Staats v. City of Palo Alto Class Action

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why did I get a notice?
  2. What is this lawsuit about?
  3. What is a class action and who is involved?
  4. Why is this lawsuit a class action?
  5. What is the Plaintiff asking for on behalf of the Class?
  6. How does the City answer?
  7. Has the Court decided who is right?
  8. How do I know if I am part of the Class?
  9. Is there any money available now?
  10. What happens if I do nothing at all?
  11. What happens if I exclude myself?
  12. How do I ask to be excluded?
  13. Do I have a lawyer in this case?
  14. Should I get my own lawyer?
  15. How will the lawyers be paid?
  16. How and when will the Court decide the case?
  17. Do I have to come to Court?
  18. Will I get money after the trial?
  19. Is more information about the lawsuit available?
  1. Why did I get a notice?

    The notice was issued because a Court has “certified” this case to proceed to trial as a class action lawsuit and your rights may be affected. If you paid the City a UUT as part of your monthly phone bill, you may have legal rights and options in this case before the Court decides whether the claims being made against the City on your behalf are correct. The notice explains all of these things.

    

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  2. What is this lawsuit about?

    The lawsuit claims that: (1) the City unlawfully added and collected a UUT from Palo Alto taxpayers by embedding the tax in monthly telephone bills; (2) after 2006 the UUT no longer legally applied to mobile phone services, including long-distance telephone services where the charge varies only by time; and (3) these mobile phone services and bundled services are exempt from the UUT, are not taxable under the Federal Excise Tax and cannot be lawfully taxed by the City.

    

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  3. What is a class action and who is involved?

    In a class action, one or more people, called Class Representatives (in this case Eileen Staats), sued on behalf of all people who have similar claims. Together, these people are called a Class or Class members. One court resolves the issues for all Class members, except for those who exclude themselves from the Class.

    

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  4. Why is this lawsuit a class action?

    The Court decided that this lawsuit could move toward trial as a class action because it meets the requirements of California Code of Civil Procedure § 382.  For example, the Court ruled that the Class is so large or “numerous” that getting all Class members together is impracticable; that there are questions of law and fact that are “common” to the Class; that the claims of the Class Representative and the City’s defenses to those claims are “typical” of the claims of the Class and the City’s defenses to those claims; that the lawyers for the Class will “adequately” protect the interests of all Class members; and that a class action would be superior to individual lawsuits.  The City opposed Plaintiff’s request to certify the Class and retains the right to ask the Court to “decertify” the Class in the future.  More information about why this case is proceeding as a class action can be found in the Court’s Class Certification Order, which is available at www.UtilityUsersTaxClassAction.com.

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  5. What is the Plaintiff asking for on behalf of the Class?

    The Plaintiff is asking for: (1) the Court to order the City to refund Class members all of the UTT money it collected, plus interest; and (2) reasonable attorneys’ fees, administrative and litigation costs and expenses.

    

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  6. How does the City answer?

    The City contends that flat-rate long-distance service including mobile and landline services are legally taxable.

    

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  7. Has the Court decided who is right?

    No. The Court has not ruled on the merits of the claims. The lawyers for the Plaintiff will present their claims and the lawyers for the City will argue their defenses at a trial.

    

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  8. How do I know if I am part of the Class?

    Generally, you are included in this lawsuit if you paid the City’s Utility Users Tax, imposed by former Palo Alto Municipal Code § 2.35.090, on flat-rate mobile or long distance landline telephone services or per-minute mobile or long distance landline telephone services between August 1, 2006 and December 18, 2014.

    Specifically, the Class is defined as:

    All persons, including individuals, non-corporate entities, and corporations, who have paid the City of Palo Alto Utility Users Tax (“UUT”) imposed by Palo Alto Municipal Code § 2.35.090 on the following services between August 1, 2006 and December 18, 2014: (1) “flat-rate” mobile telephone service that entitles the subscriber, upon payment of a periodic charge determined as a flat amount or upon the basis of total minutes, to an unlimited number of calls in an identified region; (2) “flat-rate,” separately billed long distance landline telephone service that entitles the subscriber, upon payment of a periodic charge determined as a flat amount or upon the basis of total minutes, to an unlimited number of calls in an identified region; (3) per-minute mobile telephone service; and/or (4) per-minute long distance landline telephone service.

    You are not included in the Class if you paid the UUT only for separately billed local landline telephone services or local landline services bundled with mobile or long distance landline services in a plan that does not separately state the charge for the local service.

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  9. Is there any money available now?

    No. There is no money available now because the Court has not ruled on the merits of the claims. There is no guarantee that money will ever be awarded or obtained.

    

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  10. What happens if I do nothing at all?

    If you do nothing, you are choosing to stay in the Class. If the Plaintiff wins or loses at trial, you will be legally bound by all orders and judgments of the Court, and you will not be able to sue or continue to sue the City in a different case over the legal claims included in this lawsuit. If the Plaintiff obtains money or other benefits from the City at trial or as the result of a settlement, you will be able to ask for a share.

    

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  11. What happens if I exclude myself?

    If you exclude yourself from the Class, you: (1) will not be legally bound by the Court’s judgments; (2) will keep any rights you may have to sue the City for the legal claims included in this lawsuit; and (3) will not be able to get any money or benefits from this lawsuit if any are awarded or obtained as a result of the trial or any settlement.

    

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  12. How do I ask to be excluded?

    To exclude yourself, send a letter that states you want to be excluded from Staats v. City of Palo Alto, Case No. 2015-1-cv-284956. Include your name, address, telephone number, and signature. You must mail your exclusion request letter so that it is postmarked by January 19, 2019 to: Staats v. City of Palo Alto Class Action Administrator, P.O. Box 505024, Louisville, KY 40233-5024.

    

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  13. Do I have a lawyer in this case?

    Yes. The Court has appointed Thomas V. Girardi, John A. Girardi, and Alexandra T. Steele of Girardi Keese and Thomas S. Slovak and Stephen J. Schultz of Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney, LLP as Class Counsel to represent you and the Class in this case. These lawyers have experience handling similar cases. More information about these lawyers and their law firms are available at www.girardikeese.com and www.sbemp.com.

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  14. Should I get my own lawyer?

    You do not need to hire your own lawyer because Class Counsel is representing you and all the other members of the Class. If you want someone other than Class Counsel to speak for you, you may hire your own lawyer at your own expense.

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  15. How will the lawyers be paid?

    If Class Counsel obtains money or benefits for the Class, they will ask the Court to allow them to recover their attorneys’ fees and costs.  Any such award must be approved by the Court.  In a class action, attorneys’ fees and costs for Class Counsel may be deducted from money obtained for the Class.  Under some circumstances, they might be paid directly by a defendant.  Any entitlement to attorneys’ fees and costs, and the manner in which such fees and costs might be awarded, have not yet been determined in this case.  However, you will not personally have to pay any of Class Counsel’s attorneys’ fees and costs.

    

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  16. How and when will the Court decide the case?

    The case will be decided at a trial. The trial will take place at the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, located at 191 North First Street, San Jose, California 95113. The trial may be moved to a different date or time without additional notice.

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  17. Do I have to come to Court?

    You do not have to come to Court unless you choose to do so. Class Counsel will present the case for the Plaintiff, and the lawyers for the City will present their defenses. You or your lawyer may appear in Court for this case at your own expense, but you do not have to.

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  18. Will I get money after the trial?

    If Class Counsel obtains money or benefits as a result of the trial or a settlement, a new notice will be issued about how to ask for a share and about any other options you may have at that time.

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  19. Is more information about the lawsuit available?

    More information is available by calling toll-free at 866-561-6117, writing to Staats v. City of Palo Alto, Class Action Administrator, P.O. Box 505024, Louisville, KY 40233-5024, or by contacting Class Counsel.

    

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