David Cates

An attorney whose Illinois law career is not quite one-year-old has filed a national class action lawsuit against AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless claiming the cellular providers fraudulently induced customers post merger into buying new phones.

More than $5 million is being sought in federal court by attorney David I. Cates, son of Swansea class action attorney Judy Cates.

Judy Cates recently closed her law practice to run a campaign for appellate court judge in southern Illinois' Fifth District.

David Cates was admitted as a lawyer by the Illinois Supreme Court on Nov. 9, 2006, according to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission website.

Proposed class plaintiffs Marcie Crandall and Dale Fietsam of Belleville, who were former AT&T customers before the companies merged in October 2004, claim they were forced into buying new phones because their old ones were not compatible with Cingular's wireless network under which their post merger plans operated.

They claim their phones contained network-specific "locks."

According to the complaint filed Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, the companies entered into locking contracts with cell phone manufacturers before they merged. Locked phone units, the suit claims, only detect the provider's network which paid for the lock.

"The purpose of these 'locking' contracts was to limit the cellular phone's ability to detect a cellular network through the use of the SIM Card," the complaint states.

Crandall, whose AT&T cell phone would not work on the Cingular network after the merger, claims she was told she could pay a $5 analog fee or buy a new cell phone. She claims she expended money to purchase a new phone because she was never informed that her locked phone could be "unlocked" and made compatible with the Cingular network.

"The failure of AT&T and Cingular to inform their consumers that the cellular phones contained 'locks' were material omissions of fact which were designed to induce consumers, including Marcie Crandall, to purchase a new cellular telephone," the complaint states.

The complaint also claims that Crandall was required to agree to a new service contract with Cingular on terms that were less favorable than her prior contract with AT&T Wireless.

Fietsam also claims that Cingular informed him that he would have to buy a new Cingular cellular phone because his AT&T phone and the ones used by his family were not compatible with the Cingular network.

"...Cingular's representations were intentionally designed to deceive consumers, forcing them to spend more money for the purchase of new cellular telephones," the complaint states.

Plaintiffs claim the defendants violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.

The proposed class includes all AT&T wireless customers who purchased new Cingular phones after Oct. 26, 2004, because of incompatibiity.

A proposed sub-class would consist of AT&T customers who were charged fees for accessing the Cingular network from Oct. 26, 2004, to the present.

The common questions of law or fact include whether defendants:

  • Engaged in a nationwide practice of failing to inform consumers that their AT&T cellular phones contained lock codes;

  • Engaged in a nationwide practice of representing to consumers that the Cingular network was compatible with the AT&T network;

  • Engaged in a nationwide practice of sending consumers notices informing them that the AT&T cellular telephones were incompatible with the Cingular network;

  • Intended that plaintiffs and all other AT&T customers rely upon the representations that the Cingular network and AT&T newtork were compatible; and

  • Engaged in a uniform practice of selling AT&T customers new Cingular cellular phones for the purpose of increasing profits to Cingular.

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