Bell Mobility Loses Appeal of Class Action Lawsuit Over Fees for Non-Existent 911 Services

by Istvan Fekete on January 13, 2015

The Northwest Territories Court of Appeal has ruled that Bell Mobility is indeed accountable to thousands of cellphone subscribers in the country’s three northern territories regarding fees for non-existent 911 services, and that the judge presiding in the (territory’s first class-action) lawsuit case was correct.

The story began in 2007 when Yellowknife residents James and Samuel Anderson sued Bell for charging 75 cents per month ($9 a year) for 911 services despite such a system not being available in the area because the authorities did not set it up.

Shortly afterwards, the lawsuit extended to include about 30,000 Bell Mobility customers in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon, except Whitehorse (here authorities did their homework and placed a 911 system).

Bell was found liable for fees charged for a non-existent service, but the carrier appealed the ruling in 2013, saying that the service agreements with customers gave it the right to collect the fee. Interestingly, though, it stopped collecting the fees for contracts signed after November 2009, due to litigation.

I particularly love how Justice Jean Côté (writing for the unanimous three-person panel of the appeal court) describes Bell’s position in the matter. First, on Bell’s argument of service agreements: “In my respectful view, connecting someone to nothing is still nothing,” he said in a decision published Wednesday.

In addition, Côté notes that 911 calls in the Territories are routed to recordings suggesting the caller dial local emergency numbers, but it did not provide those numbers.

“To seek to charge for that by calling it 911 service seems to me very unreasonable. It is like delivering to a starving person a photograph of a turkey dinner, and then charging him or her for a turkey dinner (or delivery of one).”

In the end, the Appeals Court upheld the previous ruling and, apart from an adjustment of $18,000, ordered Bell to pay the plaintiffs a total of $340,000 in legal costs.

The ruling did not address the damages, so that will be the subject of another trial. The judge presiding in the case accepted the plaintiffs’ estimate of more than $1.5 million. Samuel Marr, a Toronto lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told the Globe and Mail that he anticipates pursuing a claim for up to $5 million.

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Written by: Istvan Fekete. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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