Consumer protection grants support faculty, student research

The Consumer Protection Research Grant program is offering funding for consumer-related research projects to support the examination of consumer issues in Oregon.

A symposium and panel discussion on previous grant awards and how to apply for the current round of funding will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in the Knight Law Center, rooms 175, 141 and 142.

All tenured, tenure-track, career and research faculty members as well as current undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at the UO are eligible and encouraged to apply. Requests for proposals are typically released in January with a submission deadline of March 1. Award decisions are typically announced by the beginning of April.

The grant program is not limited to funding research in the legal field. Five types of consumer-related research are eligible for funding: legal research; policy research, which includes consumer education on legal interventions; community impacts focusing on community-based interventions and community harms from predatory practices; consumer response, which consists of experimental research on consumers' responses to specific educational information; and implementation or dissemination of the results of consumer protection research to better inform consumers.

A recent grant was awarded to Addison Sandoval, a UO graduate student pursuing dual degrees in law and business, to research vulnerabilities in consumer protection laws related to Oregon’s digital economy.

During his first year of law school, Sandoval learned about the intricacies of consumer protection that people interact with every day.

“Consumers are forced to navigate through numerous legal terms, conditions and other fine print every day without any assistance from a legal professional,” he said. “This made me understand the importance of consumer protection and the necessity of a fair marketplace.”

Sandoval’s research specifically focuses on what is known as the forum selection clause, which can force consumers to have disputes heard in another state where consumer protection laws may be weaker or nonexistent, leaving them with little to no legal recourse. He anticipates that by the end of his research, he will find “concern gaps in the law related to personal jurisdiction, contract terms and conditions, and pretrial procedural maneuvers.”

“My ultimate goal is to help level the playing field and ensure that all individuals have a fair chance in the marketplace,” Sandoval said.

The fund was implemented in 2014 after the class-action lawsuit Scharfstein v. BP West Coast Products ended in a verdict of more than $400 million against BP. The company was found guilty of violating the Unlawful Trade Practices Act by illegally charging debit card fees to millions of Oregon consumers.

After funds were distributed to the class members, more than $162 million was left unclaimed, and a substantial amount was dedicated to research at the University of Oregon.

Oregon Consumer Justice collaborates with the university to oversee the research program. The group is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization advancing justice that puts people first through policy, community engagement and the law. Community leaders appointed by the group collect grant applications and choose award recipients. 

To learn more about the Consumer Protection Research Grant program and application process, visit the UO School of Law website.

—By Kara McGhee, University Communications