Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

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In this case, the plaintiff Jacob Ayers purchased a new Jeep Grand Cherokee manufactured by the defendant, FCA US, LLC (FCA). After experiencing numerous problems with the vehicle, he asked FCA to repurchase it, but FCA refused. Ayers then sued FCA under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, also known as the lemon law. During the course of litigation, FCA made multiple offers to settle the case. However, Ayers rejected these offers and continued to litigate. Later, Ayers traded in the Jeep for a new vehicle, receiving a credit of $13,000.In 2020, a court decision (Niedermeier v. FCA US LLC) held that the Song-Beverly restitution remedy does not include amounts a plaintiff has already recovered by trading in the vehicle at issue. This decision effectively reduced Ayers' maximum potential recovery by three times the amount of the trade-in. In January 2021, Ayers served FCA with a section 998 offer for $125,000 plus costs, expenses, and attorney fees, which FCA accepted.The dispute then centered on how much FCA should pay Ayers in attorney fees and costs. FCA argued that its earlier offer to settle the case (made under section 998 of the California Code of Civil Procedure) cut off Ayers' right to attorney fees incurred after the date of that offer. The trial court rejected this argument, and FCA appealed.The Court of Appeal of the State of California reversed the lower court's decision. The court held that section 998 does apply to a case that is resolved by a pretrial settlement. It also held that an intervening change in law that reduced the maximum amount a plaintiff could recover at trial does not exempt the plaintiff from the consequences of section 998. The court concluded that FCA's earlier settlement offer was valid and that it cut off Ayers' right to attorney fees incurred after the date of that offer.The court remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to enter a new judgment excluding any costs incurred by Ayers after the date of FCA's earlier offer. FCA was also awarded costs on appeal. View "Ayers v. FCA US, LLC" on Justia Law

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In the case of Maryann Jones v. Solgen Construction, LLC and GoodLeap, LLC, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fifth Appellate District affirmed the trial court's decision not to compel arbitration. The case concerned a business relationship involving the installation of home solar panels. The appellants, Solgen Construction and GoodLeap, had appealed the trial court's denial of their separate motions to compel arbitration, arguing that the court had erred in several ways, including by concluding that no valid agreement to arbitrate existed.Jones, the respondent, had filed a lawsuit alleging fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, negligence, and violations of various consumer protection laws. She contended that she had been misled into believing she was signing up for a free government program to lower her energy costs, not entering into a 25-year loan agreement for solar panels. The appellants argued that Jones had signed contracts containing arbitration clauses, but the court found that the appellants had failed to meet their burden of demonstrating the existence of a valid arbitration agreement. The court also held that the contract was unenforceable due to being unconscionable.The appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision, rejecting the appellants' arguments that an evidentiary hearing should have been held and that the court had erred in its interpretation of the evidence and the law. It found that the trial court had not abused its discretion and that its finding that the appellants failed to meet their burden of proof was not erroneous as a matter of law. View "Jones v. Solgen Construction" on Justia Law

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In this case, there were three separate class action lawsuits filed against Costa Del Mar, Inc., a sunglasses manufacturer, for allegedly deceptive warranty and repair policies. Each of the named plaintiffs purchased Costa sunglasses and were charged up to $105.18 to repair their sunglasses, despite the company's lifetime warranties that they claimed required the company to repair their sunglasses either free-of-charge or for a nominal fee. The plaintiffs sought both monetary damages and injunctive relief. The district court approved a settlement agreement that provided over $32 million in monetary relief and injunctive relief. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated this decision, reasoning that the named plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to pursue injunctive relief because none of them alleged any threat of future injury. The court remanded the case back to the district court to reconsider its approval of the settlement agreement, taking into account that it could not consider the injunctive relief's value in its determination that the settlement was fair, reasonable, and adequate. View "Smith v. Miorelli" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to remand two lawsuits back to Maryland state court. The lawsuits were brought by the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County against more than 20 energy companies, including BP P.L.C. The local governments accused the companies of misrepresenting and concealing information about the environmental impact of their fossil fuel products in violation of Maryland's Consumer Protection Act and various state tort laws. The companies tried to remove the cases to federal court, arguing that because they had acted under federal authority in their operations, the court had federal question jurisdiction. However, the appeals court found that the company's activities related to fossil fuel production were not relevant to the claims brought by the local governments, which were based on alleged concealment or misrepresentation of information about fossil fuel products. The court also rejected the companies' argument that the First Amendment question related to their right to free speech provided a basis for federal jurisdiction, as this question was a defense rather than a necessary element of the plaintiffs' state-law claims. View "Anne Arundel County v. BP P.L.C." on Justia Law

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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