Ethics Hero: 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals


It’s a small victory to be sure, but those of us who want to protect free speech must take our hope from whatever sources we can.

In the case of Dana’s Railroad Supply v. Florida, the sharp-eyed Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  struck down a Florida law barring merchants from imposing a surcharge on customers for credit card use.

The law allowed merchants to give discounts for cash, but would not permit surcharges for using credit cards. “Ah HA!” realized the court, This violates the First Amendment, because it penalizes businesses that want to call price differences based on credit card use a surcharge rather than a cash discount, and they are the exact same thing. “You can penalize credit card users,” the dumb law said, “but you have to call it what we tell you to call it.”

“Tautologically speaking,” the opinion said, “surcharges and discounts are nothing more than two sides of the same coin; a surcharge is simply a ‘negative’ discount, and a discount is a ‘negative’ surcharge. As a result, a merchant who offers the same product at two prices—a lower price for customers paying cash and a higher price for those using credit cards—is allowed to offer a discount for cash while a simple slip of the tongue calling the same price difference a surcharge runs the risk of being fined and imprisoned.”

“The First Amendment prevents staking citizens’ liberty on such distinctions in search of a difference.”

Love it.


Pointer and Facts: ABA Journal.