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Washington Mutual Bank: Case for Consumer Rights

McKell v.Washington Mutual Bank (2006) is a case for consumer rights highlighting the prerogative of the consumers to ‘buy at the right price.’  In this case, the consumers were not buying goods and services.  Rather, the market consisted of real property; and one of the stakeholders – Washington Mutual, Inc.– was overstating the prices of “underwriting, tax services, and wire transfer fees in conjunction with home loans.” [1]  Washington Mutual Bank had overcharged the buyers for these services – alleged the plaintiffs (few of the buyers) – when the actual prices that the bank had paid to service providers for the self same services were less.

The defendants (Washington Mutual) were simply making a profit on the services they had bought off different providers and selling to other members of society that needed them at the time.  Is this kind of profit making unlawful? – From the viewpoint of consumers, it may very well be unlawful, seeing that all consumers want to pay the ‘best prices.’  However, if the consumers were to stop using the services of Washington Mutual Bank, they would possibly have to visit various service providers for underwriting, tax services, and wire transfers, and still come to the defendants for home loans.

In the integrative business of Washington Mutual, everything is taken care of.  In view of this, it was decided by a trial court in California that the complaint made by the plaintiffs must be dismissed on the grounds that there had been no written agreement between the parties to state that Washington Mutual, Inc.

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cannot charge in excess of the prices that it pays to the service providers.  The case went into appeal.  It is going to continue being considered; in fact, the California Court of Appeal has agreed with a part of the plaintiff’s complaint and agreed to review this consumer case further.[2]

The main reason why the McKell v. Washington Mutual Bank case has still not been shut is that consumers feel deceived when they are told that they are being charged simply the prices of the services bought, when in fact the sellers have overcharged.  Although profit making is not considered illegal, in this case the consumers feel cheated because they had been informed by Washington Mutual that they were being charged the prices of certain services that cost a certain amount.

As it turned out, the prices charged included a huge markup, while the consumers continued to believe that they were paying the ‘right prices.’  The plaintiffs failed to produce all necessary documents to support their allegations.  Nevertheless, the fact that Washington Mutual had failed to mention to the consumers that a service fee was being added for the services in question – has landed the bank in hot water.  Moreover, by charging a price that is higher than the market price, the bank is responsible for going against “Congress’s stated intent to protect consumers from unnecessarily high settlement charges.”[3]  Indeed, this is the strongest argument to keep the McKell v. Washington Mutual case going in the near future.

Washington Mutual Bank may be charged with near-monopolistic practices in the coming days, although it has not been determined whether the bank’s competitors are charging markups that are vastly dissimilar.  Assuming that the competitors of the bank are charging much less than Washington Mutual, the justice system may very well decide that Washington Mutual must pay the legal charges of unfair competition.

Seeing that both federal and state laws demur near-monopolistic practices, that is, charging prices that are much higher than those at the market equilibrium – the Californian courts may eventually end up with a strong hand protecting the interests of the consumer and charging Washington Mutual Bank much more than it charged its consumers through allegedly “unfair” practices.[4]

Works Cited

McKell v. Washington Mutual: IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF

CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE COURT, DIVISION ONE. 2006. 4 June 2007.

<http://classactiondefense.jmbm.com/mckellclassactiondefense_opn.pdf>.

McKell v. Washington Mutual-Class Action Defense Cases: Defense Motion To Dismiss Class

Action Improperly Granted As To Breach of Contract And UCL Claims Based On Federal RESPA Violations California Court Holds. Class Action Defense Blog. 2007. 4 June 2007 <http://classactiondefense.jmbm.com/2006/09/class_action_defense_casesmcke_1.html>.

[1] “McKell v. Washington Mutual-Class Action Defense Cases: Defense Motion To Dismiss Class Action Improperly Granted As To Breach of Contract And UCL Claims Based On Federal RESPA Violations California Court Holds,” Class Action Defense Blog, 2007, 4 June 2007 <http://classactiondefense.jmbm.com/2006/09/class_action_defense_casesmcke_1.html>.

[2] “McKell v. Washington Mutual: IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE COURT, DIVISION ONE,” 2006, 4 June 2007, <http://classactiondefense.jmbm.com/mckellclassactiondefense_opn.pdf>.
[3] “McKell v. Washington Mutual-Class Action Defense Cases.”
[4] Ibid.

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