You Really (really) Need to Read This
Sep 11, 2014
More and more, these days, is the instance where someone will come into the library asking for a book that talks about how to get out of a contract for the sale of a car or a boat or a gym membership. What often happen is that a person entered into the agreement and but failed to read the fine print. What is fine print? A light-hearted Chipotle Mexican Grill offer is a fun read (in 4 point type):
Offer valid only at participating locations, which in this case means all locations. Not to be combined with other offers or somehow cleverly duplicated. Limit one card per visit. Please present this card to the cashier, but don't be surprised when they keep it. Cash value 1/100th of one cent, which is pretty much nothing. This is the fine print, why are you still reading this? Really, this is getting silly, go eat.
Another example? How about radio ads where the last ten seconds are a speed talker who talks so fast no one can possibly understand what they're saying; or ads that state a price for $10 but add the processing and shipping charges and you're paying $35.00; or ads that say you can't lose your home with a reverse mortgage, except in the following cases...
While fine print isn't always small and isn't always obvious, it is most always deceptive (otherwise, why print in such small text?) Of course, all of this brings me to the point of this blog. See, once upon a time a lawsuit was filed again Barnes & Noble Inc (Nguyen v. Barnes & Noble Inc, 2014 DJDAR 11191) which was all about fine print - or the placement of it, anyway. Seems Kevin Nguyen bought a product from Barnes & Noble and subsequently sued them in a class action for deceptive language practices and false advertising. After the case was removed to Federal court, Barnes & Noble said Nguyen had to comply with the arbitration clause located on it's website. The court said yea, we don't think so. Basically, the court said that if you want a consumer to be beholden to a get-out-of-jail type clause, you have to give them adequate notice. Seems the arbitration clause Barnes & Nobel was so proud of was an arbitrary link embedded on it's website. In the industry, it's called Browsewrap and it is hoped that people will click on the link. However, because it was not actually part of the purchase order (and easily/reasonably found), the court said that Mr. Nguyen didn't have actual or constructive notice of the arbitration clause.
Bottom line - read the fine print. Just because you don't see the fine print doesn't mean it's not there and next time someone buys something from Barnes & Nobel, you can bet they (and every other vendor out in commerce land) will be waiting with baited breath because I'm betting these guys have changed their website. Yeah, I pity the fool who walks into their trap, uh, I mean, uh,...contract. Yeah, that's gonna be a rude awakening.
Bret is a Legal Research & Instructional Services Librarian at our Main Library.