Chemed Corp., corporate parent of Roto-Rooter Services Co., won an appeal May 24 regarding a lawsuit that had been granted class action status - a move that could have meant opening the legal battle to consumers in 2.3 million transactions in 35 states over the course of two and a half years.

The dispute centered on a “miscellaneous supplies charge,” Roto-Rooter began including on its preprinted customer invoices in 1999.The charge started at $4.95, increased to $6.95, and ultimately went as high as $12.95, depending on the geographic location.

Michael Linn, an Ohio resident, called Roto-Rooter for its plumbing services twice in September 2000. He paid a miscellaneous supplies charge of $4.95 on the first visit and $6.95 on the second, both of which were included in Roto-Rooter's preprinted invoices.

Linn filed his class action lawsuit in April 2002 asserting claims for fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, unjust enrichment, and violations of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practice Act.

Linn's legal team argued, among other items, that the charge was implemented to boost Roto-Rooter's profits, to increase the pay of its technicians, and that the charge bore no relation to the cost of such supplies. Linn also contended that the invoices did not reveal the nature of the charge and that customers were misled to believe the charge was related to supplies used in a service call.

Roto-Rooter, however, argued that the charge is to cover hundreds of miscellaneous supplies routinely used in its services, such as drain cleaning, leak detecting and video monitoring machines, cables, blades, safety equipment, fuel, cleaning products, small parts, hand tools, and consumables (i.e., solder, flux, caulk, tape, torch fuel, nuts, bolts, washers and cleaning products).

The types of supplies and the amounts used varied, depending on the work to be done. Roto-Rooter claims it did not track the amount of consumables used on individual service calls because it could not be precisely measured or priced. Roto-Rooter did, however, track the aggregate cost for these supplies.

Roto-Rooter lost one legal hurdle in February 2003 when a trial judge for the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Appeals granted class action status in February 2003.

The Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals, however, reversed that decision. The “decertification” means that Linn's complaint can proceed as an individual claim.