FTC’s Amazon case threatens attorney-client privilege, corporate lawyer group sa…

The logo of Amazon is seen, November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol///File Photo/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

Oct 26 (Reuters) – The Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit accusing Amazon.com (AMZN.O) of deceptive consumer practices unfairly cites communications between the e-commerce giant and its lawyers as evidence, a corporate lawyer advocacy group has told a U.S. judge.

The Association of Corporate Counsel on Wednesday filed a friend of the court brief in the FTC case in Seattle federal court, where the agency in June accused Amazon of tricking consumers into signing up for its Prime paid membership service and making it hard for them to leave.

The group’s amicus brief warned that the agency’s lawsuit improperly suggested Amazon officials knew they were breaking consumer protection law since they were in regular contact with lawyers familiar with the regulatory provisions at issue.

Association of Corporate Counsel chief legal officer Susanna McDonald said in a statement on Thursday that any effort to deter clients from speaking with their attorneys “runs counter to the recognized role that attorney-client privilege for in-house counsel plays in supporting the administration of justice.”

Former Republican FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, who now leads the antitrust group at law firm Baker Botts, was part of the team that filed the brief.

Amazon has denied the FTC’s allegations and defended its practices. The company and the FTC declined to comment on Thursday.

The corporate counsel group was among several groups that submitted briefs in the case, providing the court with views on various matters.

The groups, which also included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are not parties in the litigation, part of the Biden administration’s crackdown on major U.S. technology companies.

The FTC alleged in its complaint that Amazon has used “manipulative, coercive or deceptive user-interface designs known as ‘dark patterns’ to trick consumers into enrolling in automatically renewing Prime subscriptions.” Prime offers its members free delivery and other deals.

The complaint said Amazon’s in-house and outside attorneys have “expertise” with the regulations in focus and that “key” Amazon employees “routinely conferred” with company lawyers.

The company’s attorneys argued in a recent filing that “no lawful, reasonable negative inference can be drawn from corporate employees regularly conferring with counsel, let alone an inference of deliberate lawbreaking.”

A non-jury trial in the case is scheduled for February 2025 before U.S. District Judge John Chun.

The case is Federal Trade Commission v. Amazon.com, U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, No. 2:23-cv-00932-JHC.

For FTC: Evan Mendelson, Jonathan Cohen, Olivia Jerjian and Thomas Nardini of FTC

For Amazon: Kenneth Payson of Davis Wright Tremaine; John Hueston of Hueston Hennigan; and Stephen Anthony of Covington & Burling

Read more:

Amazon defends Prime program in bid to defeat FTC lawsuit

FTC’s Amazon antitrust lawsuit faces high bar in US court – experts

Amazon.com faces an array of US consumer, state antitrust lawsuits

Reporting by Mike Scarcella

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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