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Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals Holds That Filed Rate Doctrine Does Not Bar Customers Prospective Class Action Against Mci Worldcom, Inc. For Overcharges

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Brown v. MCI Worldcom Network Services, Inc., issued an opinion on January 17, 2002 that a prospective class action complaint filed by William J. Brown ("Brown") against MCI Worldcom, Inc. ("MCI"), alleging overcharges is not barred by the filed rate doctrine.

Brown alleged that he had entered into a two-year contract with MCI to provide telephone service to his two office locations. Each office location was to have three telephone lines. MCI assigned a separate account number to each of the six lines, and also assigned a customer number to Brown, and then it assigned an additional account number to Brown's customer number at each of the two locations. As a result, Brown asserted that MCI improperly charged him $10 per month for the account numbers assigned to his two customer numbers, even though there were no associated telephone lines, so that MCI charged him as if he had eight telephone lines even though he only had six telephone lines. MCI's filed tariff provided that MCI could only charge for telephone lines actually in service.

Brown later filed a prospective class action complaint against MCI asserting that MCI overcharged all similarly situated customers in the same way. MCI claimed that the filed tariff doctrine barred Brown's claim. The federal district court agreed, and dismissed Brown's complaint. Brown then appealed.

The Court of Appeals stated that Brown did not challenge the validity of MCI's tariff, either directly or indirectly. Instead, Brown asserted MCI violated its tariff by creating extraneous accounts at each of Brown's office locations, and then wrongfully charged each of those accounts which did not have associated telephone lines and with an unauthorized $10 fee. Thus Brown was merely seeking to enforce MCI's tariff, and did not claim that MCI promised him anything outside the tariff and then refused it, or that MCI had an "obligation to him beyond the obligations" set forth in MCI's tariff.

The Court of Appeals held that while Brown's Complaint had to be resolved with reference to the tariff, it did not mean that the federal district court may not hear the suit. The filed rate doctrine precludes courts from deciding whether a tariff is reasonable, preserving the evaluation of tariffs to the FCC, but does not preclude courts from interpreting the provision of a tariff and enforcing the tariff. If the filed rate doctrine barred a court from interpreting and enforcing provisions of a tariff, that doctrine would render meaningless Sections 206 and 207 of the Communications Act, to allow plaintiffs after seeking redress in federal courts against carriers for violation of the Communications Act.

For more information call Michael L. Glaser at (303) 757-1600.

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