Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Plaintiff filed a complaint against GoDaddy.com, LLC (“GoDaddy”) in district court alleging that GoDaddy had violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (“TCPA”) when it allegedly called and texted Plaintiff solely to market its services and products through a prohibited automatic telephone dialing system. Her case was consolidated with two other cases.  Plaintiff and the plaintiffs in the two other related cases purported to bring a class action on behalf of similarly situated individuals. After negotiating with GoDaddy, the three plaintiffs submitted a proposed class settlement agreement to the District Court.   The District Court determined that “even though some of the included class members would not have a viable claim in the Eleventh Circuit, they do have a viable claim in their respective Circuit [because of a circuit split]. The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s approval of class certification and settlement. The court held that the class definition does not meet Article III standing requirements. The court explained that it has not received briefing on whether a single cellphone call is sufficient to meet the concrete injury requirement for Article III standing and TransUnion has clarified that courts must look to history to find a common-law analogue for statutory harms. Thus, the court concluded its best course is to vacate the class certification and settlement and remand in order to give the parties an opportunity to redefine the class with the benefit of TransUnion and its common-law analogue analysis. View "Susan Drazen v. Godaddy.com, LLC" on Justia Law

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Several years ago, law firm Lueder, Larkin & Hunter represented the Pine Grove Homeowners Association in lawsuits seeking to collect delinquent fees from homeowners. One homeowner settled, and eventually Pine Grove voluntarily dismissed the other two suits. The homeowners then sued Lueder, Larkin & Hunter, arguing in state court that the law firm’s actions violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). The firm removed the cases to federal court, where they were consolidated before a magistrate judge. After reviewing the complaints, the firm became convinced that the FDCPA claims filed against it were “unsubstantiated and frivolous”—meaning that the homeowners’ attorney had committed sanctionable conduct. The firm served the homeowners’ counsel with draft motions for Rule 11 sanctions.   The law firm appealed the denial of sanctions, and the homeowners appealed the summary judgment decision. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and vacated its denial of the Rule 11 motions. The court explained that it has long held that Rule 11 motions “are not barred if filed after a dismissal order, or after entry of judgment,” though it is apparently necessary to clarify that point in light of later cases. The homeowners claim that a later case, Walker, changed the Eleventh Circuit’s law. The court, looking at the relevant cases together, held that the reconciled rule follows: If a party fulfills the safe harbor requirement by serving a Rule 11 sanctions motion at least 21 days before final judgment, then she may file that motion after the judgment is entered and Lueder, Larkin & Hunter satisfied this rule. View "Wilbur Huggins v. Lueder, Larkin & Hunter, LLC" on Justia Law

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Charles and Tracy Lamirand took out a mortgage loan to buy a home in Florida but did not keep up with the payments. After they defaulted, the loan servicer sued to foreclose on the home. While the foreclosure suit was pending, Fay Servicing took over the loan. A disagreement arose, leading the Lamirands to sue Fay Servicing. The parties soon settled both lawsuits and agreed that the Lamirands owed $85,790.99 on the loan, to be paid in one year. But four months later, Fay Servicing sent the Lamirands a mortgage statement notifying them that their loan had “been accelerated” because they were “late on [their] monthly payments.” On Fay Servicing’s fast-tracked timetable, the Lamirands owed $92,789.55 to be paid in a month. If they did not pay, Fay Servicing’s statement warned, they risked more fees and even “the loss of [their] home to a foreclosure sale.” The statement then detailed many ways the Lamirands might pay. The statements distressed the Lamirands, who thought they needed to pay only $85,790.99 and make that payment by the date set in the settlement agreement. They eventually sued, alleging that by sending the statements Fay Servicing had violated the FDCPA and Florida’s Consumer Collection Practices Act. To the district court, the periodic statements were unrelated to debt collection, even though they urged the Lamirands to make their past-due loan payments, because Fay Servicing was required to send monthly updates under the Truth in Lending Act. The court thus held that the Lamirands had not stated an FDCPA claim, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Florida law claims, and dismissed the complaint. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found a periodic statement mandated by the Truth in Lending Act could also be a debt-collection communication covered by the FDCPA. Because the complaint here plausibly alleged the periodic statements sent to the plaintiffs aimed to collect their debt, the district court’s dismissal of their complaint was reversed. View "Lamirand, et al v. Fay Servicing, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his counsel, Anderson + Wanca (“Wanca”), appealed the district court’s denial of their motion for Wanca to receive a portion of the attorneys’ fees resulting from the settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. Section 227. Wanca, while not appointed as class counsel in this case, began the chain of litigation that resulted in the settlement below and so contends that it provided a substantial and independent benefit to the class justifying a portion of the attorneys’ fees.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court explained that while the court did find that Wanca has shown it provided one substantial and independent benefit to the class, Wanca’s prioritization of its interests over the class’s interests throughout the litigation forecloses the equitable relief Wanca seeks.   The court explained that non-class counsel is generally entitled to a portion of a common fund recovered in a class action as attorneys’ fees under Rule 23(h) if non-class counsel confers a substantial and independent benefit to the class that aids in the recovery or improvement of the common fund.  Here, the mere fact that Wanca devoted substantial time and effort to litigating this class action does not entitle Wanca to attorneys’ fees. Simply put, most of the 671.95 hours Wanca spent litigating Arkin I and II did not aid in the recovery or improvement of the common fund obtained under the Pressman Settlement in Arkin III. View "Steven Arkin, et al. v. Smith Medical Partners, LLC, et al." 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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Plaintiff sued Select Portfolio Servicing ("Portfolio"), a mortgage servicer, under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act ("FDCPA") and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act ("FCCPA"). Plaintiff claimed that several mortgage statements sent by Portfolio misstated a number of items, including the principal due, and that by sending these incorrect statements, Portfolio violated the FDCPA and FCCPA. The district court dismissed Plaintiff's complaint, finding the mortgage statements were not "communications" under either statute.The Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that monthly mortgage statements may constitute "communications" under the FDCPA and FCCPA if they "contain debt-collection language that is not required by the TILA or its regulations" and the context suggests that the statements are an attempt to collect or induce payment on a debt. View "Constance Daniels v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) sued Ocwen Financial Corporation (“Ocwen”) and several of its affiliates claiming some of the company's mortgage-servicing practices violated federal law. The CFPB’s suit was resolved by a settlement agreement that was memorialized in a formal consent judgment. The CFPB sued Ocwen a second time, alleging various consumer-protection law violations occurring between January 2014 and February 2017. The district court granted summary judgment to Ocwen on res judicata grounds, reasoning that the 2013 action barred the lawsuit.The CFPB contends that the 2013 action’s res judicata effect should be controlled by that case’s consent judgment, not its complaint and that the underlying settlement agreement shows that the parties didn’t intend to preclude a challenge to any conduct occurring from 2014 onwards. The court reasoned that determining the preclusive effect of a consent judgment requires applying contract law principles. The court found that the res judicata effects of an earlier lawsuit resolved by a consent judgment are measured by reference to the terms of the consent judgment, rather than the complaint. Thus, CFPB may sue Ocwen for alleged violations that occurred between January 2014 and February 2017, if the claims are not covered by the consent judgment’s servicing standard, monitoring, and enforcement regime. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Ocwen Financial Corporation, et al." on Justia Law

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Pincus’s vehicle was photographed running a red light in North Miami Beach. His notice of violation stated that he owed a statutory penalty of $158 and that if Pincus paid online or by phone, he would be charged an additional convenience fee. Pincus paid online with a credit card and was required to pay both the statutory penalty and the convenience fee. Pincus brought a putative class action against ATS, the vendor that operated the city’s red-light enforcement program. He alleged that several Florida statutes barred ATS from charging the convenience fee and that ATS was unjustly enriched by retaining the fee. The district court dismissed Pincus’s complaint,The Eleventh Circuit certified questions to the Supreme Court of Florida, which explained that a claim for unjust enrichment under Florida law required Pincus to allege that “it was inequitable for ATS to retain” the convenience fee. Even assuming Florida law barred ATS from charging the fee, the court concluded, it was “not inequitable” for ATS to retain the fee because Pincus received “value in exchange,” including not having to procure postage and a check or money order; being able to pay the balance over time; avoiding the risk of payment being delayed, stolen, or lost; being afforded more time because his payment would be received instantaneously; and receiving immediate confirmation of payment. The Eleventh Circuit, in response, affirmed the dismissal. View "Pincus v. American Traffic Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Winn-Dixie sells Bacardi’s Bombay Gin in its stores. According to Bombay’s marketing and labeling, the gin contains ten “hand-selected botanicals from exotic locations around the world,” including “grains of paradise.” Marrache filed a class action under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) and for unjust enrichment, alleging that the inclusion of grains of paradise violated Florida Statute 562.455.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. FDUTPA’s safe harbor provision exempts acts or practices required or specifically permitted by federal law. Under the Food Additives Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the FDA had expressly identified grains of paradise as a substance “generally recognized as safe.” In addition, the complaint did not sufficiently allege any actual damages resulting from the purported unfair or deceptive act. Marrache’s amended complaint made no allegations of actual damages, but rather, alleged that he and the other class members were injured by purchasing an illegal product that he claimed was worthless. Marrache did not, however, allege that he could not or did not drink the gin, that he sought a refund of or complained about the Bombay, or that he suffered any side effect, health issue, or harm from the grains of paradise. View "Marrache v. Bacardi U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit concluded that, under Florida law, the policy exclusion barring coverage for claims arising out of an invasion of privacy unambiguously excludes coverage for claims alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) in which the complaint repeatedly alleges that defendants invaded the privacy of plaintiffs. The court explained that the invasion of privacy exclusion barred coverage for the class action here because the class complaint specifically alleged that iCan intentionally invaded the class members' privacy and sought recovery for those invasions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Liberty. View "Horn v. Liberty Insurance Underwriters, Inc." on Justia Law