Would Allowing State Challenges Impede the Congressional Objective of Achieving Uniformity In Tele-Communication Services

In Ramette v. AT&T Corp., 351 Ill. App. 3d 73, 812 N.E.2d 504, 285 Ill. Dec. 684 (2004), plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit against AT&T based on AT&T's decision to charge its customers $ 1.50 per month to continue receiving their long-distance telephone bills with their local service telephone bills. Ramette alleged that the fee was imposed without any disclosure from AT&T that it would send a separate long-distance bill at no charge. The imposition of this fee closely coincided with the first-ever contract between AT&T and its customers, the CSA. The relationship between AT&T and its customers had been previously governed by tariffs filed with the FCC. AT&T moved to compel the arbitration of the claims pursuant to the CSA's arbitration provision. Ramette argued that the legal remedies in the CSA, including the arbitration provision, were unconscionable under Illinois law. The circuit court granted AT&T's motion to compel arbitration, finding that the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 203 (2000)) preempts all state-law challenges to the enforcement of the arbitration clause. The circuit court also found that the CSA was not unconscionable as a matter of law. Ramette filed an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 307 (188 Ill. 2d R. 307). the First District affirmed, stating in pertinent part: "We agree with Boomer and In re Universal Service Fund Telephone Billing Practices Litigation, 300 F. Supp. 2d 1107, 1117 (D. Kan. 2003), that the congressional objective of achieving uniformity in rates, terms, and conditions of service survived detariffing. Allowing state challenges would impede the congressional objective of achieving uniformity in telecommunication services. AT&T would be faced with different laws from different states and would have no uniform body of federal law to follow in proposing services and contracts. This would frustrate the congressional purpose of uniformity. Furthermore, state-law challenges would destroy the consistency of rates and cause discrimination. Customers in some states would be bound by an arbitration agreement that would not bind customers in other states. The Court found the congressional objective of achieving uniformity sufficiently strong. Therefore, the Court followed the reasoning in Boomer and find that the FCA preempts Ramette's state-law unconscionability challenge to AT&T's arbitration clause." Ramette, 351 Ill. App. 3d at 85-86, 812 N.E.2d at 514.