Justia Consumer Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Smith v. General Motors LLC
In 2005-2006, GM changed the dashboard used for GMT900 model cars from a multi-piece design to a single-piece design, which made the dashboard prone to cracking in two places. Plaintiffs, from 25 states, alleged that GMT900 vehicles produced in 2007-2014 contained a faulty, dangerous dashboard and that GM knew of the defective dashboards before GTM900 vehicles hit the market. The complaint contained no allegation that any of the plaintiffs have been hurt by the allegedly defective dashboards. The complaint, filed on behalf of a nationwide class, alleged fraudulent concealment, unjust enrichment, and violations of state consumer protection statutes and the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. At worst, Plaintiffs suffered only cosmetic damage and a potential reduced resale value from owning cars with cracked dashboards. Although the plaintiffs claimed that routine testing, customer complaints, and increased warranty claims alerted GM to the defective dashboards and accompanying danger, that is not enough to survive a motion to dismiss without specifics about how and when GM learned about the defect and its hazards, and concealed the allegedly dangerous defect from consumers. Even accepting that GM produced defective vehicles, under the common legal principles of the several states, the plaintiffs must show that GM had sufficient knowledge of the harmful defect to render its sales fraudulent. View "Smith v. General Motors LLC" on Justia Law
Donovan v. FirstCredit, Inc.
Donovan received from FirstCredit a letter demanding payment of a purported medical debt. The letter's envelope had two transparent glassine windows on its face, taking up most of the left half of the envelope. Because the letter, when folded, is smaller than the envelope, the text visible through the windows depends in part on where the letter is sitting within the envelope. No matter how the letter is situated, Donovan’s name and address are always visible as is an empty checkbox followed by the phrase “Payment in full is enclosed.” Sometimes, a second empty checkbox followed by “I need to discuss this further. My phone number is _____,” is visible. Donovan alleged that the visibility of the checkboxes and the accompanying language created the risk that anyone who saw her mail would recognize that she was receiving mail from a debt collector, seeing relief under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692. The district court granted FirstCredit judgment.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Donovan has standing. Her injury is “particularized” and “actual.” The letter that caused her injury was addressed and sent to Donovan specifically. The statute does not include a “benign language exception” and unambiguously prohibits the use of language or symbols on debt collectors’ envelopes, excepting language or symbols to ensure the successful delivery of the communication, the collector’s address, and the collector’s “business name,” if the name does not indicate the debt collection business. View "Donovan v. FirstCredit, Inc." on Justia Law
Allan v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency
Wilson, with the help of co-signer Allan, took out a student loan serviced by PHEAA. The two submitted a written request for forbearance on the loan and, in doing so, consented to calls to their cell phones. In October 2013, however, both requested that PHEAA stop calling about the loan. Despite their requests, PHEAA called Allan 219 times and Wilson 134 times, after they revoked consent. They claim that those calls violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227 (TCPA), which generally makes it a finable offense to use an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) to make unconsented-to calls or texts.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. Section 227(a) provides that a device that generates and dials random or sequential numbers qualifies as an ATDS. The Avaya system used by PHEAA dials from a stored list of numbers only. The court concluded that the plain text of section 227, read in its entirety, makes clear that devices that dial from a stored list of numbers are subject to the autodialer ban. View "Allan v. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency" on Justia Law
Bates v. Green Farms Condominium Association
The Bateses lost their condominium through a nonjudicial foreclosure. They claim the condo complex’s management company and its law firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which generally defines “debt collectors” to cover parties who operate a “business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts” or who “regularly collect or attempt to collect” debts owed another, 15 U.S.C. 1692a(6). The Act contains a separate debt-collector definition for subsection 1692f(6), regulating parties who operate a “business the principal purpose of which is the enforcement of security interests.” General debt collectors must comply with all of the Act’s protections; security-interest enforcers need only comply with section 1692f(6). In 2019, the Supreme Court held (Obduskey) that parties who assist creditors with the nonjudicial foreclosure of a home fall within the separate definition, not the general one. Obduskey left open the possibility that these parties might engage in “other conduct” that would transform them from security interest enforcers into general debt collectors, subject to all of the Act’s regulations. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment on the pleadings for the defendants. The Bateses’ complaint did not plead enough facts to take the defendants outside the separate definition for security-interest enforcers and bring them within the general debt-collector definition; there were almost no well-pleaded allegations about the principal business or regular activities of either. View "Bates v. Green Farms Condominium Association" on Justia Law
Twumasi-Ankrah v. Checkr, Inc.
Twumasi-Ankrah is an Uber driver. Uber requested a background check on Twumasi-Ankrah from, Checkr, a consumer reporting agency under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681a(f). Checkr learned from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles that Twumasi-Ankrah had been involved in “accidents,” dated October 23, 2015; December 19, 2015; and February 10, 2017. Checkr gave this information to Uber, without further investigation, knowing that the Bureau reports all accidents that a driver is involved in, regardless of fault. Uber fired Twumasi-Ankrah, allegedly because it assumed Twumasi-Ankrah was responsible for the accidents. Twumasi-Ankrah sent Checkr a legal document adjudging him “not guilty” of the December 19, 2015 minor traffic offense and a police report treating him as the victim of the hit-and-run allegedly at issue on February 10, 2017. Twumasi-Ankrah’s requests for reconsideration went unheeded. Twumasi-Ankrah claimed that Checkr violated FCRA by failing to “follow reasonable procedures to assure [the] maximum possible accuracy” of its reporting. The district court dismissed, finding that Twumasi-Ankrah failed plausibly to allege that Checkr reported information that was literally “factually inaccurate.” The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. FCRA requires that credit reports be both accurate and not misleading. Taken as true, the complaint plausibly suggests that Checkr reported “misleading” information about Twumasi-Ankrah that could have been “expected to have an adverse effect.” View "Twumasi-Ankrah v. Checkr, Inc." on Justia Law
Nessel v. AmeriGas Partners. L.P.
Michigan filed suit, alleging that AmeriGas, Michigan's largest provider of residential propane, violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (MCPA). Section 10 of the MCPA, Mich. Comp. Laws 445.910, titled “class actions by attorney general,” 10 states that: The attorney general may bring a class action on behalf of persons residing in or injured in this state for the actual damages caused by any of the following: (a) A method, act or practice in trade or commerce defined as unlawful under section 3 [unfair, unconscionable, or deceptive methods, acts, or practices].AmeriGas removed the case to federal court, citing the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 119 Stat. 4. The district court remanded to state court, finding that the lawsuit did not qualify as a “class action” because Section 10 “lacks the core requirements of typicality, commonality, adequacy, and numerosity that are necessary to certify a class under [Federal Rule of Civil Procedure] 23.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Section 10 is not a state statute “similar” to Rule 23 for purposes of CAFA removability, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(1)(B). The court declined “to effectively invalidate the Michigan Legislature’s determination that an Attorney General should be able to sue for injuries to consumers pursuant to Section 10.” View "Nessel v. AmeriGas Partners. L.P." on Justia Law
Cagayat v. United Collection Bureau, Inc.
Cagayat alleges that UCB sent her two consumer debt collection letters that “featured a large glassine window, through which a paper page with [Cagayat]’s name and address is visible.” Written on the inward side of the paper page inside the envelopes are the words “Collection Bureau.” According to Cagayat, those words “bleed through the paper page and are clearly visible . . . to the naked eye.” She claims that someone looking at the envelopes in normal lighting can clearly read, without unusual strain or effort, the message: “United Collection Bureau, Inc. Compliance Department.” Cagayat claims that her daughter saw the letters and recognized that a debt collector sent them. Cagayat sought damages under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692- 1692p, and the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act.The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, finding that the exhibits Cagayat attached to her complaint (copies of the letters) do not utterly discredit the factual allegations central to her claim and that her factual allegations give rise to a plausible violation. Applying the least sophisticated consumer standard, the fact that the words “Collection Bureau” are upside-down and backward does not discredit Cagayat’s assertion that the language can be clearly read without unusual effort. View "Cagayat v. United Collection Bureau, Inc." on Justia Law
VanderKodde v. Mary Jane M. Elliott, P.C.
Defendants bought consumer debts. Collection proceedings in Michigan state court suit resulted in a judgment against each plaintiff. The defendants employed Michigan’s simplified post-judgment garnishment procedure. None of the debtors timely objected. The rate of post-judgment interest “is calculated on the entire amount of the money judgment, including attorney fees and other costs,” using a complex formula. The Michigan Department of Treasury’s website lists every judgment interest rate calculated using this method. During the 11-year period at issue, it reached a peak of 4.033% and a valley of 0.687%. The plaintiffs’ debts were, instead, subjected to a rate of 13%, the maximum interest rate allowed for a judgment “rendered on a written instrument evidencing indebtedness with a specified [or variable] interest rate” although the underlying default judgments specify that they are “not based on a note or other written evidence of indebtedness,” and none of the judgments include any supporting written instrument.The plaintiffs alleged that using the 13% rate was improper and filed a federal suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, and the Michigan Collection Practices Act. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the debtors’ suit. The suit “is not the rare one" subject to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which federal courts are prohibited from reviewing appeals of state-court decisions. The plaintiffs' injuries stemmed from the defendant’s conduct, not the state-court judgment. View "VanderKodde v. Mary Jane M. Elliott, P.C." on Justia Law
Van Hoven v. Buckles & Buckles, P.L.C.
Van Hoven, a Michigan attorney, defaulted on a credit card debt. The Buckles law firm, collecting the debt, won a state court lawsuit. Van Hoven did not pay. Buckles filed four requests for writs of garnishment. Van Hoven says those requests violated the Michigan Court Rules by including the costs of the request ($15 filing fee) in the amount due and, in later requests, adding the costs of prior failed garnishments. Van Hoven filed a class-action lawsuit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits debt collectors from making false statements in their dunning demands, 15 U.S.C. 1692e. Years later, after “Stalingrad litigation” tactics, discovery sanctions, and professional misconduct allegations, Van Hoven won. The court awarded 168 class members $3,662 in damages. Van Hoven’s attorneys won $186,680 in attorney’s fees.The Sixth Circuit vacated. When Buckles asked for all total costs, including those of any garnishment request to date, it did not make a “false, deceptive, or misleading representation.” It was a reasonable request at the time and likely reflected the best interpretation of the Michigan Rules. The court remanded for determinations of whether Buckles made “bona fide” mistakes of fact in including certain costs of prior failed garnishments and whether its procedure for preventing such mistakes suffices. In some instances, Buckles included the costs of garnishments that failed because the garnishee did not hold any property subject to garnishment or was not the debtor’s employer. View "Van Hoven v. Buckles & Buckles, P.L.C." on Justia Law
Buchholz v. Meyer Njus Tanick, PA
Buchholz received two letters about overdue payments he owed on credit accounts. The letters came from MNT law firm, on MNT’s letterhead. Each referred to a specific account but the content is identical except for information regarding that specific account. MNT attorney Harms signed both letters; Buchholz alleges that MNT must have inserted “some sort of pre-populated or stock signature.” The letters do not threaten legal action but purport to be communications from a debt collector and explain that MNT has been retained to collect the above-referenced debts. Buchholz alleges that he felt anxiety that he would be subjected to legal action if prompt payment was not made and sued under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692e, e(3), and e(10), asserting that MNT processes such a high volume of debt-collection letters that MNT attorneys cannot engage in meaningful review of the underlying accounts. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint for lack of standing. Buchholz has shown no injury-in-fact that is traceable to MNT’s challenged conduct. Buchholz’s allegation of anxiety falls short of the injury-in-fact requirement; it amounts to an allegation of fear of something that may or may not occur in the future. Buchholz is anxious about the consequences of his decision to not pay the debts that he does not dispute he owes; if the plaintiff caused his own injury, he cannot draw a connection between that injury and the defendant’s conduct. View "Buchholz v. Meyer Njus Tanick, PA" on Justia Law