Justia Consumer Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Anne Arundel County v. BP P.L.C.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to remand two lawsuits back to Maryland state court. The lawsuits were brought by the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County against more than 20 energy companies, including BP P.L.C. The local governments accused the companies of misrepresenting and concealing information about the environmental impact of their fossil fuel products in violation of Maryland's Consumer Protection Act and various state tort laws. The companies tried to remove the cases to federal court, arguing that because they had acted under federal authority in their operations, the court had federal question jurisdiction. However, the appeals court found that the company's activities related to fossil fuel production were not relevant to the claims brought by the local governments, which were based on alleged concealment or misrepresentation of information about fossil fuel products. The court also rejected the companies' argument that the First Amendment question related to their right to free speech provided a basis for federal jurisdiction, as this question was a defense rather than a necessary element of the plaintiffs' state-law claims. View "Anne Arundel County v. BP P.L.C." on Justia Law
Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc. v. PDR Network, LLC
Plaintiff, a chiropractic office, filed suit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act after it received an unsolicited fax offering a free eBook with information about prescription drugs. The district court dismissed its complaint, holding that the plaintiff had not alleged that the fax, which tendered a product for free rather than for sale, was sufficiently commercial to bring it within the statutory prohibition on “unsolicited advertisements.” On appeal, Defendant-PDR Network defends both steps in the district court’s reasoning, arguing that a fax must be “commercial” to qualify as an “advertisement” under the TCPA and that Carlton & Harris has not alleged the requisite commercial character. Carlton & Harris disputes both portions of the court’s reasoning, contending that a prohibited “advertisement” may be entirely non-commercial and that, in any event, it has adequately alleged that the fax it received was commercial in nature. Further, Plaintiff asserts that PDR Network profits when its fax persuades a medical practitioner to accept the proffered eBook. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s order and remanded. The court concluded that Plaintiff had adequately alleged that the fax offer had the necessary commercial character to make it an “unsolicited advertisement” under the Act. The court explained that for present purposes, we accept as true Plaintiff’s commission allegation and find it adequate, at this preliminary stage, to state a claim that the fax offer of a free eBook is a commercial “advertisement” subject to the TCPA. View "Carlton & Harris Chiropractic, Inc. v. PDR Network, LLC" on Justia Law
US v. Walgreen Co.
The United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia (together, the “governments”) appealed the district court’s dismissal of their complaint under the False Claims Act and Virginia state law. The governments alleged that Walgreen Co. (“Walgreens”) misrepresented that certain patients met Virginia’s Medicaid-eligibility requirements for expensive Hepatitis C drugs. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that Virginia’s eligibility requirements violated the Medicaid Act, and therefore Walgreens’s misrepresentations were immaterial as a matter of law. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded. The court held that the governments plausibly allege facts that establish materiality. The court wrote that the alleged misrepresentation (that Patient 12 couldn’t use the cheaper drug alternative) has nothing to do with the eligibility requirements Walgreens now challenges. The district court didn’t explain how the supposed illegality of Virginia’s eligibility requirements rendered this misrepresentation immaterial or how it otherwise failed to state a claim. Further, the court explained it is also persuaded that Walgreens can’t avoid liability by collaterally challenging the eligibility requirements’ legality under a line of cases beginning with United States v. Kapp. Moreover, the court explained that Walgreens offers no good reason why a contract law (and even more specifically, a collective-bargaining-contract-law) rule should displace the liability created by the False Claims Act, a federal statute. View "US v. Walgreen Co." on Justia Law
Diana Mey v. Judson Phillips
After receiving a flood of telemarketing phone calls concerning debt relief through lower interest rates on credit cards, Appellee brought suit pursuant to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), and the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act (“WVCCPA”), against several defendants. Throughout the course of the litigation, Appellants failed to respond fulsomely and accurately to discovery requests and to comply with court orders pertaining to those requests. As a sanction for their repeated discovery violations, the district court entered a default judgment against Appellants. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that Appellants acted in bad faith and entered a default judgment against them. The court explained that because the damages consisted strictly of statutory penalties, the amount of which was readily discernable on the basis of undisputed evidence in the record, the district court did not abuse its discretion by entering judgment in favor of Appellee and awarding statutory damages without a trial. Further, because penalties under the TCPA and WVCCPA are not exclusive and the statutes separately penalize different violative conduct, damages under the WVCCPA may be awarded in addition to those under the TCPA for a single communication that violates both statutes. View "Diana Mey v. Judson Phillips" on Justia Law
Federal Trade Commission v. Yu Lin
The appeal is another installment in a series of disputes involving an enforcement action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against a group of fraudulent real estate developers (the Sanctuary Belize enforcement action). Appellants, a group of 14 individual investors and a family-owned corporation moved to intervene in an action brought by others and sought relief from the district court’s judgment. Appellants did not do so until after the district court had entered final judgment and that judgment had been appealed to the Fourth Circuit. Because the Sanctuary Belize enforcement action was already on appeal when Appellants filed their motions, the district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain those motions. It held alternatively that the motions should be denied as meritless. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court held that a district court lacks jurisdiction over a motion to intervene while an appeal is pending, regardless of who noted the appeal. Further, the court explained that because the district court correctly determined it lacked jurisdiction on a matter that had been appealed to the Fourth Circuit, the court held that it only has jurisdiction to review that decision, not to entertain the underlying merits. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Yu Lin" on Justia Law
Jerry Davidson v. United Auto Credit Corporation
Plaintiff was on active duty with the United States Army. He bought a car from Select Cars of Thornburg in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and financed his purchase with a loan from United Auto Credit Corporation. The loan financed not only the car’s cost but also the cost of Guaranteed Asset Protection. Guaranteed Asset Protection is like extra insurance, covering any amount still due on the car loan after auto insurance is paid out if the car is totaled or stolen. Plaintiff’s claims arise from this single loan. This loan, Plaintiff alleged, violated the Military Lending Act because the loan agreement mandated arbitration and failed to disclose certain information. The district court dismissed the case, holding that the loan was not covered by the Act at all. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that a statutory provision must be given the ordinary meaning it had when it was enacted. Relevant dictionaries, carefully considered, sometimes shed light on that ordinary meaning. Yet here, dueling dictionaries provide more than one linguistically permissible meaning. But by examining the relevant phrase in its statutory context. This context shows that while “the express purpose” can be used in different senses, it is best read in Section 987(i)(6) to mean the specific purpose. This loan was offered for the specific purpose of financing Plaintiff’s car purchase. And that satisfies Section 987(i)(6)’s relevant condition and the Act is inapplicable. View "Jerry Davidson v. United Auto Credit Corporation" on Justia Law
Brady O’Leary v. TrustedID, Inc.
Plaintiff appealed the dismissal of his claim against TrustedID, Inc. under South Carolina’s Financial Identity Fraud and Identity Theft Protection Act (the “Act”), S.C. Code Ann. Section 37-20-180. The district court held that Plaintiff alleged an Article III injury in fact but failed to state a claim under the Act. Plaintiff agrees with the district court’s decision on standing but appeals its Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal. The Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to remand this case to state court where it originated. The court conceded that it is odd that TrustedID failed to comply with the five-digit SSN cutoff, which doesn’t appear to be unique to South Carolina’s Act. But federal courts can’t entertain a case without a concrete injury in fact. The court offered no opinion about whether the alleged facts state a claim under the Act. Absent Article III jurisdiction, that’s a question for Plaintiff to take up in state court. View "Brady O'Leary v. TrustedID, Inc." on Justia Law
Malcolm Wiener v. AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company
Plaintiff appealed the district court’s post-trial dismissal of his case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. A jury found that AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company negligently reported false medical information about Plaintiff to an information clearinghouse used by insurance companies, causing him to become uninsurable. Despite the fact that the parties satisfied the requirements for federal diversity jurisdiction, and the fact that both parties litigated the entire case through trial under North Carolina law, the district court decided that Connecticut law applied and found itself deprived of subject-matter jurisdiction by virtue of a Connecticut statute. The Fourth Circuit found that the district court erred and concluded that choice of law is waivable and was waived here. And even if Connecticut’s law applied, it would not have ousted federal jurisdiction. Further, the court held that the district court also erred by concluding that Connecticut’s CIIPPA divested it of subject-matter jurisdiction despite that statute affecting only choice of law rather than choice of forum. AXA’s alternative argument for affirmance based on the nature of Plaintiff’s s injury and its causation was thoroughly briefed and argued before the court, and the court found it to be without merit. But because AXA’s argument for post-trial relief challenging the number of damages was neither raised nor briefed before this court, the court remanded to the district court to consider that issue in the first instance. View "Malcolm Wiener v. AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Blazine Monaco v. WV Parkways Authority
Plaintiff appealed the district court’s dismissal of her putative class action against the West Virginia Parkways Authority, in which she alleges that the Parkways Authority improperly collected fees. And the Parkways Authority appeals the district court’s holding that it was not entitled to sovereign immunity under the United States or West Virginia Constitutions. Plaintiff relied on the Class Action Fairness Act for jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded the case remanded to the district court with directions to dismiss without prejudice. The court concluded that here, Section 1332(d)(5)(A) bars jurisdiction under Section 1332(d)(2) of the Class Action Fairness Act. The court explained that the Parkways Authority is the only, and thus “primary,” defendant. And it is a “governmental entity.” The Parkways Authority’s sovereign-immunity claim is strong enough to conclude that the district court “may be foreclosed from ordering relief” against it. So Section 1332(d)(2)’s jurisdictional grant “shall not apply.” Since that is the only provision that Plaintiff relies on to establish jurisdiction over her putative class action, the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear it. View "Blazine Monaco v. WV Parkways Authority" on Justia Law
Avail Vapor, LLC v. FDA
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act requires manufacturers of new tobacco products to obtain authorization from the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) prior to marketing their products. In reviewing a manufacturer’s Premarket Tobacco Product Application, FDA must determine that the marketing of the product is “appropriate for the protection of the public health.” Section 910(c)(4), 123 Stat. at 1810. The agency denied Avail Vapor LLC’s application for its flavored electronic cigarettes, chiefly on the grounds that its products posed a serious risk to youth without enough offsetting benefits to adults. The Fourth Circuit upheld the FDA’s decision denying Avail’s application. The court explained that under the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) the FDA has the daunting task of ensuring that another generation of Americans does not become addicted to nicotine and tobacco products. The TCA gives FDA the flexibility to determine whether marketing of a new tobacco product is appropriate for the protection of public health, taking into account evolving science and an everchanging market. FDA made the determination that Avail’s flavored ENDS products, seeking in all respects to mimic those sweet treats to which youth are particularly attracted, pose a substantial risk of youth addiction without enough offsetting benefits to adult smokers. FDA could not allow young adults to perceive e-cigarettes as another Baby Ruth or Milky Way, only to find themselves in the grip of a surreptitious nicotine addiction. Substantial evidence supports the assertion that “[t]here is an epidemic of youth use of e-cigarette products, and flavored products like petitioners’ are at the center of that problem.” View "Avail Vapor, LLC v. FDA" on Justia Law