I SUED J.P.MORGAN CHASE AND …. well I can’t tell you the precise outcome, but perhaps this picture will explain how I feel.
The takeaway to this episode is very clear: YOU CAN DO THIS. Thanks to the institution of Small Claims Court (one of the greatest tools for leveling the playing field ever invented), you can sue a multinational multibillion dollar corporation and end up dancing in a Speedo.
Background: JP Morgan Chase, in their capacity as Chase bank, made an error which caused me to suffer monetary damages. (It’s a very long story, but basically Chase screwed up a payment to my health insurance company. And you know health insurance companies: if you miss one payment they can cut you off completely. I managed to retain my coverage, but it was touch-and-go for a while.) I pointed out the error to a Chase representative, and told them that I wanted the bank to reimburse me for the precise monetary damages I incurred during the episode. The representative from Chase did that thing where they don’t exactly laugh in your face, but it feels just as though they did.
So I raised the stakes. I took JPMorgan Chase to small claims court. Small claims court exists precisely for this type of thing; it’s a cheap, underused resource that goes a long way toward eliminating the power imbalance between an ordinary citizen and a multinational multibillion dollar coporation. The precise rules vary from county to county, but the general parameters are:
- Your case is limited to a (relatively) small amount of money, maxing out between $3000 and $9999.
- You can only sue for actual monetary damages. You cannot sue for pain and suffering. You cannot sue for other ancillary damages. If you’ve got a receipt showing an actual dollar amount of your loss (as I did), that’s what you can sue for.
- In many jurisdictions, you can’t bring an attorney to court with you. You are your own lawyer [with all the warnings about a person serving as their own lawyer having a fool for a client], so your case had better be rock-solid and logical. You can’t sue because you’re unhappy, or because the outcome of a transaction was not “fair”.
I was fortunate. Years of being a hacker gave me just enough knowledge of financial computer systems to know exactly what documents to ask for (and gave me the social engineering skill to ensure they actually did send me the documents). I wouldn’t have gone to court if I didn’t have Chase’s error down cold.
Chase must have known this, because soon after I filed my claim in Brooklyn small claims court, a paralegal from Chase got me on the phone. That’s the beauty of small claims court: they can’t ignore you anymore. When the notice of a lawsuit arrives from the court, the recipient has to respond to it.
When confronted with the evidence, Chase offered to settle the case. I won’t go into too many details — mainly because I can’t legally — but after quite a bit of back and forth, we finally reached an agreement that has me dancing like the picture above.
What does this mean for you? I hope this convinces all of you that anyone can do this. You can sue a giant corporation and (if you’ve got the proof), you can have them finally listen to you. (If a legal and logical reason could be found to bring individual small claims suits, I wonder if Occupy Wall Street could be turned into Sue Wall Street?) Chase’s behavior showed me (and you) that this is what it takes to get their attention. Let’s take that lesson to heart. And let’s dance in our Speedos.
(And to all those who have used the astounding counter-argument that using small claims court raises their taxes, I offer a simple dare: tell me how much. Show me your sources, show me the calculations, and tell me how much my using the resources of our judicial system has raised your taxes. I dare you.)