American Cleaners is a chain of dry cleaners with twenty-six locations in St. Louis County, St. Louis City, St. Charles County and Jefferson County. They charge customers for dry cleaning services and/or laundering services and those charges differ depending on the items to be cleaned. In 2005, American Cleaners began charging an add-on fee, which they called an “Environmental Surcharge” to all customers who purchased dry cleaning service from their American Cleaners stores. However, this “surcharge” was not required by law, nor was it an official charge for the protection of the environment, as its title suggests. In fact, no service was provided to the customers who paid the surcharge. Instead, the surcharge was nothing more than a mechanism designed to generate additional revenue for the businesses. Indeed, the “Environmental Surcharges” compounded to create a hefty profit for American Cleaners.
In order to take full advantage of this surcharge, American Cleaners began distributing coupons throughout the St. Louis area by means of newspaper insert, direct mail and otherwise. Each distribution included multiple coupon cut-outs, quoting prices for dry cleaning. However, none of the quoted prices on the coupons included the $.25 “Environmental Surcharge”; therefore, none of the prices quoted were actually available to customers. Charging the “Environmental Surcharge” separately allowed Defendant to advertise, market and list prices for services that were lower than what they actually charged. Not only was the “Environmental Surcharge” deceptive and misleading, but it was also unfair and unethical in that it distorted competition in the marketplace by preventing consumers from accurately comparing the costs of dry cleaning services, thus causing consumers to needlessly incur unnecessary costs.
In 2012 we teamed up with Rick Cornfeld of The Law Offices of Richard S. Cornfeld and filed a class action lawsuit against American Cleaners to force them to stop this deceptive practice and force them to reimburse their customers. The class consisted of “All individuals who purchased dry cleaning services from American Cleaners’ Missouri stores for personal, family or household purposes and were charged an “Environmental Surcharge.” Since the “Environmental Surcharge” was $.25 per garment, no individual purchaser would have the resources to pursue a consumer claim against American Cleaners. Without class certification, American Cleaners would in effect have immunity for the economic harm it caused to the thousands of customers who purchased dry cleaning services.
Soon after we filed the lawsuit American Cleaners stopped their practice of charging an environmental surcharge. And within a year and a half the defendants settled the class action lawsuit. The settlement provided for all class members to receive full reimbursement for the amount of money they spent on the ‘environmental surcharge.’
Class actions lawsuits can be difficult and expensive. At The Bruning Law Firm, we have the experience and the resources to handle your case. If you believe that you need a St. Louis Class Action attorney, call us at 314-735-8100 for a free consultation.