Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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In this case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the appellant, Paulette Barclift, sued Keystone Credit Services, LLC ("Keystone") for allegedly violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"). Barclift claimed that Keystone unlawfully communicated her personal information to a third-party mailing vendor, RevSpring, without her consent. She sought to represent a class of similarly situated plaintiffs. The District Court dismissed her suit on the grounds that she did not allege an injury sufficient to establish standing under Article III of the United States Constitution.Upon appeal, the Third Circuit agreed with the lower court that Barclift lacked standing, but modified the District Court's order so that the dismissal would be without prejudice. The court found that Barclift's alleged harm—embarrassment and distress caused by the disclosure of her personal information to a single intermediary (RevSpring)—did not bear a close relationship to a harm traditionally recognized by American courts, such as the public disclosure of private facts. Therefore, the court concluded that Barclift did not suffer a concrete injury and could not establish Article III standing. The court further held that the possibility of future harm was too speculative to establish a concrete injury. The case was dismissed without prejudice, allowing Barclift the opportunity to amend her complaint if she can allege a concrete injury. View "Barclift v. Keystone Credit Services LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Maria Del Rosario Hernandez, filed a lawsuit against MicroBilt Corporation alleging the company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act after the lender denied her loan application based on inaccurate information provided by a MicroBilt product. MicroBilt moved to compel arbitration based on the terms and conditions that Hernandez agreed to while applying for the loan, which included an arbitration provision. However, Hernandez had already submitted her claims to the American Arbitration Association (AAA) for arbitration.The AAA notified MicroBilt that its agreement with Hernandez was a consumer agreement, which meant the AAA's Consumer Arbitration Rules applied. Applying these rules, the AAA notified MicroBilt that its arbitration provision included a material or substantial deviation from the Consumer Rules and/or Protocol. Specifically, the provision’s limitation on damages conflicted with the Consumer Due Process Protocol, which requires that an arbitrator should be empowered to grant whatever relief would be available in court under law or in equity. After MicroBilt did not waive the damages limitation, the AAA declined to administer the arbitration under Rule 1(d).MicroBilt asked Hernandez to submit her claims to a different arbitrator, but she refused, requesting a hearing before the District Court. She argued that she must now pursue her claims in court because the AAA dismissed the case under Rule 1(d). The District Court reinstated Hernandez’s complaint and granted MicroBilt leave to move to compel arbitration under 9 U.S.C. § 4. However, the District Court denied MicroBilt’s motion to compel, leading to this appeal.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that Hernandez had fully complied with MicroBilt’s arbitration provision, which allowed her to pursue her claims in court. The court held that it lacked the authority to compel arbitration. The court rejected MicroBilt's arguments that the AAA administrator improperly resolved an arbitrability issue that should have been resolved by an arbitrator, that the provision’s Exclusive Resolution clause conflicted with Hernandez’s return to court, and that the AAA’s application of the Consumer Due Process Protocol was unreasonable. The court concluded that it lacked the authority to review the AAA’s decision or to sever the damages limitation from the arbitration provision. View "Hernandez v. MicroBilt Corp" on Justia Law

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Huber visited Crozer doctors on four separate occasions, incurring debts to Crozer of $178, $78, $83.50, and $178. Crozer's debt collection agency, SAI, sent a form collection letter, with an “Account Summary” that provided two figures: the specific debt SAI sought to collect, entitled “Amount,” and a second figure, entitled “Various Other Acc[oun]ts Total Balance.” The fourth such letter to Huber informed Huber that she owed an “Amount” of $178, while her “Various Other Accounts Total Balance” was $517.50. Huber testified that she was confused as to how much she owed in total: Was it $695.50 or $517.50. She consulted a financial advisor.Huber filed this putative class action, asserting a “false, deceptive, or misleading” means of collecting a debt and failure to disclose the “amount of the debt” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692. The district court held, on summary judgment, that there was no actionable failure to disclose but found the letters “misleading and deceptive,” and certified the class.The Third Circuit affirmed. Huber has standing, but not under the “informational injury doctrine.” Huber did not identify omitted information to which she has entitlement but the financial harm she suffered in reliance on the letter bears a “close relationship” to the harm associated with the tort of fraudulent misrepresentation. The court remanded for determination of whether any of the class members suffered any consequences beyond confusion. View "Huber v. Simons Agency Inc" on Justia Law

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Ingram discovered a fraudulent Comcast account in his name for an address where he never lived. Ingram filed a direct dispute with Comcast, which requested several documents, including a notarized FTC fraud and identity theft affidavit. Ingram did not provide that affidavit. Comcast did not decide whether the account was opened fraudulently but referred it to Waypoint for collection. Waypoint then reported the delinquent account to the consumer reporting agency Experian. After the Waypoint account appeared on Ingram’s consumer report, Ingram challenged it in an indirect dispute with Experian, which forwarded notice of the dispute to Waypoint. Waypoint’s employee updated Ingram’s address and confirmed the account name and social security number, but did not further investigate. Waypoint continued to erroneously report that the Comcast account with a balance of $769. Ingram alleges that as a result, his credit score deteriorated and he was denied an apartment rental and loan application. Ingram filed suit under the Fair Credit Reporting and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Acts.The Third Circuit remanded for evaluation of whether Waypoint’s investigation into Ingram’s indirect dispute was reasonable. Furnishers may find that a direct dispute submitted by a consumer is frivolous, and consumer reporting agencies may find that an indirect dispute submitted by a consumer is frivolous but FCRA provides no such discretion to furnishers that receive an indirect dispute second-hand from a consumer reporting agency. View "Ingram v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law

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Since 1992, the Energy Star Program has set energy efficiency standards for categories of products and permitted approved products to bear the Energy Star logo. Three models of Whirlpool top-loading clothes washers were approved to display that logo and did so from 2009-2010. Under one method of measurement, those machines did not meet the Program’s energy- and water-efficiency standards; the washers did satisfy the Program’s standards under another measurement technique, which the Program previously endorsed. Program guidance from July 2010 disapproved of that method.Consumers in several states who had purchased those models commenced a putative class action against Whirlpool and retailers that sold those machines, alleging breach of express warranty and violations of state consumer protection statutes based on the allegedly wrongful display of the Energy Star logo. The district court certified a class action against Whirlpool but declined to certify a class against the retailers. At summary judgment, the court rejected all remaining claims.The Third Circuit affirmed, finding no genuine dispute of material fact. The plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the models were unfit for their intended purpose. A reasonable jury could not find that the retailer defendants were unjustly enriched from selling the washers. Without evidence of a false or misleading statement attributable to Whirlpool or the retailers, the state consumer protection claims failed. View "Dzielak v. Whirlpool Corp" on Justia Law

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Three men joined in a shootout, but only Rogers was convicted of murdering a bystander caught in their crossfire. At his trial, Rogers’s attorney did not object while the trial judge admonished a trial witness (Singleton) about perjury after that witness gave testimony favorable to Rogers. The attorney offered no arguments when Singleton changed his testimony and did not cross-examine Singleton about the change. The Third Circuit reversed the denial of habeas relief. Counsel’s failure to object to the trial judge’s admonishment, conduct he “did not think” was problematic, fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under “Strickland” as did counsel’s later failure to cross-examine Singleton regarding his changed testimony. Counsel characterized Singleton as “a liar, trying to help his buddy out,” whose testimony would not be “determinative of the outcome of this case,” but Singleton was the only witness to ever claim Rogers shot first—the ultimate issue in the case. Had Rogers’s counsel objected to the trial judge’s admonishment of Singleton and cross-examined Singleton about his changed testimony, “a reasonable probability” exists that “the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Without Singleton’s testimony against Rogers, the prosecution’s remaining evidence was negligible. View "Rogers v. Superintendent Greene SCI" on Justia Law

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Weichsel's Chase credit card member agreement discloses an “Annual Membership Fee” to be added to his billing statement and that Weichsel may request an additional card for an authorized user. A “Rates and Fees Table” discloses the annual membership fee as $450 plus $75 for each additional card. Weichsel included one additional user. Weichsel alleges that his December 2019 billing statement included a renewal notice, stating that Weichsel’s annual $525.00 membership fee would be billed on 02/01/2020, how the fee would be charged, and how Weichsel could avoid it. The notice did not specify the breakdown: $450 for the primary cardholder and $75 for the additional user. The fee appeared as separate items on Weichsel’s February 2020 billing statement: a $450 charge and another for $75. Weichsel paid $525 but claims that “[h]ad [he] been aware” he could retain his credit card for $450, he would have paid only that amount. Weichsel filed a putative class action, alleging that Chase’s failure to itemize each component of the renewal fee in the December 2019 renewal notice violated the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. 1601, and Regulation Z.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Weichsel had standing; he suffered an economic injury based on his assertion that he would not have paid the full $525 if he had known it included the additional card fee. However, neither TILA nor Regulation Z expressly mandates disclosure of each individual component of the total annual fee in a renewal notice. Regulation Z requires itemization of fees on other disclosures but lacks such a requirement for renewal notices. View "Weichsel v. JP Morgan Chase Bank NA" on Justia Law

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Lutz received a Capital One credit card, made purchases, and obtained cash advances with the card. Under the credit card agreement, Lutz could make minimum installment payments with interest at an annual rate of up to 22.90% on any unpaid monthly balance. His account balance rose to $2,343.76, including at least $341.67 in interest that had accrued at an annual rate of 22.90%. When Lutz failed to pay, Capital One sold the charged-off account to PRA, which is not a bank and cannot issue credit cards. PRA holds a license from the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities to make motor vehicle loans and to charge interest at 18-21% on those loans but PRA’s sole business involves purchasing defaulted consumer debt at a discount and then attempting to collect the debt. PRA obtained a default judgment against Lutz.Lutz filed a putative class action against PRA under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692e, 1692f, alleging that PRA made false statements about debt and attempted to collect a debt not permitted by law, citing alleged violations of Pennsylvania’s Consumer Discount Company Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Lutz did not plausibly allege that Pennsylvania law prohibited PRA from collecting interest that had previously accrued at greater than 6% annually. PRA is not in the business of negotiating loans or advances and is not subject to the CDCA and its limitations on collecting interest. View "Lutz v. Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC" on Justia Law

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OneMain, a non-bank finance company, loaned Zirpoli $6,200.08, to be repaid at a rate of 26.91% (total $11,364.35). The loan was issued under the Consumer Discount Company Act (CDCA), a consumer protection statute, which creates an exception to Pennsylvania’s usury law. The loan is governed by a disclosure statement, a security agreement, and an arbitration agreement. Later, OneMain sold delinquent accounts to Midland, including Zirpoli’s loan. Midland sued Zirpoli but later dismissed the suit and undertook collection efforts.Zirpoli filed a class action, alleging that Midland’s collection activities constituted an unlawful attempt to collect the loan because Midland does not have a CDCA license and never obtained nor requested approval from the Department of Banking. Midland was, therefore, not lawfully permitted to purchase the loan. Midland moved to compel arbitration. The court denied the motion, focusing on the validity of the assignment from OneMain and Midland. The Third Circuit vacated. The ultimate illegality of a contract does not automatically negate the parties’ agreement that an arbitrator should resolve disputes arising from the contract. The parties to the loan clearly agreed to arbitrate the issue of arbitrability. The arbitration agreement provides that an arbitrator shall resolve the arbitrability of defenses to enforcement, including alleged violations of state usury laws. View "Zirpoli v. Midland Funding LLC" on Justia Law

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The consumers had rental applications denied based on inaccurate consumer reports generated by a consumer reporting agency, RealPage, which would not correct the reports unless the consumers obtained proof of the error from its sources. The identity of RealPage’s sources was not included in the disclosures to the consumers, despite their requests for their files. The consumers sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681, to disclose on request “[a]ll information in the consumer’s file at the time of the request” and “[t]he sources of th[at] information,” seeking damages and attorneys’ fees for themselves and on behalf of a purported class and subclass.The district court denied their Rule 23(b)(3) motion for class certification, citing the Rule’s predominance and superiority requirements and finding that their proposed class and subclass were not ascertainable. The Third Circuit vacated. The district court based its predominance analysis on a misinterpretation of Section 1681g(a), erroneously concluding that individualized proof would be needed to distinguish requests for “reports” from those for “files.” The court also misapplied ascertainability precedents. The consumers have standing, having made the requisite showing of the omission of information to which they claim entitlement, “adverse effects” that flow from the omission, and the requisite nexus to the protected “concrete interest.” View "Kelly v. RealPage Inc" on Justia Law