(CN) – The Missouri Supreme Court has given new life to a class action against Charter Communications. Charter customers claimed the cable provider illegally charged them for a TV guide channel they didn’t request.
Charter moved to dismiss, claiming the voluntary payment doctrine prohibited the court from ordering Charter to pay refunds. A trial court found for Charter and dismissed the class action with prejudice.
But the state supreme court unanimously reversed and remanded.
It found that the voluntary payment doctrine did not apply because the doctrine is a form of waiver and the rights provided by the act cannot be waived; that application of the voluntary payment doctrine to the act is inconsistent with public policy; that application of the voluntary payment doctrine would improperly allow an equitable doctrine to nullify legislative intent; that the doctrine is not a valid defense in the case of fraud or improper conduct; and that the trial court misapplied the law when it failed to construe the complaints in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs.
“Here, plaintiffs allege that Charter provided unsolicited merchandise to consumers in the form of the channel guide and then billed and collected, or attempted to collect, payment for the unordered merchandise,” Judge Patricia Breckenridge wrote. “This conduct, if proven, is an unfair practice that is prohibited by the act. To allow Charter to avoid liability for this unfair practice through the voluntary payment doctrine would nullify the protections of the act and be contrary to the intent of the legislature.”