood of small claims from angry customers whose service is out for days and are refused refunds or not allowed to exit their contracts.

    • DragonThermo says:

      That was my first thought as well. The follow-up article about the the guy showing up at the Dish Network office with a moving van and a Sheriff deputy.

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    So Dish Network can change a written contract whenever it wants with no penalty, but if you don’t agree with the change then they penalize you. Just wanted to make sure I got that right.

    • Necoras says:

      Sounds like the contract has written into it “you agree that we can change what this service costs at any time for any, or without a, reason.”

      That doesn’t surprise me; most corporation to consumer contracts have something similar, and we just ignore it because we want the service, and they won’t give it to us if we don’t sign it.

      • ihatephonecompanies says:

        IANAL etc, but this sounds to me like a prime example of a “contract of adhesion”, and unenforceable. In most cases of course, people probably figure it’s in the contract so there’s nothing that can be done about it and just suck it up…

        • Billy says:

          Not all contracts of adhesion are unenforceable.

          It sounds like an illusory contract to me (it doesn’t hold the company to anything if it can change the terms whenever it wants). Realistically, though, most companies like this get around this by writing in a time constraint (ie: we can change the contract for any reason *with x days’ notice*).

        • Blueskylaw says:

          A court will find adhesion only when the party seeking to rescind the contract establishes that the other party has used “high pressure tactics” or “deceptive language” or that the contract was the product of a gross inequality of bargaining power…

          Typical contracts of adhesion are standard-form contracts offered by large, economically powerful corporations to unrepresented, uneducated, and needy individuals on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with no opportunity to change any of the contract’s terms….

          To be considered an unenforceable contract of adhesion, the contract also must inflict substantive unfairness on the weaker party, because its terms are not within the reasonable expectations of that party, or because its terms are unduly oppressive, unconscionable, or contrary to public policy…

          A court may refuse to enforce an agreement only if the contract is the product of procedural unfairness and suffers from one of the enumerated substantive defects. If either feature is absent, the court will enforce the contract, and even if both features are present the court’s only remedy is non-enforcement, not reformation. [internal cites omitted, emphasis added]

          • huadpe says:

            I don’t think it matters much whether or not it’s a contract of adhesion in this case though, because the materially adverse change provision is overriding. Dish made a materially adverse change by tacking on $5/month, and therefore there cannot be an early termination fee owed.

          • psm321 says:

            It seems to me this contract fits your description exactly…

          • ballistic90 says:

            Hmmm… I think that this satellite company is trying to be ‘smart’. In contracts, if one party adjusts their fee without adjusting their level of service, then they are in effect cancelling the contract and rewriting you a new one. This is why you can cancel out of a cell phone contract if they change or add new fees to it when you don’t add new services, for example. But here, I would assume they are trying to get around it by giving them ‘free Starz’ and charging them $5 more per month. Technically, since the level of service is changing and the fees are going up slightly, it might get around that one contractual barrier.

            My wife is studying for the bar, and this is the stuff I overhear. Fascinating… but bizarre.

          • shepd says:

            >contract was the product of a gross inequality of bargaining power…

            Obvious Check.

            >no opportunity to change any of the contract’s terms….

            Probably a check. Wouldn’t be hard to prove, have someone else sign up, have them attempt and fail to delete the section of the contract discussing Dishnet’s right to price increases. Unless Dishnet makes a mistake (it has happened before with other company’s boilerplate, but it’s so very rare) Dishnet would say “Ummm. No, we have that there so we can make you pay more when we need to”.

            >the contract also must inflict substantive unfairness on the weaker party, because its terms are not within the reasonable expectations of that party

            Well, I’d say that one is a given in all court cases (ie: You are bringing someone into court because you feel they have wronged you) unless you’re dealing with a sociopath (Who is doing it to torture you).

            So, we haz win?

      • Blueskylaw says:

        As far as i’m concerned, that is not a contract since it is one-sided, meaning one party gets all of the benefits with none of the drawbacks.

    • Tansey says:

      How are they able to get away with that though? It doesn’t seem very fair.

  3. oygovalt says:

    Can you post the full verbiage of the court order?

  4. Ed says:

    This is one of many reasons why I only give out those temporary CC#’s to anyone charging me a monthly fee. That way, if there is a dispute, it is 100% within my power to cancel that card without affecting anything else.

    • Agent Hooter Enjoys Enhanced Patdowns says:

      I am intrigued by this; tell me more of your methodology.

      • TooManyHobbies says:

        Sounds like a huge pain in the ass to me, if you have to create a new temp CC# every month to pay your bill. It would be easier to set up one-time transfers every time, or even to cut a check and mail it.

    • Annoyed says:

      What is a temporary credit card #?

      • scoosdad says:

        Google “Bank of America ShopSafe” for more info.

        Basically if you have an established credit card, and if the card offers this extended feature, you can apply for another “temporary” CC number as a sub-account that has both an upper dollar limit and an expiration date you can choose. So if you have a year’s worth of Dish payments to make, you authorize this number for 12x the monthly payment, and have it set to expire after the last payment is made. Dish can’t take more money out of it than you’ve authorized it, and can’t just auto-renew the deal at the end of the period (maybe with an increased amount) without coming back through you to OK it. I use this on my annual Sirius satellite radio account. You can also use it for one time internet credit card payments if you’re concerned with the security of your credit card info. ShopSafe from BofA lets you have multiple open temporary numbers, not sure of the limit.

        • Alucinor says:

          Assuming you have a dispute and cancel the temporary card number, can’t they still send it to collections and affect your credit score?

          • Nasty Dan was a Nasty Man says:

            yes, however all things being equal during a dispute it’s better to have the money in your pocket than theirs.

            • jesirose says:

              Have you ever actually had a valid (provable) collection on your credit report? After the time I’ve spent fixing my husband’s credit report, I’d rather he have paid the fucking money and then gotten it back later, so we could be getting into our house now, and not him having had $40 extra bucks 3 years ago. All things being equal, long term pain is worse than short term pain.

              • Peggee is deeply offended by impetulant, pernicious little snots disrespecting her and violating her personal space at Best Buy. says:

                I feel that way, too, but imagine how many companies would falsely send people to collections if no one fought back for this reason. :(

                If only there were huge penalties for false reports.

        • Apeweek says:

          My Citibank card has this too. I can log on to the website and get a credit card number with whichever tiny spending limit and expiration date I state. I used this the last time I subscribed to my local newspaper, because of their past history of not honoring my subscription cancellations. Worked like a charm.

          Next question – is there a non axis-of-evil bank that offers this (that is, not BOA, Citibank, Chase, etc?)

  5. Raekwon says:

    My TV service did the same thing and of course had an out. The contract they gave me had a link to the full contract but the site was always down. After calling them they gave me a new link and of course they have that clause in the the agreement. They can change the price or service at any time without prior notice. This type of thing is ridiculous. According to that clause they could raise you $3000000000 a month and it would be legit. No idea how we are supposed to fight this crap.

    • adamstew says:

      Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I just pretend to be one on the internet. This is not legal advice.

      That type of verbiage in a contract would almost certainly be ruled unconscionable and therefor be unenforceable.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconscionable_contract

      Basically, contracts are required to be fair to both parties involved… or at least pretend to be. A contract that states that you are “bound to pay a price for X number of months, and we can change that price at any time” is a very one-sided contract.

      That type of clause probably also violates the “meeting of the minds” requirement, since how could you agree to pay for a service for X months, if the price of the service hasn’t been determined yet for all of those months? For a contract to be valid, in a court of law, a “meeting of the minds” has to happen…you can’t just say “I agree to buy 2 years of satellite TV service”… you have to agree “to buy 2 years of satellite TV service for $X.XX”.

  6. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    Dish Network didn’t show up for an appointment, even an appointment with the court?

    Shocking. Perhaps they’ll try to reschedule.

    • scoosdad says:

      We can be in court next Tuesday afternoon between 1 and 5 PM.

      • pythonspam says:

        And by that, we mean wednesday at 8am (without notifying you that we can’t meet the original “service “window or informing you of the new “service” window)

  7. scoutermac says:

    Directv does the same thing.

  8. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Their own ineffective beaurocracy hurts them.

  9. Gman says:

    I am actually surprised the person was not required to go to arbitration. Lucky him.

    • Billy says:

      It would probably be Dish Network’s responsibility to point that out to the judge at small claims court. But they didn’t show up to mention it.

  10. It's not fun. It's not funny. says:

    corporations don’t have to sleep, eat, die, drink, take a vacation or relax so why should they be deprived of concentrating on parting us from our money 24/7?!?! why do y’all hate america and corporations?

  11. humphrmi says:

    Obligatory post about how easy it is to vacate a default judgement…

    • adamstew says:

      It will cost them more money to just file the motion to vacate than it would be to pay the guy his $165.

      Then once they file the motion to vacate, you still have to convince the judge as to why it should be granted… not showing up to court is one thing judges don’t like… they don’t like their time to be wasted. You can’t just say “ooops… we forgot”. You need to have a good reason, like improper service, etc.

      Then assuming they were to convince the judge to vacate the default judgement, then they still have to fight the original case.

      • humphrmi says:

        Depends on the court. Here in Cook County, the motion to vacate a default is free and pretty much automatically granted as long as it’s filed within thirty days of the judgement.

        • adamstew says:

          I was mainly talking about the cost of paying the lawyer to do it. One hour of a lawyer’s time > $165. The national average for one hour of a lawyer’s time is $284.

          Then on top of that, once they do get the motion vacated (assuming it’s an automatic thing in the court it’s being filed in), they still have to argue the original case. That will take several hours of a lawyers time.

          …So… one hour to get the motion vacated… two hours to prep and an hour for fighting the case in court… total cost to fight it: $284 x 4 hours = $1136…and you still might lose. Cost to simply pay the judgement: $165.

          • humphrmi says:

            No lawyer needed. Download forms, fill in blanks, file with the clerk. Easier than applying for a driver’s license.

            There’s a point to my argument. Everyone gets all yippie excited when a company doesn’t show up, and some schmoe gets a default judgement. In most cases, companies use default judgements, like other components of the legal system, to their benefit: one, it slows the process down and tires out the pro-se complainant. Two, it gives the complainant a false sense of victory that is quickly taken away when an automatic vacate is ordered.

  12. crash357 says:

    Side question to these “I won my small claims court” action stories that pop up ever so often. Has anyone had any success actually levying a bank account, or using their court order to actually get paid? It’s one thing to “win” in a court case, but another entirely to get paid.

    • Dalsnsetters says:

      Surely someone around has a link to the guy who took the sheriff to BofA to take their desks and stuff. Check out the archives for BofA…..pretty funny story.

    • Rhinoguy says:

      I took a landlord to small claims for refusing to return my deposit claiming I had destroyed the house. Too bad for him I like to take pictures. The judge awarded my refund plus filing fee plus some small amount. Landlord decided he never needed to pay me. Eight years later the bill had tripled because of interest and penalties. And he couldn’t transfer the title to any of his properties, including his car, until he paid. He paid by certified check.
      Oh, yeah, your property is “attached” by the court when you lose.

    • joescratch says:

      I took a mortgage company to s/c court in New York, won, and then sat back at home with my feet up on the coffee table while the sheriff collected the funds. Easy as shoo fly pie.

  13. Gruppa says:

    It seems most contracts like this have clauses that say “we reserve the right to;
    *change rates at any time….
    *change this contract at any time….
    *change whatever we feel like at any time….
    *refuse to be sued….
    *break this contract at our discretion……without prior notice”.
    What, if any, protections does the customer get by agreeing to such a contract?

    • Fumanchu says:

      assuming its a contract you actually have to sign… don’t sign it?

      if you don’t have to sign it, its not a real contract and you get all the same benifits as long as you don’t do anything illegal.

      • rooben says:

        And if you dont sign thiskind of contract, you cant get:

        - cell phone service
        - home phone service
        - internet service
        - pay tv service (ota is available, albiet limited in certain areas)
        - credit card
        - mortgage
        - student loan
        - service/warranty contracts
        - private utility vendors (i.e. Texas has privatized electricity services)

        I’m sure some will claim that those are all optional services, while others feel that phone/internet/electricity are not luxury services.

        • chris_d says:

          I don’t recall signing a contract for any utility services (home phone, internet, electricity, natural gas). Prepaid cell service (often a better value than postpaid anyway) doesn’t require contracts. Credit cards, yes. But one can live without credit cards.

          • MrEvil says:

            Depends on the part of Texas I guess. Many parts are still regulated. No contracts with energy providers.

  14. rmorin says:

    Dish Network Employee #1: “This letter says we have to be at court at 9am”
    Dish Network Employee #2: “A static time? What the hell is that? Tell them we will be there between 9am-1pm”

  15. Fumanchu says:

    Yup, serivice contracts are basically unenforcable if taken to court. They typically don’t have you sign anything nor are their witnesses and the provisions are typically illegal anyways.

    A good example is the Itunes TOS. Eveytime you update Itunes it asks if you agree to the TOS. And you either click yes or no. Well if you click yes, you can continue. However, there is no proof that YOU personally clicked it as there is no signature nor witness. Anything that would bind you as individual would not be inforcable under the TOS. As long as you did nothing illegal, Apple could never actually come after you for breaking the TOS. They could only ban you from using their product in the future.

    • rooben says:

      Shrinkwrap/click through tos have been successfully defended in court.

      • Fumanchu says:

        of course they have, that statement says nothing.

        The question is what elements of the TOS have been defended?

        Anything that prohibits an individual from using a service in an unintended manner, or illegally or anyway the company doesn’t like is enforcable. But anything on the consumer side thats not illegal can’t be enforced and the max the company can do is ban you from using their service and any other services offered by the company if you don’t follow thier TOS. Legally they can’t press charges or anything.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Legal hint of the day: if someone can’t spell “enforceable,” you probably want to discount their opinion about which contract terms are enforceable.

  16. psm321 says:

    Was he able to collect?

  17. NoahLawyer says:

    I obviously love this. I’m not going to comment on the merits of his case, but he’s doing exactly what the courts are for. They’re a dispute resolution forum. It should available and utilized when negotiation breaks down.

  18. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    How is a contract that says that one party “reserve the right to change rates at any time” even legal? That party isn’t bound to anything…they can do whatever the f%ck they want.

    • TooManyHobbies says:

      …and people sign them. You don’t have to sign such contracts.

      • Billy C says:

        Doesn’t matter if they signed it, there are unenforceable parts of the contract. For example you can’t legally sign away basic rights. Do you think it would be enforceable to put into a contract “If you cancel your service early, the termination fee is we can come murder your first-born”? Or “by signing this contract, we can come stick a baseball bat up your pooper at any time”.

        • Billy says:

          Hyperbole aside (you can’t contract for murder in any state AFAIK) you are ALWAYS signing away some right when you make a contract. Even when a retailer signs a contract with a customer, he gives up his right to sell to whomever he wants and the customer gives up his right to buy from whomever he wants.

          Per your other example, you *could* sign a contract that allows someone to violate you…but why would you do that? Even if you did sign such a contract, it might be unconscionable, but that really depends on the contract as a whole. Agreeing to a physical violation (which would be a defense to a a tort action) isn’t always unconscionable.

          Someone used to say on this board, “you can’t contract for rape.” Well, once you agree to sexual activity, it’s not rape (forced sexual activity). He would also say, “you can’t contract for slavery,” but, similarly, once you *agree* to do work, it’s not slavery. There might be other reasons why the contract is void, though.

        • TooManyHobbies says:

          Sure, you can’t contract yourself into slavery, but that has nothing to do with this situation. This is NOT an unenforceable clause. The examples you state would be unenforceable, but saying that rates may change without voiding the contract is NOT unenforceable.

          Your response is about as useful as saying “Well, what if HITLER wanted to raise your rates, huh? What then huh?”

  19. Steevo says:

    Yeah, I sued the phone company for $600.

    After I layed papers on them they couldn’t call fast enough to try to work it out. But after that I had not much interest in working anything out.

    I settled out of court, and dismissed it.

    They paid me. The full amount.

  20. brneyedgrl80 says:

    I’m very curious to know if he actually was able to collect on the amount owed to him. I know that just because a judge rules in your favor that judge cannot force the other party to pay.

    Getting money back from most corporations is a struggle.

    • shepd says:

      It isn’t if you put liens on their stuff or use a till tap to your advantage. It’d require a trip to their offices (any of them) and you probably wouldn’t make money due to that, but the look on their faces when you walk in with the police and just simply take a computer from an employee busy working on it is going to be worth it a hundred times over.

  21. dirtrat says:

    I think Alex would have lost in court. I think it’s true about the verbage in the contract and they pretty much can raise rates although I agree with his point of view about what the contract is even for. Canceling his credit card will do no good because they can legally still charge his old one and he’s on the hook. Just because he won in court doesn’t mean Dish will ever pay the money!

  22. justagigilo85 says:

    How does one go about going to small claims court? What’s required and where do you go to initiate the process?

  23. Bahnzo says:

    I used to work for Dish in their “executive office” division. So I dealt with a lot of this. I totally agree it’s BS there are no protections for the consumer against price hikes… it’s pretty much crap, but welcome to big corporate contracts.

    What I did want to disagree with was the statement that nowhere did he agreed to having his credit card charged. That’s in the contract as well… it’s something I heard on a daily basis. Think about it, you just got installed with $1000+ dollars of equipment… you can bet they wanted a way to charge you for it if you didn’t return it. You’d be surprised how often that’s the case.

  24. ultmontra08 says:

    I was considering going to a satellite provider and getting away from Comcast, but I noticed that there are contracts for all of the satellite providers and I’m not interesting in being stuck in one. Even though Comcast is nowhere near a decent company, I have no contract with them and can cancel my service at will. I’m stuck in enough contracts already.

  25. Tansey says:

    Yay Alex!! /high five :D

  26. guspaz says:

    In Quebec, our consumer protection law states that companies must notify you in writing of any contract change 30 days before it takes effect, and that any change to the contract the company makes enables you to cancel it without penalty (within the 30 day window, I believe). The result is that Videotron, my cable company, sends me a letter in the mail whenever they want to raise my rate or introduce a new fee.

    I thought they had the same thing in the US, that a material change in service (such as a price hike) gave you an out?

  27. charmatwo says:

    I called to cancel dish internet last week, three months into what they say is a signed contract. Never signed any contract, the tech who installed it said not to, he said they were testing the internet in my area.
    When I called Dish and explained that I wanted to cancel the internet service, they told me I had to speak to the executive team, I said fine. I was informed that if I cancelled that day, they would immediately charge the credit card on file the cancellation fee. I said we did not sign a contract and we are not paying the cancel fee. He said if you want to cancel today, we will charge the card. I said get the copy of the contract and tell me it’s signed. He proceeded to tell me it would take 5-15 days for him to “find” the contract. I said that is ridiculous, I work in Customer Service and I can pull a contract in 10 minutes. He said was other internet available in your area when you signed up for Dish internet. I said no, he said, well if it was you should have got it from someone else. I said there was no other internet available here at the time.
    I also told him the satellite internet is very slow, we had complained previously three times and was told by Customer Service, “that’s just the way it is”.
    So bottom line, I have to wait 5-15 days for him to “find” the contract to see if it is signed even thought I offered to fax my copy. Then he will call me and we can cancel the service back to the date I called.
    He also said it is possible that there was a test period in your area but I am not familiar with that at this time.
    NIce. NOT.

  28. janie says:

    Dish Network is the worst company I have ever dealt with. I agree with the others. We are supposed to honor their contract but they do not. Their supervisor’s definitely need some customer service training. They need Dale Carnegie and retrained on how to do their job. I am supposed to get it correct on their website but if their own workers cannot get their job right how are we supposed to!!! I had Direct Tv for 20 years and never had any trouble. I feel for the cheaper price and offers from Dish Network. In these ecognomic times I was trying to save some money. I got what I paid for. Junk!!!