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A class action lawsuit accusing Verizon Communications Inc. of shoddy service and lying to consumers has been given the go-ahead by a Manhattan state Supreme Court judge. In a Monday ruling, Solomon v. Bell Atlantic Corp., Justice Herman Cahn certified a class of thousands of New York customers who subscribed to the telephone company’s high-speed Internet service. The complaint alleges that Verizon violated New York’s consumer protection statutes, General Business Law �� 349 and 350, in advertising its Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, service. The company, which was then called Bell Atlantic Corp., began offering DSL service in 1999. The plaintiffs say Verizon advertised the new service as fast, reliable, easy to install and easy to use. Plaintiffs say Verizon claimed, for instance, that DSL was up to 126 times faster than a 56K modem and would provide uninterrupted service allowing customers to use the phone and the Internet simultaneously, and described its technical support as “unbelievable.” But plaintiffs say the company was unprepared to meet the initial demand, driven in part by its aggressive advertising, and the service — and its customers — paid the price. As a result, Verizon’s DSL service proved at times even slower than a 56K modem and suffered numerous interruptions for hours and sometimes days, plaintiffs allege. Technical support was also found wanting. The company did not train their employees how to install and support the service, plaintiffs allege. Customers were also forced to wait, on average, a half-hour on hold before being connected to a service representative, and sometimes much longer. The plaintiffs sued Verizon in 2000. The case went up to the Court of Appeals on Verizon’s motion to dismiss, which was initially denied by Justice Cahn, but then reversed by the Appellate Division, First Department. The Court of Appeals reversed again and reinstated the claims, finding that disclaimers contained in Verizon’s service contract did not, as a matter of law, preclude the plaintiffs’ claims. However, it limited the suit to New York state residents, finding that state law did not protect out-of-state customers. Plaintiffs then moved to certify the class. CLASS ACTION ENDORSED In an opinion firmly endorsing class action litigation as a practical means of redressing mass commercial harms that would not be economically feasible to pursue individually, the court granted the request. “Without the benefit of the class action, [businesses] could act with impunity � since, realistically speaking, our legal system inhibits the bringing of suits based upon small claims,” the court wrote. Applying the standards for a class action under New York law, the court found certification to be appropriate because of the great number of potential members of the class. It also found that common questions affecting the class predominated over any possible individual questions, rejecting Verizon’s argument that New York’s consumer protection statute called for proof of individual reliance upon the deceptive action. Justice Cahn also certified two subclasses: one for class members identified in Verizon’s database as complaining about the self-installation method, and one for class members complaining about tech support. The lawsuit is one of several similar class actions alleging substandard DSL service that are pending around the country. In addition to Verizon, SBC Communications’ Pacific Bell and Bell South have been targeted. Joshua N. Rubin of Abbey Gardy, Jason L. Solotaroff of Giskan & Solotaroff, Karen L. Morris and Patrick F. Morris of Morris & Morris, Mark S. Kaufman and William A. Thomas represented the plaintiffs. Guy Miller Struve, Nancy B. Ludmerer, D. Scott Tucker, Amy V. Garcia and Edmund Polubinski of Davis Polk & Wardwell; Robert Ernst; and Richard H. Wagner represented Verizon. A Verizon spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

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