Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

by
To fight his hair loss, Greenberg bought an $8 bottle of biotin. The product label states that biotin “helps support healthy hair and skin” and has an asterisk that points to a disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” A Supplement Facts panel on the bottle states that the biotin amount in the product far exceeds the recommended daily dosage. Greenberg filed a putative class action under California’s Unfair Competition Law, alleging that the labels are deceptive because most people do not benefit from biotin supplementation.The panel affirmed summary judgment in favor of the manufacturer and distributors. The plaintiff’s state law claims were preempted by the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), under which the FDA requires that dietary supplement labels be truthful and not misleading; 21 U.S.C. 343(r)(6)(B) authorizes several categories of statements, including disease claims and structure/function claims. The FDCA includes a preemption provision to establish a national, uniform standard for labeling. The challenged statement was a permissible structure/function claim. There was substantiation that biotin “helps support healthy hair and skin”; that statement was truthful and not misleading. The label had the appropriate disclosures and did not claim to treat diseases. The state law claims amounted to imposition of different standards from the FDCA. View "Greenberg v. Target Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court held that a unilateral attorney's fee provision in a credit card contract was made reciprocal to prevailing debtors under Fla. Stat. 57.105(7) where the debtors prevailed in an account stated action brought to collect unpaid credit card debt.The First District Court of Appeal held that the debtors could not recover attorney's fees on the grounds that section 57.105(7) was inapplicable because the actions for account stated did not rely upon the credit card contracts containing the fee provisions. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below, holding that section 57.105(7) allowed the debtors to recover reciprocal attorney's fees because the conditions required by the statute were met. View "Ham v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC" on Justia Law

by
In a matter of first impression, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider whether Section 310.74(a) of the Insurance Department Act of 1921 prohibited a licensed insurance producer from charging fees in addition to commissions in non-commercial, i.e. personal, insurance transactions. During its investigation, the Department discovered that, between March 2011 and October 2015, appellants charged a non-refundable $60- $70 fee to customers seeking to purchase personal insurance products. These fees were collected from the customers before appellants prepared the insurance policy applications. One consumer complaint indicated appellants kept an “un- refundable broker application fee” when the consumer declined to buy a policy. The Department’s investigation also revealed appellants paid a “one-time” $50 referral fee to car dealership sales personnel when they referred their customers in need of insurance. The Department concluded appellants’ fee practices included improper fees charged to consumers “for the completion of an application for a contract of insurance” and prohibited referral payments to the car dealerships. The Supreme Court held lower tribunals did not err when they determined Section 310.74(a) of the Act did not authorize appellants to charge the $60-$70 non-refundable fee to their customers seeking to purchase personal motor vehicle insurance. The Commonwealth Court’s decision upholding the Commissioner’s Adjudication and Order was affirmed. View "Woodford v. PA Insurance Dept." on Justia Law

by
Nettles defaulted on her credit card account. Midland acquired the debt. Midland sued Nettles. The parties entered a consent judgment requiring a monthly repayment plan with automatic draws from her bank account. The automatic draws ceased after three months when Midland’s law firm went out of business. Midland sent Nettles a collection letter that overstated her remaining balance by about $100. Nettles filed a proposed class action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, alleging that the letter is false, misleading, or otherwise unfair or unconscionable. The credit card agreement contains an arbitration provision giving either party the right to require arbitration of any dispute relating to the account, including collection matters. Midland moved to compel arbitration. The district judge denied the motion.The Seventh Circuit remanded for dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction, without reaching the arbitration question. Nettles sued for violation of sections 1692e and 1692f but did not allege any injury from the alleged statutory violations. A plaintiff does not automatically satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to sue to vindicate that right; Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation. View "Nettles v. Midland Funding, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Donovan received from FirstCredit a letter demanding payment of a purported medical debt. The letter's envelope had two transparent glassine windows on its face, taking up most of the left half of the envelope. Because the letter, when folded, is smaller than the envelope, the text visible through the windows depends in part on where the letter is sitting within the envelope. No matter how the letter is situated, Donovan’s name and address are always visible as is an empty checkbox followed by the phrase “Payment in full is enclosed.” Sometimes, a second empty checkbox followed by “I need to discuss this further. My phone number is _____,” is visible. Donovan alleged that the visibility of the checkboxes and the accompanying language created the risk that anyone who saw her mail would recognize that she was receiving mail from a debt collector, seeing relief under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692. The district court granted FirstCredit judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Donovan has standing. Her injury is “particularized” and “actual.” The letter that caused her injury was addressed and sent to Donovan specifically. The statute does not include a “benign language exception” and unambiguously prohibits the use of language or symbols on debt collectors’ envelopes, excepting language or symbols to ensure the successful delivery of the communication, the collector’s address, and the collector’s “business name,” if the name does not indicate the debt collection business. View "Donovan v. FirstCredit, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Discover Bank (Discover) appealed a district court order denying its motion for judgment and dismissing the case. Discover sued Bryan Hornbacher, alleging he was indebted to it on a credit card debt for $14,695.13. The parties entered into a stipulation and consent. The stipulation provided an acknowledgment by Hornbacher that he had been served with the summons and complaint and an admission that he had no defenses to the allegations in the complaint. Hornbacher consented to entry of judgment in the amount of $14,695.13 in exchange for Discover’s agreement to accept $10,080.00 payable over three years as full satisfaction of the judgment, and to forego execution on the judgment unless there were a default in the agreed-upon payment schedule. In its order, the trial court found that “[p]laintiff files a stipulation stating it will not move for judgment unless the terms of the agreement are [breached].” The North Dakota Supreme Court found this was an error, as was the trial court's focus on the lack of default under the stipulation having occurred: "Discover was not moving to execute the judgment, but rather was, by affidavit, moving for judgment to be entered against Hornbacher pursuant to the stipulation. The court misread the stipulation and misapplied the law." Because the plain language of the stipulation provided for judgment against Hornbacher to be entered, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for entry of judgment. View "Discover Bank v. Hornbacher" on Justia Law

by
The Spuhlers incurred medical debts that State Collection sought to collect on behalf of the medical‐care provider. The collector sent the Spuhlers dunning letters that provided the debts’ sums but lacked a statement that interest would accrue on the debts. The Spuhlers, who sought to represent a class of consumers, filed a complaint under the Fair Debt Collection Practices (FDCPA), arguing that the omission of a statement that the debt amounts would increase from the accrual of interest made the letters’ account of the debts was misleading, 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2), 1692f. A magistrate granted the Spuhlers summary judgment and certified a class.The Seventh Circuit vacated. At the summary judgment stage of litigation, to demonstrate Article III standing to sue for an alleged violation of the FDCPA, the plaintiffs must “‘set forth’ by affidavit or other evidence ‘specific facts’” demonstrating that they have suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is both fairly traceable to the challenged conduct and likely redressable by a judicial decision. The plaintiffs here did not carry that burden. View "Spuhler v. State Collection Service, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Finance sent Bazile a letter seeking to collect medical debts. The dunning letter stated the date (September 19, 2017) and the total balance of the debt ($92.23), without indicating whether that amount may increase with the accrual of interest. Bazile filed suit, alleging that the letter’s exclusion of information concerning the accrual of interest was a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) because the letter was misleading and did not provide “the amount of the debt,” 15 U.S.C. 1692g(a)(1), 1692e. The district court concluded that Bazile had Article III standing.The Seventh Circuit remanded for findings of fact. The complaint may survive dismissal as a matter of pleading but that’s not enough for the district court to decide the merits of the action. While Bazile’s allegations support an inference that interest was accruing on the debt, the defendant asserted that interest was not accruing and questioned whether the letter’s omission of information about interest affected Bazile’s response to the correspondence or to the debt. Facts necessary for standing have been called into doubt, requiring further inquiry into whether the court has subject‐matter jurisdiction, requiring an evidentiary hearing on the defendant’s motion to dismiss. View "Bazile v. Finance System of Green Bay, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Convergent sent Brunett a letter demanding repayment of a debt that slightly exceeded $1,000, offering to accept 50% of the balance in satisfaction of the debt. The letter stated that, if the creditor ended up forgiving more than $600, it would be required to report the release of indebtedness to the IRS, because federal law treats as taxable income a loan that is not repaid. Brunett sued, arguing that the statement about the IRS violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692e(5), (10), because it threatens action that cannot legally be taken and amounts to a false representation.The Seventh Circuit ordered the dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction after noting that the statement was not false. Brunett conceded that the letter had not injured her. She did not pay anything; the statement did not affect her credit rating or discourage anyone from doing business with her. A plaintiff who lacks a concrete injury cannot sue under the FDCPA. The state of confusion is not itself an injury. “If it were, then everyone would have standing to litigate about everything.” That Brunett’s confusion led her to hire a lawyer and that she felt "intimidated" do not change the evaluation. View "Brunett v. Convergent Outsourcing Inc." on Justia Law

by
When the Gunn's debt for homeowners' association assessments reached $2,000, the association hired a law firm, which sent the Gunns a letter demanding payment. The letter states: If Creditor has recorded a mechanic’s lien, covenants, mortgage, or security agreement, it may seek to foreclose such mechanic’s lien, covenants, mortgage, or security agreement. The Gunns did not pay. The law firm filed suit in state court, seeking damages for breach of contract rather than foreclosure. The Gunns filed suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which forbids false or misleading statements in dunning letters, 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2), (4), (5) & (10). The Gunns acknowledge that the statement is true but contend that it must be deemed false or misleading because the law firm would have found it too costly to pursue foreclosure to collect a $2,000 debt.The Seventh Circuit ordered the dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The contested sentence did not injure the Gunns. They argued that they were annoyed or intimidated but did not contend that the letter was a forbidden invasion of privacy. The association and its law firm were entitled to communicate with them, If annoyance were enough, the very fact that a suit was filed would show the existence of standing. The asserted violation of a substantive FDCPA right does not guarantee standing. There must still be a concrete injury. View "Gunn v. Thrasher, Buschmann & Voelkel, PC" on Justia Law