Jeff Smith 2:30 p.m., June 26
Wells Fargo beats the Vista merchant who can't speak or read English
Forum selection clause upheld, but case will be appealed
North County Superior Court Judge Timothy Casserly ruled in favor of Wells Fargo Bank in a case that I wrote about in my July 31 column. Vista's Casiano Hernandez-Venegas, who neither speaks nor reads English, was pitched by a Wells Fargo salesperson to buy a credit and debit card billing service terminal. The contract was in English, but the Wells salesperson said she would fill out the details.
He thought he was signing an application, not a contract. When the product arrived, he said he had no use for it but for some time he was billed $40 a month. A lawyer couldn't get cooperation from the bank of the company providing the device, and sued. Hernandez-Venegas eventually got his money back, but realizes that in deals such as this, the companies hawking the product know that most customers will only get back a fraction of what they are billed for, and some will never complain, or give up complaining.
At issue in this case was the forum selection clause, mandating that any lawsuit be heard on Long Island, 2700 miles away. The attorney, Conrad Joyner, argued that the clause was a sham, because in 75 cases over three years, Wells Fargo itself had sued in California courts in similar situations, despite the forum selection clause. Joyner also argued because Hernandez-Venegas was duped into signing the contract, the forum selection clause was not valid.
Judge Casserly, however, went with Wells Fargo. Joyner says he will appeal. Meanwhile, for self-protection, people should read David Cay Johnston's book, "The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use 'Plain English' to Rob You Blind."
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