Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal government’s primary consumer protection agency for financial matters under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, 12 U.S.C. 5511(a)–(b), lacks “supervisory or enforcement authority with respect to an activity engaged in by an attorney as part of the practice of law under the laws of a State in which the attorney is licensed.”The Bureau sued two companies and four associated lawyers that provided mortgage-assistance relief services to customers across 39 states. The firms had four attorneys at their Chicago headquarters and associated with local attorneys in the states in which they conducted business. The bulk of the firms’ work was performed by 30-40 non-attorneys (client intake specialists), who enrolled customers, gathered and reviewed necessary documents, answered consumer questions, and submitted loan-modification applications. The "specialists" and attorneys worked off scripts. The firms charged each customer a retainer, followed by recurring monthly fees. On average, the firms collected $3,375 per client. Customers paid separately for additional work, such as representation in foreclosure or bankruptcy, An attorney at headquarters reviewed each loan modification file and forwarded it to an attorney in the customer’s home state. The local attorneys were paid $25-40 for each task. Most reviews took five-10 minutes. Local attorneys almost never communicated directly with customers. One firm obtained loan modifications for 1,369 out of 5,265 customers; the other obtained loan modifications for 190 out of 1,116. The companies ceased operations in 2013.The district court partially invalidated sections of the attorney exemption and granted summary judgment against the defendants for charging unlawful advance fees, failing to make required disclosures, implying in their welcome letter to customers that the customer should not communicate with lenders, implying that consumers current on mortgages should stop making payments, and misrepresenting the performance of nonprofit alternative services. The tasks completed by the firms’ attorneys did not amount to the “practice of law.” The court ordered restitution and enjoined certain defendants from providing “debt relief services.” The Seventh Circuit agreed that the firms and lawyers were not engaged in the practice of law; further proceedings are necessary concerning remedies. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Consumer First Legal Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose because debtor-appellant Margaret Kinney failed to make some of the required mortgage payments within her Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan’s five-year period. Shortly after the five-year period ended, however, she made the back payments and requested a discharge. The bankruptcy court denied the request and dismissed the case. The issue on appeal was whether the bankruptcy court could grant a discharge, and the answer turned on how the Tenth Circuit characterized Kinney’s late payments. She characterized them as a cure for her earlier default; HSBC Bank characterized them as an impermissible effort to modify the plan. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the bank and affirmed dismissal. View "Kinney v. HSBC Bank USA" on Justia Law

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Kuberski began his retirement by purchasing a new 2013 Fleetwood Storm, manufactured by RV, for nearly $160,000, from REV’s authorized dealer, Camping World in North Carolina. During the first year, Kuberski reported over 40 (non-trivial) defects to Camping World, which, required by the warranty, serviced the RV seven times over two years. Those efforts were unsuccessful. Kuberski sent a letter to REV with a list of every defect, all unrepaired problems, and the servicing records, requesting that REV buy back the RV or exchange it for a properly working replacement model. REV did not accept either option but offered free repairs at its Decatur, Indiana facility. REV later offered to pay Kuberski’s expenses of transporting the RV to Indiana. Initially, Kuberski accepted the offer He never arrived at REV’s facility. He filed suit under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which creates a private right of action for any “consumer who is damaged by the failure of a supplier, warrantor, or service contractor to comply with any obligation under [the statute], or under a written warranty, implied warranty, or service contract,” 15 U.S.C. 2310(d)(1).The Seventh Circuit affirmed a verdict in favor of REV, rejecting Kuberski’s challenge to jury instructions concerning his “substantial compliance” with the warranty. Kuberski’s acknowledged failure to honor his appointment with REV was not a simple failure of literal compliance. It was enough also to defeat a finding of substantial compliance. View "Kuberski v. REV Recreation Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the Commonwealth Court reversed determinations of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”), holding that Section 1301.1(a) required public utilities to revise their DSIC calculations to include income tax deductions and credits to reduce rates charged to consumers. Several public utilities sought to add or adjust DSICs to recover expenses related to repairing, improving, or replacing their distribution system infrastructure, and the Office of Consumer Advocate (“OCA”), through Acting Consumer Advocate Tanya McCloskey, raised challenges to these DSIC computations seeking to add calculations to account for income tax deductions and credits and thereby reduce the rates charged to consumers. The parties disputed whether and, if so, how the addition of Section 1301.1(a) into Subchapter A of Chapter 13 of the Code, requiring inclusion of “income tax deductions and credits” in rate calculations, should apply to the DSIC rate adjustment mechanism of Subchapter B of Chapter 13, 66 Pa.C.S. sections 1350- 1360. Broadly, the PUC and the public utilities argued: (1) ambiguity existed as to whether the General Assembly intended Section 1301.1 to apply to the DSIC mechanism; and, assuming for argument that it did apply; (2) that the Commonwealth Court’s application of Section 1301.1(a) improperly created conflicts with the statutory provisions governing the DSIC calculation; and/or (3) that certain existing DSIC statutory provisions could be read to satisfy the requirements of Section 1301.1(a). Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court differed in its reasoning, it affirmed the outcome of the Commonwealth Court's judgment. View "McCloskey v. PUC" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases, the plaintiffs owe consumer debts they claim are not owned by the creditors listed on their credit reports. They approached the consumer reporting agencies and requested an investigation of their claims. The consumer reporting agencies contacted the purported creditors for verification that they owned the debts, which the creditors confirmed. Although informed of these confirmations, the plaintiffs did not believe that the consumer reporting agencies investigated the claims as thoroughly as 15 U.S.C. 1681i of the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires, so they sued.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of the claims. The plaintiffs’ allegations that the creditors did not own their debts are not factual inaccuracies that the consumer reporting agencies are statutorily required to guard against and reinvestigate, but primarily legal issues outside their competency. The plaintiffs are not without recourse. They could confront the creditors who are in the best position to respond to assertions that they do not own the plaintiffs’ debts or, under 15 U.S.C. 1681i(c), make notations of their disputes on their credit reports. The burden to determine whether their debts were validly assigned is not on the consumer reporting agencies. View "Cowans v. Equifax Information Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) dismissal of a putative consumer class action alleging that Trader Joe's misleadingly labeled its store brand honey as "100% New Zealand Manuka Honey." The district court agreed with Trader Joe's that its product is 100% honey whose chief floral source is Manuka, and that no reasonable consumer would believe that it was marketing a product that is impossible to create.The panel concluded that the district court did not err in determining that Trader Joe's Manuka Honey labeling would not mislead a reasonable consumer as a matter of law. In this case, the district court based much of its decision on the FDA's Honey Guidelines, which set the standards for the proper labeling of honey and honey products. The panel stated that Trader Joe's meets this standard. The panel also concluded that the district court properly held that Trader Joe's representation of "Manuka Honey" as the sole ingredient on its ingredient statement was not misleading as a matter of law. Therefore, plaintiffs have not alleged, and cannot allege, facts to state a plausible claim that Trader Joe's Manuka Honey is false, deceptive, or misleading. View "Moore v. Trader Joe's Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Linda and Dwayne Struiksma lost title to their home in a foreclosure sale. The purchaser at the sale then brought an unlawful detainer action against them under Code of Civil Procedure section 1161a(b)(3). A default judgment was issued, and plaintiffs were evicted from their property. Plaintiffs then filed this action against defendants HSBC Bank USA, N.A. and Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC (collectively, defendants), their lender and loan servicer, who were not parties to the unlawful detainer action. Generally, they alleged defendants carelessly failed to credit several payments to their loan balance. Thus, plaintiffs contended they were never in default and defendants wrongfully foreclosed on the property. The trial court sustained defendants’ demurrer to the complaint, finding all of plaintiffs’ claims were precluded by the unlawful detainer judgment except for a claim under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), which was defective for other reasons. Plaintiffs were denied leave to amend on all claims and appealed the resulting judgment. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court erred in ruling plaintiffs’ claims were precluded, and published this case to clarify the preclusive effect of an unlawful detainer action under section 1161a. Defendants also argued certain claims the trial court found precluded failed for reasons other than preclusion. Given its ruling, the court had no opportunity to consider these arguments. So, this case was remanded for the trial court to consider them in the first instance. As to the TILA claim, the Court held it suffered from several defects, and the trial court correctly sustained the demurrer to this claim without leave to amend. View "Struiksma v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Carrington on plaintiff's Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claim. The court agreed with the district court that Carrington's alleged misrepresentations and unfair conduct were not made or carried out in connection with an attempt to collect a debt, and thus plaintiff failed to allege a claim under the Act.In this case, the communications at issue were not made in connection with an attempt to collect on the underlying mortgage debt. Although the boilerplate disclosures section of each letter stated "for the purpose of collecting a debt," these types of boilerplate mini-Miranda disclosures do not automatically trigger the protections of the Act. Rather, the court looked to the substance of the letter, which did not try to induce plaintiff to pay his outstanding debt. View "Heinz v. Carrington Mortgage Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2019, the Consumer Product Safety Commission revised its safety standard for infant bath seats, stating: “Each infant bath seat shall comply with all applicable provisions of ASTM F1967–19, Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Infant Bath Seats.” When Milice, a then-expectant mother, contacted Commission staff about inspecting the ASTM standard, they were told they would have to purchase the standard from its developer. Milice challenged the 2019 Rule on the grounds that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the First and Fifth Amendments because its content is not freely available to the public. The D.C. Circuit declined to address Milice’s arguments, finding her petition for review was untimely, having been filed more than 60 days after the 2019 Rule was published in the Federal Register, 15 U.S.C. 2060(g)(2). A revised voluntary safety standard issued by an outside organization that serves as the basis of a Commission standard “shall be considered to be a consumer product safety standard issued by the Commission” effective 180 days after the Commission is notified, “unless . . . the Commission notifies the organization that it has determined that the proposed revision does not improve the safety of the consumer product covered by the standard,” 15 U.S.C. 2056a(b)(4)(B). View "Milice v. Consumer Product Safety Commission" on Justia Law

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Weaver purchased Champion dog food. Champion’s packaging describes the food as biologically appropriate, made with fresh regional ingredients, and never outsourced. Weaver alleged that: Champion’s food is not made solely from fresh ingredients but contains ingredients that were previously frozen; Champion uses previously manufactured food that failed to conform to specifications, as dry filler; Champion uses ingredients that are past the manufacturer’s freshness window; Champion does not source all its ingredients from areas close to its plants and sources some ingredients internationally; and there is a risk that its food contains BPA and pentobarbital.Weaver filed a purported class action, alleging violations of the Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Practices Act, fraud by omission, and negligence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of his suit on summary judgment. Weaver had failed to produce sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could determine that any of the representations were false or misleading. Weaver only offered his own testimony to prove how a reasonable consumer would interpret “biologically appropriate” and offered no evidence that he purchased dog food containing pentobarbital. He failed to show that Champion had a duty to disclose the risk that its food may contain BPA or pentobarbital. Humans and animals are commonly exposed to BPA in their everyday environments, Champion does not add BPA to its food, and submitted unrebutted testimony that the levels allegedly present would not be harmful to dogs. View "Weaver v. Champion Petfoods USA Inc." on Justia Law