Digit dispute, dismissed

The Madison County Record Jan. 20, 2008, 3:54am

Kudos to U.S. District Judge J. Philip Gilbert for kicking off the New Year with a bit of common sense sanity.

Gilbert dismissed a frivolous class action filed by Marion resident Shandie Deaton against online discount retailer Overstock.com.

Led by her inventive lawyer, John Patchett, Deaton had hoped to lead a horde of enraged Overstock.com customers into suing the company for putting too many credit card digits on receipts it encloses with purchases.

By law, printing the last six digits or expiration date of a credit card is prohibited by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA.

The rationale, we surmise, is that it is too easy for your everyday neighborhood cryptology-trained thief with an Enigma machine to steal your mail, extrapolate the six digits into a full sixteen, and commence a shopping spree on your good name.

Whatever. The facts are that nobody took anything from Deaton. Her credit card digits weren't stolen. She wasn't hurt by Overstock.com and suffered no damages. Nor did a single member of the proposed class. So much for the rage factor.

Still, Deaton argued in her lawsuit that the company put her credit at risk by printing the extra digits. She demanded between $100 and $1000 dollars from Overstock.com as just compensation to appease the fear factor of the thieving cryptologists stalking her mailbox.

For its part, Overstock itself denied it printed too many numbers on her receipt. It welcomed Deaton to bring her claim in arbitration, even offering to pay expenses and fly her to beautiful Salt Lake City where the hearings are held.

Arbitration is great for solving problems quickly and efficiently. It's cost-effective for cash-strapped consumers with a grievance.

But for class action lawyers, it doesn't pay to arbitrate.

Here's guessing she and Patchett--whose hopes of six or seven figure lawyer fees were dashed when Gilbert dismissed the case--won't take the offer and go west. Even if it's during ski season.

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