Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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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

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of constitutional Article III standing of a putative class action brought by a plaintiff, a consumer of Pop Secret popcorn. Plaintiff contends that Diamond engaged in unfair practices, created a nuisance, and breached the warranty of merchantability by including partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as an ingredient in Pop Secret. Plaintiff also alleges that PHOs, the primary dietary source of industrially produced trans fatty acids (also known as artificial trans fat), are an unsafe food additive that causes heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other ailments. The panel held that plaintiff has not plausibly alleged that, as a result of her purchase and consumption of Pop Secret, she suffered economic or immediate physical injury, or that she was placed at substantial risk of adverse health consequences. Therefore, the district court properly dismissed the action based on lack of standing. View "McGee v. S-L Snacks National" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for defendants in an action brought by plaintiff under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Plaintiff alleged that P&F violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect a debt that was no longer owed and that P&F's agent, AAS, violated the FDCPA in attempting to collect the debt.Walls v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 276 F.3d 502 (9th Cir. 2002), precludes claims under the FDCPA. The panel held that Walls does not extend to this circumstance because plaintiff's FDCPA claims are based on the wholly independent ground of full payment, rather than being premised on a violation of the discharge order. View "Manikan v. Peters & Freedman, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed: (1) an order granting a request for publication, withdrawing the mandate, withdrawing a memorandum disposition, and replacing the memorandum disposition with an opinion; and (2) an opinion reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant debt collector in an action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and remanding for further proceedings.The panel agreed with the Eleventh Circuit and held that the FDCPA's bona fide error defense does not allow debt collectors to avoid liability by contractually obligating creditor-clients to provide accurate information, nor by requesting that creditor-clients provide notice of any errors in the accounts assigned for collection without waiting to receive a response before instituting collection efforts. Accordingly, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for NBF concluding that NBF was entitled to the defense because it employed a procedure reasonably adapted to avoid errors of the type that occurred in plaintiff's case. Rather, the panel concluded that the two procedures NBF relied upon did little more than evidence an attempt to outsource the duties the FDCPA imposes upon debt collectors. View "Urbina v. National Business Factors Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Ocwen in an action brought by plaintiffs, alleging violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act's prohibition against obtaining a consumer credit report without a permissible purpose. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that Ocwen willfully violated the FCRA when it obtained credit reports about consumers whose mortgage loans had been discharged in bankruptcy.The panel encouraged courts in this circuit to determine whether the defendant committed a violation of the FCRA before turning to questions of negligence and willfulness. In this case, Ocwen was permitted under 15 U.S.C. 1681b(a)(3)(A) to review plaintiffs' accounts and credit reports to determine whether it could offer them alternatives to foreclosure, and it thus did not violate the Act. Therefore, the issue of willfulness is essentially moot. However, for the sake of completeness, and at the risk of stating the obvious, the panel noted its agreement with the district court that Ocwen did not willfully violate the FCRA. View "Marino v. Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit issued (a) an order amending its opinion filed on June 17, 2020, denying the petition for rehearing, and denying on behalf of the court the petition for rehearing en banc; and (b) an amended opinion affirming on different grounds the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims for restitution.In this case, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her sole state law damages claim and chose to proceed with only state law equitable claims for restitution and injunctive relief. Plaintiff did so in an attempt to try the class action as a bench trial rather than to a jury.Pursuant to Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), and Guaranty Trust Co. of New York v. York, 326 U.S. 99 (1945), the panel held that federal courts must apply equitable principles derived from federal common law to claims for equitable restitution under California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). The panel explained that state law cannot circumscribe a federal court's equitable powers even when state law affords the rule of decision. The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff leave to amend her complaint for a third time to reallege the CLRA damages claim. In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that she lacked an adequate legal remedy. View "Sonner v. Premier Nutrition Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against pet food manufacturers and others, challenging the marketing of so-called prescription pet food under California's consumer protection laws and federal antitrust law. Plaintiffs alleged that the prescription requirement and advertising lead reasonable consumers falsely to believe that such food has been subject to government inspection and oversight, and has medicinal and drug properties, causing consumers to pay more or purchase the product when they otherwise would not have.The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims under California's Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act for failure to state a claim. The panel held that the district court erred in dismissing the California state law consumer protection claims, because plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged a deceptive practice under the reasonable consumer test. The panel also held that plaintiffs' complaint satisfies the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) heightened pleading standard in alleging fraud. In this case, plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts to show that prescription pet food and other pet food were not materially different. Finally, the panel held that plaintiffs alleged sufficient reliance based on the word "prescription" and the "Rx" symbol. View "Moore v. Mars Petcare US, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action raising warranty claims arising out of crashes or injuries caused by the alleged "rollaway effect" of certain Honda Civic vehicles. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA) and state law for express and implied warranty against Honda.The Ninth Circuit held that the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) may not be used to evade or override the MMWA's specific numerosity requirement. In this case, plaintiffs name only three individuals, but argue that, by satisfying CAFA requirements, they are relieved of the MMWA's obligation to name at least one hundred plaintiffs. The panel rejected plaintiffs' argument and affirmed the district court's dismissal of the MMWA claim. The panel vacated the district court's dismissal of the state law claims, holding that the district court erred in not considering whether plaintiffs' state law claims met the diversity requirements of CAFA even if the MMWA claim failed. Therefore, the district court improperly dismissed the state law claims based only on lack of supplemental jurisdiction. View "Floyd v. American Honda Motor, Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that defendants' garnishment of his wages violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and California law.The panel held that the Hatch Act Reform Amendments of 1993, the federal statute permitting garnishment of federal employees' wages, 5 U.S.C. 5520a, waived the federal government's sovereign immunity and subjected a federal employee's pay to legal process in the same manner and to the same extent as if the agency were a private person. Therefore, under the statute, federal employees' wages are subject to garnishment to the extent allowed by state law. In this case, plaintiff's federal wages were properly garnished under California law where the garnishment order was properly served on the federal government and plaintiff remained a government employee. The panel held that plaintiff's remaining arguments are unpersuasive. View "Farrell v. Boeing Employees Credit Union" on Justia Law

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A judicial foreclosure proceeding is not a form of debt collection when the proceeding does not include a request for a deficiency judgment or some other effort to recover the remaining debt. If a foreclosure plaintiff seeks not only to foreclose on the property but also to recover the remainder of the debt through a deficiency judgment, then the plaintiff is attempting to collect a debt within the meaning of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). But if the plaintiff is simply enforcing a security interest by retaking or forcing a sale of the property, without regard to any additional debt that may be owed, then the FDCPA does not apply.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act over a judicial foreclosure proceeding in Oregon. The panel held that plaintiff pleaded no conduct by the defendants beyond the filing of a foreclosure complaint and actions to effectuate that proceeding. View "Barnes v. Routh Crabtree Olsen PC" on Justia Law