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Fleet v. United States Consumer Council, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs brought suit against defendants, seeking to have their agreement declared unconscionable when Defendants charged Plaintiffs, who were on the verge of bankruptcy, for referring them to an attorney they could have reached for free through the local bar association.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When determining unconscionability, the court should consider whether the parties have grossly exceeded the price for their services, in comparison to other similar services.

    Facts. The Plaintiffs, Fleet and others (Plaintiffs), turned to the Defendants, the United States Consumer Council, Inc. (Defendants), for help with their financial troubles. Defendants made claims that it could help people get out of debt, while it charged sometimes $195.00 to $260.00, just to refer Plaintiffs to an attorney that they could have reached for free by calling the bar association. Plaintiffs brought this action to have their agreement with the Defendant rendered unconscionable.

    Issue. This case considers whether a service contract is unconscionable, based on the fact that the consumer could get the same service elsewhere for a lesser price.

    Held. The fees charged by the Defendant were unconscionable.
    The court focused on the Unfair and Deceptive Practices Act, noting that a fee for service is unconscionable when the same service could be rendered elsewhere for a lower price.
    In this case, the Defendant provided attorney referrals for persons in need of financial help. While this service is free to anyone who calls the bar association, the Defendant was charging fees between $195.00 and $260.00. Most of the people who called Defendant for assistance were people who were on public assistance and/or persons on the verge of bankruptcy. By charging them a fee for a referral that would otherwise be free, the Defendant was profiting from their poor circumstances. An action that is, on its face, unconscionable.

    Discussion. When a contract is found to be unconscionable on its face, a disadvantaged party is excused form performance.


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