Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

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SmartEnergy Holdings, LLC, a retail electricity supplier, was found to have violated various provisions of Maryland law governing retail electricity suppliers, including engaging in deceptive, misleading, and unfair trade practices. The Supreme Court of Maryland upheld the decisions of lower courts and the Maryland Public Service Commission, affirming that the Commission has the authority to determine whether electricity suppliers under its jurisdiction have violated Maryland’s consumer protection laws, including the Maryland Telephone Solicitations Act (MTSA). The court also determined that the MTSA applies to SmartEnergy’s business practices, as it applies to sales made over the telephone where the consumer places the telephone call to the merchant in response to a merchant’s marketing materials. The court found substantial evidence in the record to support the Commission's factual findings and determined that the remedies imposed by the Commission were within its discretion and not arbitrary or capricious. View "In the Matter of SmartEnergy" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between Melissa Sanchez, a tenant, and Chris and Jennifer Pickering, her landlords, over the terms of a lease agreement for a mobile home owned by the Pickerings. Sanchez believed the agreement was a lease-to-own contract, while the Pickerings asserted it was a lease with a purchase option contract. After the Pickerings initiated an eviction action due to Sanchez's alleged violations of the agreement, Sanchez caused extensive damage to the home.The Pickerings sued Sanchez for waste, claiming she caused $40,000 in damages and sought treble damages. Sanchez counterclaimed, alleging violation of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act (ICPA), breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and retaliatory eviction. The district court found Sanchez liable for damages to the residence and awarded treble damages. It also determined that there was no deception on the Pickerings' part to sustain Sanchez's ICPA claim, the agreement was unenforceable due to a lack of mutual understanding, and that the Pickerings were unjustly enriched by the $10,000 down payment and offset the Pickerings' damages award by this amount. The remaining claims were dismissed.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Idaho affirmed the district court's decision. The court found substantial and competent evidence supporting the district court's decision that the Pickerings did not engage in a deceptive act under the ICPA. The court also rejected Sanchez's contention that the district court's damages award should have been reduced to reflect an insurance payment received by the Pickerings as Sanchez failed to provide an adequate record for review. Finally, the court upheld the district court's unjust enrichment award, finding that Sanchez had not demonstrated an abuse of discretion. The Pickerings were awarded attorney fees for having to respond to the collateral source issue. View "Pickering v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, SanJuana Andrade, filed a lawsuit against the Western Riverside Council of Governments (Council) on the basis that she had been fraudulently enrolled in a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. She claimed that her signature was forged on the PACE loan agreements, resulting in a lien on her home and increased property tax assessments that she had not agreed to. Following an investigation by the state Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, which confirmed the contractors’ fraud, the Council released its assessment and the lien on Andrade’s home. In January 2022, Andrade filed a motion for attorney’s fees and costs under Civil Code section 1717, which provides for attorney’s fees in any action on a contract where the contract specifically provides for such fees. The trial court denied Andrade’s motion, concluding that the contractual fee provisions were limited in scope and did not entitle Andrade to attorney’s fees because they concerned fees for “a judicial foreclosure action.”On appeal, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, reversed the trial court's decision. It held that under section 1717, a fee provision must be construed as applying to the entire contract unless each party was represented by counsel in the negotiation and execution of the contract, and the fact of that representation is specified in the contract. The Court found that limiting the fee provisions to foreclosure proceedings would be the precise kind of lopsided arrangement that section 1717 prohibits. The Court remanded the case back to the trial court to determine whether Andrade is “the party prevailing on the contract” and therefore entitled to attorney's fees. View "Andrade v. Western Riverside Council of Governments" on Justia Law

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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the appellant, Paulette Barclift, sued Keystone Credit Services, LLC ("Keystone") for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). Barclift claimed that Keystone unlawfully communicated her personal information to a third-party mailing vendor, RevSpring, without her consent. She sought to represent a class of similarly situated plaintiffs. The District Court dismissed her suit on the grounds that she did not allege an injury sufficient to establish standing under Article III of the United States Constitution.Upon appeal, the Third Circuit agreed with the lower court that Barclift lacked standing, but modified the District Court's order so that the dismissal would be without prejudice. The court found that Barclift's alleged harm—embarrassment and distress caused by the disclosure of her personal information to a single intermediary (RevSpring)—did not bear a close relationship to a harm traditionally recognized by American courts, such as the public disclosure of private facts. Therefore, the court concluded that Barclift did not suffer a concrete injury and could not establish Article III standing. The court further held that the possibility of future harm was too speculative to establish a concrete injury. The case was dismissed without prejudice, allowing Barclift the opportunity to amend her complaint if she can allege a concrete injury. View "Barclift v. Keystone Credit Services LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, Lee Baker and Kenneth Duffus were partners in a real estate development company, Harvest Properties, LLC. Baker was accused of defrauding the company, leading to a lawsuit from the company's members for defaulting on a loan. Duffus cross-claimed against Baker, alleging Baker had violated the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). Baker argued that the UTPA did not apply since his conduct was part of a real estate transaction and was within the company's internal operations. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska rejected Baker's arguments and affirmed the superior court's ruling. The court held that Baker's fraudulent actions were not part of a real estate transaction because they did not involve the actual transfer of an interest in real property. Instead, they interfered with the company's ability to realize larger, future real estate transactions. The court also held that the UTPA applies even when a party has a fiduciary relationship with a business entity if the parties also engage in arms-length commercial transactions. Baker's provision of services through his separate corporation was considered such an arms-length transaction. View "Baker v. Duffus" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute between Dr. Stan Schiff and Liberty Mutual Insurance Companies. Dr. Schiff, on behalf of himself and a class of similarly situated providers, claimed that Liberty Mutual's practice of reducing provider bills to an 80th percentile cap based on a computer-generated calculation violated Washington's Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Liberty Mutual argued that the statutory requirement to conduct a reasonable investigation into medical expenses is satisfied by determining the 80th percentile of charges for a treatment in the geographic area, and this practice is not an unfair practice under the CPA.The Supreme Court of the State of Washington ruled that Liberty Mutual's practice of using the FAIR Health database to determine the 80th percentile of charges for a treatment in the geographic area is not unfair or unreasonable and does not violate the CPA or the personal injury protection (PIP) requirements to establish standards under which reasonable charges for medical procedures are determined. The court reasoned that comparing charges for the same treatment in the same geographic area is relevant to the determination of reasonableness. The court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision and remanded the case to the trial court to enter a summary judgment order in favor of Liberty Mutual. View "Schiff v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In Virginia, Bryant McCants arranged for his 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 to be repaired at a shop operated by CD & PB Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Maaco Collision Repair & Auto Painting. The repair shop was managed by Hanson Butler, a part owner and employee of CD & PB Maaco. After the work was completed, McCants inspected the vehicle and was unsatisfied with the work, prompting Butler to agree to repaint it. However, due to various personal circumstances, McCants was unable to pick up the vehicle for several months. In the meantime, Butler initiated the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles' abandoned-vehicle process, which resulted in him acquiring title to the vehicle, which he later sold.McCants sued Butler for conversion, fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The jury found in favor of McCants on the conversion claim only and awarded him $78,500. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, finding that Butler had properly followed the abandoned-vehicle process and had obtained legal title to the vehicle.The Supreme Court of Virginia disagreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that a rational jury could have found that Butler wrongfully used the DMV's abandoned-vehicle process as a pretext for severing McCants's ownership rights in the vehicle and thereafter claiming it for himself. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, reinstated the jury’s verdict, and affirmed the trial court’s confirmation order. View "McCants v. CD & PB Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's order to compel arbitration and dismiss without prejudice a series of lawsuits against several sports goods e-commerce companies (the defendants). The lawsuits were brought by several plaintiffs, who were consumers that purchased goods online from the defendants and had their personal information stolen during a data breach on the defendants' websites. The defendants moved to compel arbitration based on the arbitration provision in their terms of use. The appellate court held that the plaintiffs had sufficient notice of the arbitration provision and that the arbitration clause was not invalid under California law, was not unconscionable, and did not prohibit public injunctive relief. Furthermore, the parties agreed to delegate the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator according to the commercial rules and procedures of JAMS, a private alternative dispute resolution provider. View "PATRICK V. RUNNING WAREHOUSE, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case pertains to the enforcement of the California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (the Act), a voter-enacted statute that expanded and amended the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. The California Privacy Protection Agency (the Agency) failed to adopt final regulations by the July 1, 2022 deadline set out in the Act. The California Chamber of Commerce sought a court order to delay enforcement of the Act until one year after the agency adopted all required regulations. The trial court granted the petition in part, ruling that the Agency could not enforce any regulation until one year after that regulation became final. The Agency appealed, arguing that the Act did not mandate a one-year delay between the approval of a final regulation and its enforcement. The appellate court agreed with the Agency, finding that the Act's language did not unambiguously require a one-year delay between approval and enforcement. The court ordered a new trial court order denying the Chamber's petition and allowing the trial court to consider any remaining issues regarding the prompt development of regulations. View "California Privacy Protection Agency v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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A consumer, Reginald Kirtz, secured a loan from the Rural Housing Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although Kirtz repaid his loan by mid-2018, the USDA continued to tell credit report company TransUnion that his account was past due, harming his credit score. The USDA failed to correct its records after being notified of the error, and Kirtz sued the agency under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.The USDA argued that the case should be dismissed based on sovereign immunity, since the Supreme Court has held that the federal government is immune from suits for damages unless Congress waives that immunity. The agency claimed that the FCRA does not make the federal government amenable to suit for a violation. The district court agreed, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the FCRA authorizes suits for damages against any person who violates the Act, and “person” is defined to include any government agency.The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Third Circuit, finding that sovereign immunity did not bar Kirtz’s claim. The Court held that the federal government is susceptible to suit when it provides false information to credit reporting agencies. It noted that dismissing a suit like Kirtz’s case would effectively negate a claim that Congress has clearly authorized. The Court’s ruling resolved a circuit split between the Third, Seventh, and D.C. Circuits, with which the Court agreed, and the Fourth and Ninth Circuits, with which it disagreed. View "Department of Agriculture Rural Development Rural Housing Service v. Kirtz" on Justia Law