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Overlapping invoices don’t add up to double billing, says appeals court

A class-action suit alleging the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was double-billing its subscribers proved toothless in discovery and on appeal before the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Steven Goldsmith opened a putative class-action suit in 2019 for damages over alleged double-billing of newspaper subscriptions. Goldsmith had claimed that sending multiple statements with overlapping service dates amounted to a breach of contract and violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, among other violations left out of a later appeal.

Richard S. Cornfeld, of the Law Office of Richard S. Cornfeld in St. Louis, represents Goldsmith in the class action. He declined to comment. According to the Jan. 11 opinion, Goldsmith argued that a customer service representative handled his 2018 complaint about the double billing in 2018 by crediting his account $18. He also equated an in-house attorney’s email, stating a 2019 customer complaint was made “whole” by correcting the account and sending a corrected invoice, with an admission of wrongdoing.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri dismissed all claims after discovery revealed that the newspaper’s billing system’s invoices had overlapping dates, but they didn’t reflect what Goldsmith or other class action participants had actually paid according to the company’s internal billing system.

Lee Enterprises, which owns the Post-Dispatch, claimed that Goldsmith had received $2,373 in newspapers during that period and had paid a few dollars under that. A software architect testified that bills could appear incorrect due to the overlapping dates on statements though the actual payment calculations per each newspaper delivery were correct.

Goldsmith appealed the summary judgment to the 8th Circuit, seeking a remand. Judge James B. Loken wrote the opinion determining that while the billing issues created an appearance of an error to customers, it did not amount to economic damage.

“Recognition by the Post-Dispatch that its billing system lacked transparency and that unexplained overlaps generated subscriber complaints that needed to be satisfied does not create a genuine fact dispute about whether ‘overlaps cost subscribers money,’” Loken wrote.

Judges Duane Benton and Jonathan A. Kobes concurred.

The case is Goldsmith v. Lee Enterprises et al., 21-3927.