Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals upholding that trial court's determination that the plaintiff homeowner's award of attorneys fees and costs under Tenn. Code Ann. 20-12-119(c) was limited to those incurred after the date the defendant contractor filed an amended countercomplaint, holding that the lower courts erred.Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a contract for the renovation of a residence. Plaintiff later filed a complaint alleging breach of contract and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Defendant filed an amended countercomplaint asserting breach of contract. The trial court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims and then dismissed the countercomplaint. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the attorney fee and costs award granted by the trial court. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's award of attorney fees and costs, holding that the fees and costs recoverable by Plaintiff in connection with the dismissal of Defendant’s breach of contract claim are not limited to those incurred after the amended countercomplaint was actually filed. View "Donovan v. Hastings" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, Northstar Wireless, LLC (“Northstar”), and SNR Wireless LicenseCo, LLC (“SNR”) placed more than $13 billion in winning bids at a Federal Communications Commission  (“Commission”) auction to license wireless spectrum. The Commission determined that neither company was eligible for the very-small-business discount because both were de facto controlled by their biggest investor, the large telecommunications company DISH Network Corporation (“DISH”). Northstar and SNR (collectively, “Companies”) petitioned for a review of that decision.   Northstar and SNR have again sought our review, contending that the Commission flouted this court’s orders in SNR Wireless by not working closely enough with them to reduce DISH’s control, wrongfully found them to be controlled by DISH, and penalized them without fair notice.   The DC Circuit rejected the Companies’ challenges to the Commission’s orders. The court held that the Commission complied with the court’s previous decision by affording the Companies an opportunity to cure. The Commission also reasonably applied its precedent to the Companies and gave them fair notice of the legal standards that it would apply in analyzing their claims to be very small companies. View "Northstar Wireless, LLC v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Ohio’s Necessaries Statute permits creditors to collect certain debts from one spouse incurred by the other.. Seeking to recover outstanding legal defense bills owed by Snyder’s husband, who had been convicted of embezzlement, Finley filed a debt-collection lawsuit against Finley and her husband, asserting joint liability. Snyder contends that the lawsuit was “objectively baseless” and violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692e.The Sixth Circuit reversed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Finley. The Ohio Supreme Court has clearly held that the Necessaries Statute does not impose joint liability on a married person for the debts of a spouse. A creditor must first seek satisfaction of its claim from the assets of the spouse who incurred the debt and must show that the debtor-spouse is “unable to pay” for a non-debtor spouse to be liable under the Necessaries Statute. Finley’s claims against the husband remain pending in the Ohio state trial court. View "Snyder v. Finley & Co., L.P.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff American Savings Bank, F.S.B (“ASB”) sent text messages to his mobile phone without the consent required by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Affirming the district court’s summary judgment, the Ninth Circuit held that under Van Patten v. Vertical Fitness Grp., LLC, 847 F.3d 1037 (9th Cir. 2017), messages sent by Plaintiff’s phone to ASB’s “short code” number provided the required prior express consent for ASB’s responsive messages.   The district court granted ASB’s motion for an award of costs under Rule 41(d) for costs, including attorney’s fees, that ASB incurred in defending identical litigation commenced and later voluntarily dismissed by Plaintiff in the District of Connecticut. Joining other circuits, and reversing in part, the court held that Rule 41(d) “costs” do not include attorney’s fees as a matter of right. Accordingly, the district court abused its discretion in including attorney’s fees in its award of costs under Rule 41(d).   The court explained that it did not decide if bad faith is sufficient to allow a party to recover attorney’s fees as “costs” under Rule 41(b), as bad faith was not alleged, much less proven, by ASB in the district court. The court did not address whether attorney’s fees are available under Rule 41(b) if the underlying statute so provides because, here, it was undisputed that the TCPA does not provide for the award of attorney’s fees to the prevailing party. View "CRAIG MOSKOWITZ V. AMERICAN SAVINGS BANK" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff executed a 2007 note for over a million dollars. She defaulted on her payments and applied for a loan modification in 2017. After a 2018 foreclosure sale, Plaintiff brought a wrongful foreclosure action against a bank and Rushmore Loan Management Services, LLC. During discovery answered a key contention interrogatory with one word: “Unsure.” When later confronted with a defense summary judgment motion, however, Plaintiff developed belated clarity and finally specified the type of wrongdoing she was accusing Defendant of committing.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The court explained that Code of Civil Procedure section 2030.310 provides a mechanism for parties to amend responses to interrogatories under certain circumstances, yet Plaintiff did not attempt to amend. Thus, Plaintiff's untimely and contradictory effort cannot support any attack on this grant of summary judgment, which was proper. View "Field v. U.S. Bank Nat. Assn." on Justia Law

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Defendants, VSL Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Alfasigma USA, Inc., appealed the district court’s order finding them in contempt of the court’s permanent injunction. The injunction prohibited Defendants from suggesting in promotional materials that their probiotic contained the same formulation as one marketed by Claudio De Simone and ExeGi Pharma, LLC.   On appeal, Defendants (1) their statements weren’t contemptuous, (2) their statements didn’t harm Plaintiffs (3) the district court improperly awarded attorneys’ fees, and (4) VSL and Alfasigma shouldn’t be jointly liable for the fee award. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order.   The court explained a party moving for civil contempt must establish four elements by clear and convincing evidence, relevant here are the last two: that the alleged contemnor by its conduct violated the terms of the decree, and had knowledge (at least constructive knowledge) of such violations; and that the movant suffered harm as a result.   Defendants emphasized that consumers couldn’t access the Letter from Alfasigma’s home page. That’s true, as De Simone and ExeGi showed only that consumers could access the Letter by searching “vsl3 litigation” on Google. But the way in which consumers could access the Letter is irrelevant to Alfasigma’s constructive knowledge that it remained on the website.   Further, under the Lanham Act, “commercial advertising or promotion” is “commercial speech . . . for the purpose of influencing consumers to buy goods or services.” Here, Defendants’ press release’s final sentence emphasizes VSL#3’s commercial availability, so the district court reasonably viewed the message as an attempt to realize economic gain. View "Claudio De Simone v. VSL Pharmaceuticals, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to federal defendants in a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) action brought by Inter-Cooperative Exchange (“ICE”), a cooperative of fishers who harvest and deliver crab off the coast of Alaska, seeking the government’s communications concerning the government’s decision not to factor Alaska’s minimum wage increase into the arbitration system that sets the price of crab.   The North Pacific Fishery Management Council manages fisheries off the coast of Alaska. In 2005, the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) implemented a program recommended by the Council to allocate crab resources among harvesters, processors, and coastal communities. Alaska increased the minimum wage, which raised the question of whether costs should be considered under the arbitration system. The Council reviewed the matter at a 2017 meeting where an Assistant Regional Administrator of NMFS and a voting member of the Council, introduced an unsuccessful motion to include costs for consideration in the arbitration system.   The court held that on the facts here, the three search terms were not reasonably calculated to uncover all documents relevant to ICE’s request. ICE contended that the government’s choice of search terms was unduly narrow and not reasonably calculated to uncover all documents relevant to its FOIA request. The court held that the government’s choice of search terms was overly narrow. View "INTER-COOPERATIVE EXCHANGE V. USDOC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed a summary judgment entered in favor of Defendant in her lawsuit for damages against Defendant based on his alter ego liability for a $157,370 judgment against a corporation. Plaintiff claimed that Magnolia Funding, Inc., the subject of a prior lawsuit that provided the original loan, and Magnolia Home Loans, Inc. “were the same company”; and that Defendant was “the sole owner, officer, and director of each.” Magnolia Funding closed when Magnolia Home Loans got up and running.   The Second Appellate district concluded, among other things, that (1) the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the corporation; there are triable issues of fact concerning Defendant’s alter ego liability, and (2) Plaintiff’s civil action does not violate Defendant’s right to due process.   The court explained that under the alter ego doctrine, the corporate veil may be lifted to show the corporate form is fiction and determine who controls the corporate entity and who is liable for its debts. Courts look to the totality of circumstances to determine who actually owns or controls the corporate entity and who is using it as “a mere shell or conduit” for his or her own personal interests. When Magnolia Funding, Inc. dissolved, Magnolia Home Loans, Inc. received its remaining physical assets. At the end of the fiscal year 2009, Magnolia Home Loans, Inc. held cash and all that money was paid to Defendant. This is a triable issue of fact concerning Escamilla’s alter ego liability. View "Lopez v. Escamilla" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff retained an attorney of the Advocacy Law Firm to sue Defendants for alleged ADA violations following Plaintiff’s visit to Defendants’ place of business. The attorney has filed hundreds of lawsuits under the ADA on behalf of Plaintiff and others. As the prevailing party, Plaintiff  moved for attorney’s fees.. While the district court found that Plaintiff was entitled to attorney’s fees, the district court determined that the requested amount was grossly disproportionate given the case’s circumstances. The district court therefore reduced the requested fees.   Plaintiff argued that the district court abused its discretion in reducing the amount he requested for attorney’s fees.  The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the award, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the attorney billed an excessive number of hours given the complexity of the case. The court noted that the attorney has been involved in hundreds of ADA lawsuits, including 140 during the case. Additionally, the district court found that the pleadings and motions filed here were “boilerplate” and much like filings in the attorney’s other ADA cases.   Further, the record reflects that the attorney was unduly litigious and engaged in unnecessary motion practice. Accordingly, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the attorney unnecessarily prolonged the litigation which, in turn, unnecessarily increased the amount of attorney’s fees. View "Howard Michael Caplan v. All American Auto Collision, Inc., et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of drivers, sued Defendants, a group of personal injury lawyers, after Defendants sought and obtained car accident reports from North Carolina law enforcement agencies and private data brokers and then sent Plaintiffs unsolicited attorney advertising material. Plaintiffs' claims were brought under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”).The district court held that, although Plaintiffs have standing to bring their claims, the claim failed on the merits.The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs have a legally recognizable privacy interest in the accident reports. However, Defendant's conduct in obtaining the records did not constitute a violation of DPPA. Defendants obtained Plaintiffs’ personal information from the accident reports; however, Plaintiffs failed to preserve the argument that those accident reports are“motor vehicle records under DPPA. View "William Garey v. James S. Farrin, P.C." on Justia Law