Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Moyer failed to pay her credit-card debt. The card issuer hired Patenaude to collect it. Patenaude sent Moyer a one-page, single-sided collection letter that stated: If you wish to eliminate further collection action, please contact us at …. This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose. Moyer sued Patenaude under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), arguing the letter’s second sentence, “to eliminate further collection action, please contact us," would deceive a debtor and lead a debtor to believe that a phone call is a “legally effective way to stop such collection action” when, in reality, only written communication can legally stop collection activity. Moyer claimed that the Contact Sentence would make a debtor uncertain about her right to dispute the debt in writing.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Patenaude. The letter included statements that inform the consumer how to obtain verification of the debt and that she had 30 days in which to do so. Patenaude invited Moyer to call to “eliminate” collection action, but never asserted, explicitly or implicitly, that the phone call would, by law, force Patenaude to cease its collection efforts. View "Moyer v. Patenaude & Felix A.P.C." on Justia Law

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In 2012, Earl contracted for the purchase of a house in Allegheny County from NVR, the seller and builder of the house. NVR's agents made representations about the house’s construction, condition, and amenities, including that the house would be constructed in a good and workmanlike manner; that NVR would remedy any deficiencies; and that the house would be constructed in accordance with relevant building codes and standards. Construction was completed around March 2013. Upon moving in, Earl encountered several material defects. NVR’s attempts to repair the defects were inadequate and exacerbated some of the issues, despite NVR’s assurances that the problems were remedied. Several promised conditions and amenities that Earl had relied upon had not been provided.Earl, claiming that NVR’s failure to provide the promised conditions and amenities of the agreement were knowing and willful, sued for violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) and breach of implied warranty of habitability. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of her UTPCPL claim. Rulings by Pennsylvania appellate courts subsequent to an earlier Third Circuit holding have cast substantial doubt upon the continuing validity of prior interpretations of the UTPCPL. The economic loss and “gist of the action” doctrines no longer bar UTPCPL claims. View "Earl v. NVR Inc" on Justia Law

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Sun made news ink at its East Rutherford facility and purchased a dust-collection system that included a Fike suppression system to contain explosions in case of a fire in the collection system. On the first day the system was fully operational, the dust-collection system caught fire. The suppression system activated an alarm that workers did not hear. After workers saw flames and extinguished the fire, an explosion sent flames out of the dust-collector system’s ducts, severely injuring several Sun employees and causing significant property damage. The ensuing government investigations caused Sun to end production at the facility.Sun sued Fike under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), N.J. Stat. 56:8-1, alleging that Fike misrepresented that: the suppression-system alarm would be audible and would comply with a specific industry standard; Fike would provide training to Sun employees; the suppression system had never experienced failures in the field; and the system was capable of preventing an explosion from entering the facility. The Third Circuit certified an issue to the New Jersey Supreme Court, then, consistent with the response, held that some of Sun’s CFA claims are absorbed and precluded by the New Jersey Products Liability Act, N.J. Stat. 2A:58C-1, and some are not. As to Sun’s remaining CFA claims, the court concluded that Sun demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sun Chemical Corp v. Fike Corp" on Justia Law

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Navient sells student loans to borrowers and services and collects on student loans. Its “subprime loans,” which had high variable interest rates and origination fees, benefited schools by maximizing enrollment. Student borrowers were not informed that the loans had a high likelihood of default. In 2000-2007, 68-87% of Navient’s high-risk loans defaulted. Navient allegedly steered borrowers into consecutive forbearances after they had demonstrated a long-term inability to repay their loans. Navient would sometimes place borrowers in forbearance even though they would have qualified for $0 per month payments in an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan. In 2011-2015, more than 60% of Navient’s borrowers who enrolled in IDR plans failed timely to renew their enrollment, allegedly because of deficient notifications. Navient also allegedly made misrepresentations concerning releases for cosigners and misapplied payments, resulting in borrowers and cosigners being improperly charged late fees and increased interest.Pennsylvania sued Navient under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, 12 U.S.C. 5552, and the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Nine months earlier, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the states of Illinois and Washington had filed similar lawsuits. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss. The federal Act permits concurrent action. The Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1001, preempts state law claims based on failures to disclose required information but does not preempt claims based on affirmative misrepresentations. View "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Navient Corp" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs obtained payday loans from AWL, an online entity owned by the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians. The loan agreement stated that the loan was governed by tribal law and that the borrowers consented to the application of tribal law. The plaintiffs filed a purported class action, asserting that AWL charged unlawfully high interest rates, in violation of federal and Pennsylvania law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968. The defendants moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied their motion, holding that the loan agreements, which provided that only tribal law would apply in arbitration, stripped the plaintiffs of their right to assert statutory claims and were therefore unenforceable. The Third Circuit affirmed. Because AWL permits borrowers to raise disputes in arbitration only under tribal law, and such a limitation constitutes a prospective waiver of statutory rights, its arbitration agreement violates public policy and is therefore unenforceable. View "Williams v. Medley Opportunity Fund II, LP" on Justia Law

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Six U.S. plaintiffs rented cars from Payless. Each signed a one-page agreement, itemizing charges, below the final paragraph, which provides: “I agree the charges listed above are estimates and that I have reviewed & agreed to all notices & terms here and in the rental jacket.” After they signed their agreements, the rental associate folded the agreement, placed it a “rental jacket,” and handed it back. The rental jacket bears the title “Rental Terms and Conditions” and contains 31 paragraphs. The word “jacket” appears in only the second paragraph. The twenty-eighth paragraph requires arbitration. The rental associates said nothing about the rental jacket. Lee rented a car in Costa Rica, using a two-sided document. The front side contains the details of the transaction. The back is titled “Rental Agreement” and includes pre-printed terms, including an arbitration clause. Both sides have signature lines but Lee signed the only front.Plaintiffs brought a putative class action, alleging violations of New Jersey, Florida, and Nevada consumer protection statutes, unjust enrichment, and conversion, alleging that they were charged for products and services that they had not authorized. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to compel arbitration. The rental jackets were not adequately incorporated into the U.S. Agreements; the U.S. Plaintiffs did not assent to the arbitration provision. A genuine dispute exists over whether Lee was on reasonable notice of the arbitration provision on the backside of the Costa Rica Agreement. View "Bacon v. Avis Budget Group Inc" on Justia Law

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Riccio fell behind on payments to M-Shell. Sentry Credit bought the debt and sought to collect it, sending Riccio a letter containing a notification that described how to contact Sentry by phone, mail, or email. Riccio sued, alleging the letter violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692g(a)(3) by providing a debtor with multiple options for contacting Sentry rather than explicitly requiring any dispute be in writing. Sentry agreed that it had to require Riccio to dispute the debt in writing but viewed its letter as complying with that requirement. The district court granted Sentry judgment on the pleadings. The Third Circuit affirmed, overruling its own precedent. Debt collection notices sent under section 1692g need not require that disputes be expressed in writing. Sentry’s notice perfectly tracked sect 1692g’s text. View "Riccio v. Sentry Credit Inc" on Justia Law

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Health benefit plans sued GSK, the manufacturer of the prescription drug Avandia, under state consumer-protection laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 (RICO), based on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as having benefits to justify its price, which was higher than the price of other drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes. The district court granted GSK summary judgment, finding that the state-law consumer-protection claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. ch. 9; the Plans had failed to identify a sufficient “enterprise” for purposes of RICO; and the Plans’ arguments related to GSK’s alleged attempts to market Avandia as providing cardiovascular “benefits” were “belated.” The Third Circuit reversed, applying the Supreme Court’s 2019 "Merck" decision. The state-law consumer-protection claims are not preempted by the FDCA. The Plans should have been given the opportunity to seek discovery before summary judgment on the RICO claims. Further, from the inception of this litigation, the Plans’ claims have centered on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as providing cardiovascular benefits as compared to other forms of treatment, so the district court’s refusal to consider the Plans’ “benefits” arguments was in error because those arguments were timely raised. View "In re: Avandia Marketing, Sales and Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Wolfington brought a claim under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1601, stemming from reconstructive knee surgery he received from Reconstructive Orthopaedic Associates (the Rothman Institute). Wolfington alleged that Rothman failed to provide disclosures required by the Act when it permitted him to pay his deductible in monthly installments following surgery. The district court entered judgment, rejecting Wolfington’s claim because it determined he had failed to allege that credit had been extended to him in a “written agreement,” as required by the Act’s implementing regulation, Regulation Z. The court also sua sponte imposed sanctions on Wolfington’s counsel. The Third Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that Wolfington failed to adequately allege the existence of a written agreement, but concluded that counsel’s investigation and conduct were not unreasonable. In imposing sanctions, the district court placed emphasis on the statement by Rothman’s counsel, not Wolfington’s. The statement by Wolfington’s counsel did not amount to an “unequivocal” admission that there was no written agreement. View "Wolfington v. Reconstructive Orthopaedic Associates II, PC" on Justia Law

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DiNaples fell behind on her Chase credit card payments. Chase assigned her account to MRS, a debt collection agency, which sent DiNaples a collection letter as a pressure sealed envelope that had a QR code printed on its face. The QR code can be scanned by a reader downloadable as a smartphone application to reveal the internal reference number associated with DiNaples’s account at MRS. DiNaples filed a class action lawsuit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692–1692, which prohibits debt collectors from “[u]sing any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails.” The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment that MRS violated the FDCPA. A debt collector violates section 1692f(8) by placing on an envelope the consumer’s account number with the debt collector. There is no meaningful difference between displaying the account number itself and displaying a QR code — scannable “by any teenager with a smartphone app” — with the number embedded. The court rejected MRS’s contention that DiNaples had not “suffered a concrete injury,” explaining that DiNaples was injured by “the disclosure of confidential information,” and rejected MRS’s assertion of the FDCPA’s “bona fide error defense.” View "Dinaples v. MRS BPO LLC" on Justia Law