Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

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Telematch, Inc. is a commercial vendor of agricultural data. In 2018 and 2019, it submitted to USDA seven FOIA requests for records containing farm numbers, tract numbers, and customer numbers. USDA withheld the numbers under Exemptions 3 and 6. But it released or offered to release a statistical version of the files in accordance with section 8791(b)(4)(B). It also released payment information for the 2018 Conservation Reserve Program pursuant to section 8791(b)(4)(A). Telematch sued to challenge the USDA’s withholding of the farm, tract, and customer numbers. Both parties moved for summary judgment and attached statements of material facts to their motions.   The district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment. The court held that USDA properly withheld the farm and tract numbers under Exemption 3, because the numbers are “geospatial information” covered by section 8791(b)(2)(B). Telematch appealed.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court explained that farm and tract numbers identify a specific area of farmland in a specific location. They serve as a shorthand reference to individual plots of land. In this respect, they are analogous to a street address or latitude and longitude coordinates. They are, therefore “geospatial information” properly withheld under section 8791(b)(2)(B). Further, the court explained it need not definitively resolve whether farm and tract numbers meet these two statutory definitions. Neither of them applies to section 8791. Thus, the court held that the USDA permissibly withheld the requested farm, tract, and customer numbers. View "Telematch, Inc. v. AGRI" on Justia Law

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Part of the Transportation Equity Act required the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “consider, in consultation with the Secretary [of Transportation], spectrum needs for the operation of intelligent transportation systems. The FCC allocated that spectrum in 1999. In 2019, the FCC began a new rulemaking process to ensure that the 5.9 GHz band was put to its best use. The FCC also proposed changing the technology that would be used by intelligent transportation systems; vehicles would need to start using “vehicle-to-everything” communications (in which they send communications to cell towers and other devices) rather than the “dedicated short-range” communications originally permitted in 1999.   The Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (“Transportation Petitioners”) now petition for review. They argue that the court should vacate the part of the order reallocating the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum but leave in place the rest of the order dealing with what technology intelligent transportation systems use.   The DC Circuit dismissed the appeal and denied the petitions for review. The court found that the FCC adequately explained its conclusion that “30 megahertz is sufficient for the provision of core vehicle safety related [intelligent transportation system] functions. Further, the court reasoned that FCC may modify the licenses it issues when such modifications promote the public interest. View "Intelligent Transportation Society of America v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that a law firm that engages in debt collection activities on behalf of a client, including the preparation of a promissory note containing a confessed judgment clause and filing of a confessed judgment complaint to collect a consumer debt, is not subject to the provisions of the Maryland Consumer Loan Law, Md. Code Comm. Law 12-301, et seq.This case arose from debt collection activity by Nagle & Zaller, P.C., a law firm, on behalf of its clients. Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that Nagle & Zaller violated the Maryland Consumer Loan Law (MCLL), Md. Code Comm. Law (CL) 12-301, et seq. Nagle & Zaller filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that the MCLL did not apply to the debt collection activities alleged in the complaint. The federal court entered a certification order requesting that the Supreme Court answer whether a law firm that undertakes debt collection activity is required to be licensed under the MCLL. The Supreme Court answered the question in the negative, holding that the MCLL did not apply to the transactions at issue. View "Nagle & Zaller, P.C. v. Delegall" on Justia Law

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In 2001, Levy, a 37-year-old single mother of two, purchased a 20-year term life insurance policy from West Coast, with a $3 million benefit payable upon her death to her sons. In January 2019, Benita—in deteriorating physical and mental health—missed a payment. Approximately five months later, she died, having never paid the missed premium. West Coast declared the policy forfeited.Levy's sons filed suit, alleging breach of contract and that a late-2018 missed-payment notice failed to comply with the Illinois Insurance Code, which forbids an insurer from canceling a policy within six months of a policyholder’s failure to pay a premium by its due date (calculated to include a 31-day grace period) unless the insurer provided notice stating “that unless such premium or other sums due shall be paid to the company or its agents the policy and all payments thereon will become forfeited and void, except as to the right to a surrender value or paid-up policy as provided for by the policy.” West Coast’s 2018 notice incorporated much of the statutory language. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The Notice adequately alerted policyholders to the consequences of nonpayment; there was no need for the Notice to mention the company’s agents as alternate payees. View "Levy v. West Coast Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Hurst sought a loan modification in 2018. Caliber notified Hurst that her application was complete as of April 5, 2018, that it would evaluate her eligibility within 30 days, that it would not commence foreclosure during that period, and that it might need additional documents for second-stage review. On May 1, Caliber requested additional documents within 30 days. Although Hurst responded, she did not meet all of Caliber’s requirements. On May 31, Caliber informed Hurst that it could not review her application. Hurst sent some outstanding documents on June 7, but her application remained incomplete. Caliber filed a foreclosure action on June 18. Hurst spent $13,922 in litigating the foreclosure but continued working with Caliber. Caliber again denied the application as incomplete on August 31 but eventually approved her loan modification and dismissed the foreclosure action.Hurst filed suit under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), alleging that Caliber violated Regulation X’s prohibition on “dual tracking,” which prevents a servicer from initiating foreclosure while a facially complete loan-modification application is pending, 12 C.F.R. 1024.41(f)(2); failed to exercise reasonable diligence in obtaining documents and information necessary to complete her application, section 1024.41(b)(1); and failed to provide adequate notice of the information needed to complete its review (1024.41(b)(2)). The district court granted Caliber summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed with respect to the “reasonable diligence” claim. Hurst identified communications where Caliber employees provided conflicting information and had trouble identifying deficiencies. View "Hurst v. Caliber Home Loans, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the decision of the district court dismissing all of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant at summary judgment, holding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment as to Plaintiff's excessive force claims against correctional officer Brian Piasecki.Plaintiff, the special administrator of the estate of Michael Madden, brought this action alleging deliberate indifference, use of excessive force, Monell liability, and state law claims against the state actors involved in the care of Madden while he was jailed in Milwaukee County. Over the course of one month, Madden developed infective endocarditis, which medical staff failed to diagnose. Madden died at the end of the month. The district court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims at summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, holding (1) the district court erred in awarding Piasecki summary judgment based on qualified immunity; and (2) the district court's judgment is otherwise affirmed. View "Stockton v. Milwaukee County, Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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PJM Interconnection, LLC (“PJM”)  authorized a series of upgrades to facilities owned by the Public Service Electric and Gas Company (“PSE&G”). PSE&G’s Bergen and Linden switching stations; a second involved repairs to and around PSE&G’s Sewaren substation. Together, these two projects cost around $1.3 billion. Initially, PJM assigned most of the projects’ costs to entities that reroute electricity from northern New Jersey into the New York market. Thereafter, the New York-based entities gave up their rights to withdraw electricity from New Jersey, and PJM reassigned their costs to PSE&G. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “the Commission”) approved both rounds of cost allocations. The petitions for review in these two cases are about whether these cost allocations were “just and reasonable” under the Federal Power Act, and whether FERC’s orders were “arbitrary [and] capricious” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”).   The DC Circuit denied the petitions for review in New Jersey Board v. FERC, and granted in part and denied in part the petitions in ConEd v. FERC. In denying the New York entities’ applications for rehearing of both the First and Second Linden Complaint Orders, the court explained that FERC failed to adequately distinguish its decision in Artificial Island from its treatment of the Bergen and Sewaren projects. Further, FERC upheld the de minimis threshold in its orders denying rehearing of the First and Second Linden Complaint Orders and the ConEd Complaint Order. The court, therefore, vacated FERC’s denial of Linden’s two complaints. The court also vacated its denial of ConEd’s complaint and remanded for further proceedings solely on the de minimis issue. View "New Jersey Board of Public Utilities v. FERC" on Justia Law

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is responsible for ensuring that interstate electricity rates are “just and reasonable.” Midcontinent Independent System Operator, Inc. (“MISO”) administers the electric grid on behalf of the companies that own transmission lines. Those transmission owners invested money to build their transmission lines, and MISO must charge customers electricity transmission rates that provide those companies an appropriate return on their investment. That return-on-equity component of the transmission rates, which we’ll just call the Return, is at issue in this case. In this case, a group of customers thought MISO provided transmission owners a too-generous Return. They asked FERC to reduce that aspect of MISO’s rates. FERC did. In the process, it completely overhauled its approach to setting an appropriate Return. Both the customers and transmission owners challenged several aspects of the FERC proceedings as unlawful or arbitrary and capricious.   The DC Circuit agreed with the customers that FERC’s development of the new Return methodology was arbitrary and capricious, thus the court vacated its rate-determination orders and remanded for further proceedings. Because the other challenged aspects of FERC’s orders flow from FERC’s rate determination, the court did not reach them. The court explained that FERC Failed to offer a reasoned explanation for its decision to reintroduce the risk-premium model after initially, and forcefully, rejecting it. Because FERC adopted that significant portion of its model in an arbitrary and capricious fashion, the new Return produced by that model cannot stand. View "MISO Transmission Owners v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc. sent plaintiff-appellant Jason Tavernaro a letter attempting to collect a student loan debt. A district court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint filed under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for failing to state a claim because the alleged facts were insufficient to establish Pioneer used materially misleading, unfair or unconscionable means to collect the debt. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed: violations of the FDCPA is determined through the perspective of a reasonable consumer, and Pioneer’s letter was not materially misleading. View "Tavernaro v. Pioneer Credit Recovery" on Justia Law

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The Third Circuit consolidated district court cases claiming violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681. Borrowers had student loans from various lenders and made payments on those loans until they were unable to do so. Their respective lenders closed their accounts and transferred their loans. After the transfers, the borrowers viewed their credit reports published by Trans Union, each of which contained a negative “Pay Status” notation stating “Account 120 Days Past Due.” The entries also stated that the loans were closed, transferred, and had account balances of zero. The borrowers claimed that the pay status notations were inaccurate because the borrowers did not have any financial obligations to their previous lenders.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suits. Applying the “reasonable reader standard,” the credit reports containing the Pay Status notations were not misleading or inaccurate. The reports contain multiple conspicuous statements reflecting that the accounts are closed and the borrowers have no financial obligations to their previous creditors; a reasonable interpretation of the reports in their entirety is that the Pay Status of a closed account is historical information. The court also rejected claims that Trans Union failed to conduct a good faith investigation and to permanently delete or modify inaccurate information. View "Bibbs v. Trans Union LLC" on Justia Law