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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD
KlearGear Fines Couple for Negative Review; Something Blocks Seattle Tunnel Drilling; Thousands Without Power in Northeast; 2013's Unforgettable Marriage Proposals.
Aired December 26, 2013 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Then three and a half years later, they received this e-mail, appearing to be from KlearGear, stating they would be fined $3,500 if the negative review wasn't taken down in 72 hours.
JEN PALMER, FINED BY KLEARGEAR.COM: It's ridiculous that anybody would turn around and try to extort us like this, especially for doing something as simple as posting a review online.
BROWN: But KlearGear told the Palmers they sign add way their freedom in an obscure nondisclosure clause, forbidding them from taking any action that negatively impacts kleargear.com. The Palmer's tried to take the review down, but couldn't. KlearGear then reported the $3,500 bill unpaid to a collections company.
PALMER: It was bad enough that when we went to get a second car, it took a month to find a bank that was willing to finance us because of the huge ding this puts on our credit.
BROWN: They tried to reach out to settle this amicably, but never heard back from the company.
SCOTT MICHELMAN, PUBLIC CITIZEN ATTORNEY: As Jen Palmer's original review online noted, part of the problem with KlearGear's customer service is that they're difficult to contact.
BROWN: Thus, according to the Palmers, leaving them no choice but to sue, asking the court to declare they never owed the $3,500 and are seeking compensation to be determined by a jury.
MICHELMAN: Contract law isn't a game of surprise where businesses get to extort money based on terms that the customers didn't read in the fine print.
BROWN: Let's bring in CNN legal analysts, Paul Callan and Danny Cevallos.
I want to start with you, Paul.
First off, I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of consumers. A lot of us don't read the term of use contract, the fine print. We probably should. A big reason is because companies can put these non- disparagement clauses in their contracts. How common is this?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Fortunately, for consumers, it's not very common. The reason it's not common is because a company would be out of business if they did what this company has done, allegedly, to the Palmers. However, you can sign a contract reducing or eliminating your right to comment about anything. I mean, free speech, you know, they can't contract it away, saying I agree not to disparage your product. It's a good lesson for the holiday season. Even if the Palmers win, be careful. Look at the trouble they got themselves into.
BROWN: Even if it's truthful, Palmers are saying everything they wrote was truthful. That it might have been negative but it was truthful. On that note, you look at the non-disparagement clause on this KlearGear contract. It is very broad, vague, companies saying it's up to our discretion to decide if we should fine you for a negative review. Would that be upheld in the court of law?
DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, even if it isn't ultimately upheld, the downside is that they have to get to that court of law to find out whether or not it is a fair disparagement clause or not. In other words, they've been fined. They've had their information reported to a credit bureau. They've suffered all these negative consequences. The only way to vindicate themselves is to get into court. That is a long, long road. You see right away the problem with this disparagement clause. The other thing to add, by the way, is if you look on the internet archives, this disparagement clause does not appear in 2008 on this company's website. It may be the case that there never was a non-disparagement clause that didn't exist when they made the purchase.
BROWN: Very sneaky if that is, in fact, the case here.
I want to ask you, Paul, talking about this contract -- it seems like the Palmers have a pretty good case. You look at the fact that the wife was the one who posted the review, but she wasn't the one who purchased the items. Can they still be bound by this contract?
CALLAN: No, they can't. It's a great argument by their lawyers. What happened was, of course, the wife was very angry about it. The husband had made the purchase. She's the one who posted the comments. You buy a product and you're supposed to say to your wife, listen, this is a secret? Don't say anything about it. I don't think too many wives will listen to that advice. The more we look at this story -- Pam, you were covering this from the very beginning. The lesson here is, you just shouldn't do business with companies that have disparagement clauses like this. You shouldn't be buying their product. What does it say that they're so worried that you'll say something negative about their product? That's the lesson in the end. As Danny said, you don't want to wind up in court. The Palmers are going to win probably and they'll never be able to collect their damages and they will have lost in the end. BROWN: And, obviously, as we shared in the story, they had a ripple effect from this, with their credit being hurt and that kind of thing.
Danny, don't the credit reporting companies, on that no note, have some sort of liability here?
CEVALLOS: Ultimately, no. The real liability -- it is defamation if a company reports a debt that is not a brood debt. The real liability is on the company. Reporting credit companies will reach out to the company reporting the debt and they rely on whatever that company, like KlearGear, ostensibly told them. Then that's a debt as far as they're concerned. I suppose if they were reckless in researching that, but they rely on the companies to report truthfully and accurately.
CEVALLOS: That's what they're supposed to do.
CALLAN: They're supposed to add the consumer's claim as well, though, when they research it. So they may have some liability here too.
BROWN: It's based on the fair credit reporting act. By the way, important to mention, we reached out to KlearGear many times and have not heard back both by e-mail and by phone.
Danny Cevallos, Paul Callan, thank you for offering your analysis, as always.
And in other news today, talk about an amazing rescue. Have you seen this? An LAPD bomb squad officer and two good Samaritans pulled a man out of his burning car yesterday saving his life. It all happened in a matter of seconds when a car crashed on a major Los Angeles freeway. The driver is reported to be in the hospital but is said to be doing OK today.
McDonald's has taken down its controversial employee website, the one that encouraged workers to skip fast-food, get a second job and not pay for heat. The site is offline with the message saying it's being upgraded. The site is being re-evaluated because it caused unwarranted scrutiny.
Coming up right here on LEGAL VIEW, we hate to sound so cliche, but something in Seattle really is stuck between a rock and a hard place, or something, and it's standing in the way of building a massive new tunnel. Don't you love the sound effects that go along with this? What is this mystery object? We'll look into it after this break.
BROWN: Right now, 74 people are stuck on this Russian ship in the Antarctic. It got stuck on the ice yesterday and sent out a distress signal. Three ice breakers are on the way to free up the ship right now and there's no danger to people on board that ship.
Something underneath Seattle is blocking the path of a monster drill, cutting a tunnel below the city. The $3 billion project on hold. So, what could it be?
Stephanie Elam reports.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No doubt, Bertha is a behemoth. Billed as the largest tunneling machine in the world and put to work grinding a tunnel under Seattle for a planned highway. But Bertha was only a tenth of the way on her nearly two-mile journey when she suddenly encounters something large enough and strong enough to stop her in her tracks.
KADEENA YERKAN, WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: We're being really cautious, making sure we don't damage this $80 million machine.
ELAM: But what is it? The mystery is fueling lots of speculation. Geologists point to how Seattle's watery edges were filled in with just about anything by the city's pioneers.
DAVID B. WILLIAMS, GEOLOGIST: You find old shoes, newspapers. There's a boat buried in downtown Seattle. So, you name it. It could be down there.
ELAM: Another theory is it's a massive boulder left during the ice age. Residents have their own guesses.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some kind of burial ground.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's just taking a Christmas break. Merry Christmas, Big Bertha.
ELAM: If that's the case, her Christmas break started two weeks ago. Since then, the $3 billion tunnel project has been on hold, as workers drill wells to alleviate water pressure in front of Bertha in hopes of sending workers to the front of the drill to see what she's up against.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't back the machine up. You have the segmented lining behind you. All you can really do is proceed forward.
ELAM: But the Transportation Department says Bertha won't be moving forward until at least early next year, after the mystery is solved.
Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.
BROWN: As we mentioned earlier, more than 100,000 people are still without lights and, in some cases, heat, after ice storms knocked out power in the north. And many could remain in the dark until this weekend.
Meteorologist Jennifer Gray joins us with a look at the conditions in the north and elsewhere for holiday travelers. JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi there, Pamela. That's right. We had an ice storm last weekend and it did knock out power to a lot of the north. Temperatures haven't gotten above freezing since then. We're seeing ice, power outages in this part of the country. Buffalo, 28 degrees currently. Detroit, 27. There is a little bit of hope, though, as we go through the next couple of days. You can see for Saturday, Detroit gets to 38. Burlington at 35. And, of course, if you see sunshine, that will help some of that ice as well. Still some lake-effect snow, though, in portions of the north. What we're looking through tonight could see an additional two to four inches in places like Syracuse and northern Maine, one to three inches. Most of the country, very, very quiet. We have high pressure across the Mississippi River Valley. Few showers down in south Florida. The Midwest will be warming up. In fact, Denver will be at 52 degrees today. Atlanta will warm up to 53. And then in the Mid-Atlantic, D.C., at 46 and New York City at 38 -- Pamela?
BROWN: Jennifer gray, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
Love was in the air this year and it made its way online and straight on to YouTube. We're talking about marriage proposals. Up next, some of the year's very best and most unforgettable "will you marry me" moments.
A special surprise couple joins us as well. You won't want to miss this. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BROWN: A New Jersey mother got the best Christmas gift she could possibly ask for. Leslie Ruggiano went up to get a gift from Santa, handed a card from her military son, Travis, she's reading the card. Tears are starting to flow. Look right her there, ditching the white beard and all was Travis himself. Look at her surprise. She turns around. Here we go. Sees her son. He wasn't supposed to come home until March but got permission to come home for the holidays. You just got to love those stories.
Speaking of surprises, if you think some of the biggest surprises you've ever seen, chances are many involved a ring. Love can make you do crazy things, insanely elaborate, flashy, romantic marriage proposals. Here are some of our favorites from 2013.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wave to it. Hi. Oh, my gosh. What's on top of it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This place that is so special for us, I wanted to ask you the most important question I've ever asked in my whole life. Will you marry me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It goes over here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm Ben. In a couple of days I'm going to propose to my girlfriend, Melissa. We've been together eight and a half years. I don't think she thinks I'll ever propose. I am obsessed with Angry Birds. Someday, somehow, Angry Birds will be involved in our wedding. I would like to make it a reality.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what can this do that --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Try the next one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was that one?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not going to die. I'm actually going to die. What do you mean?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you marry me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, sweetheart. Well, I am not at the restaurant with you. I promise, I'm not standing you up. It's the opposite of that. Baby, I love you. I love you so freakin' much!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you let me take care of you for the rest of my life? Will you let me be your husband? Will you start a family with me? Emily, will you marry me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.
BROWN: Wow, hope you guys had your box of tissues handy.
Those were pretty good. Wait until you see this. A marriage proposal, flash-mob style, at Home Depot. Next, I'll talk to the man who pulled off this incredible stunt and asked his partner what he was thinking during all of this. They'll join me live after this break. Stick around.
BROWN: In terms of marriage proposals, this one takes the cake. Take a look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: That's how easy this could be.
Spencer proposed to Dustin, his partner of two years, with a flash mob, where else, Home Depot store. Can't wait to hear the story behind this one.
Spencer Stout and Dustin Reeser join me live from Salt Lake City.
Wow, guys, unbelievable.
Spencer, I want to start with you. Obviously this is something, I would think, took a lot of planning. Tell me where you got this idea to do this flash mob and sort of the planning that went in to make this all happen.
SPENCER STOUT, PROPOSED TO PARTNER: Definitely, took a lot of planning to do. Then inspiration for this kind of came when I was listening to the song that's actually danced to, it's "Somebody Loves You," and I was in my car driving home from work one day, I heard the song come up on my play list, I really liked it, I put it on my favorites, I listened to it over and over, and I realized I was ready to marry Dustin. It came from the inspiration of the listening to the words of the song. A couple of friends talked about doing flash mobs in the past, I thought, how fun would it be to do a flash mob and do something special for Dustin.
BROWN: Where did the Home Depot idea come from?
STOUT: We both we both do a lot of Home Depot projects. Home Depot plays an important part in my life and has been. It was part of the first day we had.
BROWN: That's sweet.
STOUT: We walked through.
BROWN: You what?
STOUT: We walked through Home Depot.
BROWN: OK. Fair enough. Fair enough.
Dustin, let's go to you, I have to know, what was going through your head, as you were watching this. Was it completely unexpected? I would think?
DUSTIN REESER, ACCEPTED PARTNER'S PROPOSAL: It was baffling. I mean I -- I walk in, and when I first walk in, I -- I saw microphone booms and it seemed like a commercial was being filmed, I was trying to duck and get out of there, and my roommate at the time, stopped me, pulled me up on the podium, he's like, no, stay there, and yells, hit it. I have no idea what's going on until Spencer comes out.
Spencer, you see in this video a lot of people had to come together to make this happen. How did you get everyone to rehearse the flash mob? I'm assuming it's a combination of factors that help you make this happen.
STOUT: Yes. Actually, everybody in the flash mob are family and close friends. Not very many of them are professional dancers. So I used technology, I had to blog up, pre-recorded dance routine so some people who lived out of state could learn the dance and tried to secretly meet at local gyms here in town, and I would tell Dustin I'd be going to the gym, and we rehearse as we could for the through month before it happened.
STOUT: Really fun.
BROWN: Dustin, obviously, you guys are in Utah. Utah recently legalized same-sex marriage. Are you all married? Are you planning to get married soon? What's on the horizon?
REESER: We're planning to get married. It's been wild with everything going on. We had our wedding plans in motion. So we're going to stick with what we had planned.
BROWN: I know how special it was for both of you to have your family and friends there for that incredible moment. Thank you for sharing it with us and sharing your story.
Spencer Stout, Dustin Reeser, we appreciate it. Good luck with everything.
STOUT: Thank you.
BROWN: Thank you for watching. We appreciate you being here with us on LEGAL VIEW. AROUND THE WORLD starts now.