Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

by
Dr. Frank Coufal and his solely owned professional corporation, La Jolla Neurological Associates (LJNA), hired an unaffiliated, third-party billing service to collect payments from patients and their insurers. Raquel Olson, the widow of a former patient, sued the doctor and his corporation (but not the third-party billing service) for unlawful debt collection under the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. According to the complaint, Dr. Coufal and LJNA violated the Rosenthal Act by sending multiple bills and making incessant phone calls seeking payment for neurological services Dr. Coufal had provided to Olson’s husband before he died, even though Olson directed them to stop contacting her and to seek payment through Medicare and the VA Medical Center. Olson’s complaint did not mention any third-party debt billing service or debt collector and did not allege that Dr. Coufal or LJNA were vicariously liable for the actions of any such third party. The trial court granted a defense motion for summary judgment on the ground that the doctor and his medical corporation were not “debt collectors” within the meaning of the Rosenthal Act. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Olson v. La Jolla Neurological Associates" on Justia Law

by
Huston, a Good Housekeeping magazine subscriber, filed a putative class action alleging that media conglomerate, Hearst, offered to sell and sold mailing lists containing her, and 9.1 million other subscribers’, identifying information. Huston sought statutory damages under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (IRPA) and an injunction requiring Hearst to obtain prior written consent before selling its subscribers’ information.The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. To establish an IRPA violation, the plaintiff must allege an appropriation of the plaintiff’s identity, without the plaintiff’s written consent, and for the defendant’s commercial purpose. IRPA prohibits the use or holding out of a person’s identifying information to offer to sell or sell a product, piece of merchandise, good, or service; it contemplates a use or holding out of an individual’s identity with the aim of effectuating a sale. Any use or holding out must either accompany an offer to sell or precede the sale, but it cannot follow the sale. Huston failed to allege that Hearst used or held out her identity to effectuate the sale of the mailing lists or her Good Housekeeping subscription. View "Huston v. Hearst Communications, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) is a federal law that nationalizes governance of the thoroughbred horseracing industry. To formulate detailed rules on an array of topics, HISA empowers a private entity called the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (the “Authority”), which operates under Federal Trade Commission oversight. Soon after its passage, HISA was challenged by various horsemen’s associations, which were later joined by Texas and the state’s racing commission. Plaintiffs argued HISA is facially unconstitutional because it delegates government power to a private entity without sufficient agency supervision. The district court acknowledged that the plaintiffs’ “concerns are legitimate,” that HISA has “unique features,” and that its structure “pushes the boundaries of public-private collaboration.” Nonetheless, the court rejected the private non-delegation challenge.   The Fifth Circuit declared that the HISA is unconstitutional because it violates the private non-delegation doctrine. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s decision and remanded. The court explained that while acknowledging the Authority’s “sweeping” power, the district court thought it was balanced by the FTC’s “equally” sweeping oversight. Not so. HISA restricts FTC review of the Authority’s proposed rules. If those rules are “consistent” with HISA’s broad principles, the FTC must approve them. And even if it finds an inconsistency, the FTC can only suggest changes. What’s more, the FTC concedes it cannot review the Authority’s policy choices. The Authority’s power outstrips any private delegation the Supreme Court or the Fifth Circuit has allowed. Thus the court declared HISA facially unconstitutional. View "National Horsemen's Benevolent v. Black" on Justia Law

by
Dog buyers claimed a puppy mill victimized them. They said the mill advertised online, negotiated by text, arranged parking lot meetups, insisted on cash, and sold underage puppies that sickened within one day and soon died. The buyers alleged the mill were Defendants. Nine buyers, joined by Caru Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, sued Defendants and moved for a preliminary injunction. The trial court found Plaintiffs were likely to succeed in proving the Defendants had violated several statutes, including the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. Defendants appealed the preliminary injunction. As a group, they filed a single opening brief and a single reply: they appeal as one group with a unified legal position.   The Second Appellate District affirmed and found that the trial court right to find likely harm to the public justified the preliminary injunction. The court explained that the trial court had a basis for finding that Defendants posed a continuing menace to the public at large. The preliminary proof was that Defendants persisted in their routine. View "Loy v. Kenney" on Justia Law

by
After Plaintiff provided his phone number to an insurance company on a website, he began receiving marketing texts from eFinancial. Plaintiff sued under the TCPA, claiming that eFinancial uses a “sequential number generator” to pick the order in which to call customers who had provided their phone numbers. He says that this type of number generator qualifies as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (often colloquially called an “autodialer”) under the TCPA. But eFinancial responds that it does not use an autodialer. eFinancial argues that the TCPA defines an autodialer as one that must generate telephone numbers to dial, not just any number to decide which pre-selected phone numbers to call.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that an “automatic telephone dialing system” must generate and dial random or sequential telephone numbers under the TCPA’s plain text. eFinancial thus did not use an autodialer, and its texts to Plaintiff did not implicate the TCPA. View "DAVID BORDEN V. EFINANCIAL, LLC" on Justia Law

by
BPP sued CaremarkPCS Health, L.L.C. and Welltok, Inc., alleging a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. Section 227. The district court granted Caremark and Welltok’s motion for summary judgment, and BPP appealed. BPP argued that the district court incorrectly interpreted the TCPA’s definition of an unsolicited advertisement. Further, BPP contended that the district court should have deferred to the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC”) interpretation of the term “unsolicited advertisement” under Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 843 (1984).   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court disagreed with BPP’s proposed interpretation of unsolicited advertisement. The TCPA does not ban all faxes that contain information about commercial goods or services, as BPP would have it. Rather, it bans faxes that “advertis[e] the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services.” The fax itself, and not just the underlying property, good, or service, must have a commercial component or nexus to constitute an unsolicited advertisement.   Further, the court wrote that the FCC’s guidance does not support BPP’s interpretation of the statute. The FCC has explained that a fax is not an unsolicited advertisement when its primary purpose is informational, rather than to promote commercial products. The court explained that in sum, no reasonable jury could find that the fax was an “unsolicited advertisement” under the TCPA, and the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Caremark and Welltok was proper View "BPP v. CaremarkPCS Health, L.L.C." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff States’ requested to preliminarily enjoin the United States Secretary of Education (“Secretary”) from implementing a plan to discharge student loan debt under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003(“HEROES Act”). The States contend the student loan debt relief plan contravenes the separation of powers and violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it exceeds the Secretary’s authority and is arbitrary and capricious. The district court denied the States’ motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction after determining none of the States had standing to bring the lawsuit.   The Eighth Circuit granted the Emergency Motion for Injunction Pending Appeal. The court concluded that at this stage of the litigation, an injunction limited to the plaintiff States, or even more broadly to student loans affecting the States, would be impractical and would fail to provide complete relief to the plaintiffs. MOHELA is purportedly one of the largest nonprofit student loan secondary markets in America. It services accounts nationwide and had $168.1 billion in student loan assets serviced as of June 30, 2022. Here the Secretary’s universal suspension of both loan payments and interest on student loans weighs against delving into such uncertainty at this stage. View "State of Nebraska v. Joseph Biden, Jr." on Justia Law

by
The Arkansas Video Service Act of 2013 (VSA) establishes a statewide franchising scheme for authorizing video service providers to provide services in political subdivisions within the state. Netflix and Hulu were already providing online video streaming services prior to the passage of the VSA; they have not applied for certificates of franchise authority. The City of Ashdown, Arkansas, filed a putative class action against Netflix and Hulu in 2020, seeking both a declaration that they must comply with the VSA and damages for their failure to pay the required fee. The district court granted Netflix and Hulu’s motions to dismiss, concluding, among other things, that the VSA does not give Ashdown a right of action to bring this suit. Ashdown appealed, arguing that the district court misinterpreted the VSA.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the fact that the VSA does not “prevent” a party from exercising a right does not, itself, confer a right. This provision is more logically read to preserve existing rights of action. The reference to “other laws” in the section title supports this conclusion. Further, the court wrote that the VSA does not establish such a “high duty of care” for video service providers, nor does it signal a strong public policy of protecting municipalities. Thus, the court concluded that recognizing a right of action would circumvent the intent of the VSA. View "City of Ashdown, Arkansas v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Mohamad and Ahmed Hammoud, father and son, each filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, just over a year apart using the same attorney. The petitions contained their similar names, identical addresses, and—mistakenly—Ahmed’s social security number. Although the attorney corrected the social security number on Mohamad’s bankruptcy petition the day after it was filed, Experian failed to catch the amendment and erroneously reported Mohamad’s bankruptcy on Ahmed’s credit report for nine years. Ahmed learned of the uncorrected mistake while attempting to refinance his mortgage. He sued Experian and Equifax, alleging that each had violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy” of his reported information, 15 U.S.C. 1681e(b). Equifax and Ahmed settled.The district court granted Experian summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Ahmed had standing to sue but cannot establish that Experian’s procedures were unreasonable as a matter of law. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Ahmed, his cognizable injury was fairly traceable to Experian’s actions. A credit reporting agency’s reliance on information gathered by outside entities is reasonable if the information is not “obtained from a source that was known to be unreliable” and is “not inaccurate on its face” or otherwise inconsistent with information already had on file. Experian was not required to implement additional procedures for collecting and verifying corrected information from bankruptcy proceedings. View "Hammoud v. Equifax Information Services, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Defendants are The Source of Public Data, L.P.; ShadowSoft, Inc.; HarlingtonStraker Studio, Inc.; and D.B. (collectively “Public Data”). Plaintiffs’ allegation that all Defendants are alter egos jointly responsible for any Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) liability arising from the business activities conducted on PublicData.com. Public Data sought Section 230(c)(1) protection against four claims brought against it for violating the FCRA. The district court agreed that the claims were precluded by Section 230(c)(1). Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that Section 230(c)(1) does not apply.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. THe court explained that Section 230(c)(1) provides protection to interactive computer services. But it does not insulate a company from liability for all conduct that happens to be transmitted through the internet. Instead, protection under Section 230(c)(1) extends only to bar certain claims, in specific circumstances, against particular types of parties. Here, the district court erred by finding that Section 230(c)(1) barred all counts asserted against Public Data. To the contrary, on the facts as alleged, it does not apply to any of them. Counts One and Three are not barred because they do not seek to hold Public Data liable as a publisher under the provision. Counts Two and Four are not barred because Public Data is itself an information content provider for the information relevant to those counts. View "Tyrone Henderson, Sr. v. The Source for Public Data, L.P." on Justia Law