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Appeals court throws out suit over AT&T cell phone fees

11th Circuit says lower court didn’t have jurisdiction to invalidate FCC order

A lawsuit that Martha Self filed 14 years ago has finally come to an end.

In 1998, Self sued AT&T Inc. over fees the phone company added to her cell phone bill. The fees, which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated, supported AT&T’s contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF). The fee amount was based on the company’s revenues from all in-state calls between January 1998 and October 1999.

In a separate case in 1999, the 5th Circuit ruled that the FCC had exceeded its authority by including revenue made from all state-to-state calls in the calculation of wireless carriers’ USF payments. The appeals court held that the FCC could only calculate wireless carriers’ mandatory contributions to the USF based on revenue from long-distance calls made state-to-state and internationally.

The FCC interpreted the court’s decision to mean that it didn’t need to refund the incorrect payments the carriers had already made. Self argued that although the carriers weren’t entitled to a refund, consumers were. She sought a refund of the USF fees she paid in 1998 and 1999, before the 5th Circuit’s decision.

A lower court dismissed Self’s case in 2008. And yesterday, the 11th Circuit said the lower court correctly dismissed her case because it didn’t have jurisdiction to invalidate an FCC requirement.

Read the 11th Circuit’s opinion here.

For more recent stories about billing and fee challenges, read:

Visa/MasterCard credit card fee settlement on expedited schedule for approval

General counsel fight law firm bills for photocopies, food

Government criticizes bankruptcy lawyers’ rising fees

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