Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries
Preston v. Midland Credit Management, Inc.
Preston brought a putative class action, claiming that Midland Credit sent him a collection letter that violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692–1692[. He claimed the words “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENT” on the envelope violated section 1692f(8)’s prohibition against “[u]sing any language or symbol,” other than the defendant’s business name or address, on the envelope of a debt collection letter. He claimed that those words, and the combination statements about discounted payment options with a statement that Midland was not obligated to renew those offers, in the body of the letter, were false and deceptive, under section 1692e(2) and (10). The district court dismissed the complaint, citing a "benign‐language exception" to the statutory language because the language “TIME SENSITIVE DOCUMENT” did not create any privacy concerns or expose Preston to embarrassment. The court also rejected Preston’s section 1692e claims. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part: the language of section 1692f(8) is clear and its application does not lead to absurd results. The prohibition of any writing on an envelope containing a debt collection letter represents a rational policy choice by Congress. The language on the envelope and in the letter does not, however, violate section 1692e(2) and (10). Midland accurately and appropriately used safe‐harbor language as described in precedent. View "Preston v. Midland Credit Management, Inc." on Justia Law
Steffek v. Client Services, Inc.
The plaintiffs received form notices from Client Services with a header stated only “RE: CHASE BANK USA, N.A.,” with an account number. The letters continued: “The above account has been placed with our organization for collections.” The letters did not say whether Chase Bank still owned the accounts or had sold the debts. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, requires the collector of consumer debt to send the consumer-debtor a written notice containing, among other information, “the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed.” The plaintiffs argued that Client Services’ letters failed to identify clearly the current holder of the debt. The district court certified a plaintiff class of Wisconsin debtors who received substantially identical notices from Client Services, found that Chase Bank was actually the current creditor, and granted Client Services summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The actual identity of the current creditor does not control the result. The question under the statute is whether the letters identified the then-current creditor clearly enough that an unsophisticated consumer could identify it without guesswork. The notices here failed that test. View "Steffek v. Client Services, Inc." on Justia Law
O’Brien v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Co.
The First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Plaintiff's claims alleging that Defendants violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, and the Massachusetts Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93, 49, holding that both counts were time-barred. Plaintiff filed her complaint against the current holder of a mortgage on her property and the servicer of the mortgage loan, alleging that the loan was predatory because at its inception the lender knew or should have known that Plaintiff would not be able to repay it. Defendants removed the case to federal district court and then moved to dismiss the complaint. The district court dismissed the chapter 93A count as time-barred and the second count on the ground that chapter 93, 49 does not provide private right of action. The First Circuit affirmed the dismissal of both counts, albeit on different grounds, holding that both the chapter 93A claim and the chapter 93, 49 claims were time-barred. View "O'Brien v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Co." on Justia Law
Frost v. ADT
Elizabeth Frost died in an accidental house fire. At the time, ADT provided security monitoring services to the premises. During the fire, ADT received several alerts through its monitoring system. Although ADT attempted to call Frost and the back-up number listed on her account, it did not get through. After several such attempts, ADT cleared the alerts without contacting emergency services. The administrator of Frost’s estate and her minor heir, M.F., sued ADT. The central theme of the complaint was that ADT’s failure to notify emergency services contradicted representations on its website that it would do so, and that failure wrongfully caused or contributed to Frost’s death. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding the one-year suit limitation provision in the contract between ADT and Frost barred the claims and that Claimants failed to state a claim with respect to certain counts. Because the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found the contract between Frost and ADT provided an enforceable suit-limitation provision that barred the claims at issue, it affirmed dismissal. View "Frost v. ADT" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Consumer Law, Contracts, Personal Injury, US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Van Hoven v. Buckles & Buckles, P.L.C.
Van Hoven, a Michigan attorney, defaulted on a credit card debt. The Buckles law firm, collecting the debt, won a state court lawsuit. Van Hoven did not pay. Buckles filed four requests for writs of garnishment. Van Hoven says those requests violated the Michigan Court Rules by including the costs of the request ($15 filing fee) in the amount due and, in later requests, adding the costs of prior failed garnishments. Van Hoven filed a class-action lawsuit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits debt collectors from making false statements in their dunning demands, 15 U.S.C. 1692e. Years later, after “Stalingrad litigation” tactics, discovery sanctions, and professional misconduct allegations, Van Hoven won. The court awarded 168 class members $3,662 in damages. Van Hoven’s attorneys won $186,680 in attorney’s fees. The Sixth Circuit vacated. When Buckles asked for all total costs, including those of any garnishment request to date, it did not make a “false, deceptive, or misleading representation.” It was a reasonable request at the time and likely reflected the best interpretation of the Michigan Rules. The court remanded for determinations of whether Buckles made “bona fide” mistakes of fact in including certain costs of prior failed garnishments and whether its procedure for preventing such mistakes suffices. In some instances, Buckles included the costs of garnishments that failed because the garnishee did not hold any property subject to garnishment or was not the debtor’s employer. View "Van Hoven v. Buckles & Buckles, P.L.C." on Justia Law
Williams v. First Advantage Background Services Corp.
Defendant appealed the district court's denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, motion for a new trial or remittitur. In this Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law to the extent it challenged the reputational harm claim and the willfulness claim. However, the court vacated the jury's punitive damages award and remanded the case to the district court to enter a judgment awarding plaintiff $1 million in punitive damages. The court held that, although punitive damages were properly awarded, a $3.3 million dollar award was unconstitutionally excessive. View "Williams v. First Advantage Background Services Corp." on Justia Law
Hinrichs v. DOW Chemical Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the circuit court's dismissal of Chris Hinrichs and Autovation Limited's (collectively, Hinrichs) common law misrepresentation claims against the DOW Chemical Company and reversing the circuit court's dismissal of Hinrichs' statutory claim under Wis. Stat. 100.18, holding that the court of appeals did not err. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that, with regard to Hinrichs' common law claims, neither the "fraud in the inducement" exception nor the "other property exception" to the economic loss doctrine applied to allow Hinrichs' common law claims to go forward. With regard to Hinrichs' statutory claims the Court held (1) the economic loss doctrine does not serve as a bar to claims made under section 100.18; (2) because one person can be "the public" for purposes of section 100.18(1), the court of appeals did not err in determining that dismissal for failure to meet "the public" factor of the section 100.18 claim was in error; and (3) the heightened pleading standard for claims of fraud does not apply to claims made under section 100.18 and that Hinrichs' complaint stated a claim under the general pleading standard. View "Hinrichs v. DOW Chemical Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Antitrust & Trade Regulation, Commercial Law, Consumer Law, Contracts, Wisconsin Supreme Court
Buchholz v. Meyer Njus Tanick, PA
Buchholz received two letters about overdue payments he owed on credit accounts. The letters came from MNT law firm, on MNT’s letterhead. Each referred to a specific account but the content is identical except for information regarding that specific account. MNT attorney Harms signed both letters; Buchholz alleges that MNT must have inserted “some sort of pre-populated or stock signature.” The letters do not threaten legal action but purport to be communications from a debt collector and explain that MNT has been retained to collect the above-referenced debts. Buchholz alleges that he felt anxiety that he would be subjected to legal action if prompt payment was not made and sued under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692e, e(3), and e(10), asserting that MNT processes such a high volume of debt-collection letters that MNT attorneys cannot engage in meaningful review of the underlying accounts. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of standing. Buchholz has shown no injury-in-fact that is traceable to MNT’s challenged conduct. Buchholz’s allegation of anxiety falls short of the injury-in-fact requirement; it amounts to an allegation of fear of something that may or may not occur in the future. Buchholz is anxious about the consequences of his decision to not pay the debts that he does not dispute he owes; if the plaintiff caused his own injury, he cannot draw a connection between that injury and the defendant’s conduct. View "Buchholz v. Meyer Njus Tanick, PA" on Justia Law
Patel v. Mercedes-Benz USA
Plaintiff filed suit against MBUSA under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act after the navigation system in the vehicle he leased from MBUSA experienced recurring problems. The jury found that the vehicle had a substantial impairment and that MBUSA failed to repair or replace the vehicle. Plaintiff did not lease the vehicle for his own use, but for his friend, Arjang Fayaz, who was the primary driver. The jury awarded damages solely to Fayaz. Both plaintiff and Fayaz moved for attorney fees as prevailing parties. The trial court granted the motion as to Fayaz only, and limited the award to fees incurred while Fayaz was a party to the case. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the Act provides that successful plaintiffs are entitled to collect attorney fees based on actual time expended, determined by the court to have been reasonably incurred by the buyer in connection with the commencement and prosecution of such action. In this case, plaintiffs successfully proved to a jury that the vehicle was defective in breach of MBUSA's express warranty, MBUSA failed to repair or replace it, and damages resulted from MBUSA's breach. Therefore, the jury award did not support the trial court's holding and the court remanded for a hearing to determine a reasonable fee award. View "Patel v. Mercedes-Benz USA" on Justia Law
Becerra v. Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's third amended complaint alleging that defendant violated various California consumer-fraud laws by branding Diet Dr Pepper using the word "diet." The panel held that, taken all together, the allegations in the complaint failed to sufficiently allege that reasonable consumers read the word "diet" in a soft drink's brand name to promise weight loss, healthy weight management, or other health benefits. The panel stated that diet soft drinks are common in the marketplace and the prevalent understanding of the term in that context is that the "diet" version of a soft drink has fewer calories than its "regular" counterpart. The panel explained that just because some consumers may unreasonably interpret the term differently does not render the use of "diet" in a soda's brand name false or deceptive. Therefore, the panel held that plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege that Diet Dr. Pepper's labeling was false or misleading and the district court properly dismissed the claim. View "Becerra v. Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc." on Justia Law