Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2012, the executives of several Japanese auto-parts manufacturers pled guilty to federal crimes based on an international scheme to fix the price of Automotive Wire Harness Systems (AWHS). Three years later, the State of Mississippi sued the American subsidiaries of these federally prosecuted companies, alleging violations of the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) and the Mississippi Antitrust Act (MAA), as well as a civil conspiracy to violate the MCPA and MAA. The trial court dismissed the State’s complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The State appealed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed: the alleged unfair trade practices were too remote in time to support the State’s claim for injunctive relief under the MCPA; the complaint alleged no “wholly intrastate” transactions that would make the alleged illegal cartel punishable under the MAA; and because the State alleged no viable claim for a statutory violation, its civil-conspiracy claim, based solely on the alleged statutory violations, also failed. View "Mississippi ex rel. Fitch v. Yazaki North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court decided in this case that when the government seeks civil penalties as well as an injunction or other equitable remedies under the unfair competition law (UCL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17200 et seq., or the false advertising law (FAL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17500 et seq., the causes of action are to be tried by the court rather than a jury. In the current writ proceeding in this case, the court of appeal concluded that the jury trial provision of the California Constitution should be interpreted to require a jury trial in any action brought under the UCL or FAL in which the government seeks civil penalties in addition to injunctive or other equitable relief. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the causes of action established by the UCL and FAL at issue in this case are equitable in nature and are properly tried by the court rather than by a jury; and (2) the United States Supreme Court decision in Tull v. United States, 481 U.S. 412 (1987), relied upon by the court of appeal below, does not govern this case. View "Nationwide Biweekly Administration, Inc. v. Superior Court of Alameda County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Merchant's surety, Travelers, alleging claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), alleging that 2017 collection letters were false or misleading and unfair or unconscionable for failing to disclose the time-barred nature of the debt. Plaintiff also alleged a claim under the Texas Debt Collection Act based on the same conduct. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Merchants, but on alternative grounds. The court held that the letters seeking collection of time-barred debt, filled with ambiguous offers and threats with no indication that the debt is old, much less that the limitations period has run, misrepresent the legal enforceability of the underlying debt in violation of 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2) and (10). View "Manuel v. Merchants and Professional Bureau, Inc." on Justia Law

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Luna is a former employee of Hansen, which employs over 1,100 big rig truckers, mechanics, dispatchers, and other support staff. Hansen’s hiring process involved a Commercial Driver Employment Application, which included notices and authorizations permitting Hansen to retrieve safety history and driving records, and conduct drug and background checks. Job applicants signed “the disclosure,” which appeared on a separate sheet of paper, and informed applicants “that reports verifying your previous employment, previous drug and alcohol test results, and your driving record may be obtained on you for employment purposes,” and “the authorization,” at the end of the Application, which indicated that an applicant’s signature authorized Hansen “to investigate my previous record of employment” and included other notices, waivers, and agreements unrelated to acquiring the consumer report. Luna filed a putative class action alleging Hansen ’s hiring process violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgement in favor of Hansen. FCRA forbids procurement of a consumer report for employment purposes unless “a clear and conspicuous disclosure has been made in writing ... in a document that consists solely of the disclosure.” 15 U.S.C. 1681b(b)(2)(A)(i). Hansen’s disclosure may have been provided alongside other application materials, but it appeared in a standalone document, as FCRA requires. View "Luna v. Hansen & Adkins Auto Transport, Inc." on Justia Law

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Mikhaeilpoor sued BMW and an auto dealership, asserting claims under the Song-Beverly Act (Civ. Code, 1790) stemming from her lease of a 2013 BMW. Mikhaeilpoor alleged that the defendants: failed to promptly replace her car or make restitution; failed to commence repairs aimed at conforming the car to its warranty; failed to make available adequate service and repair facilities; and breached express and implied warranties. A jury awarded $17,902.54 in compensatory damages and $17,902.54 in civil penalties. Mikhaeilpoor sought attorney fees of $344,639 under section 1794(d): $226,426, plus a 0.5 multiplier enhancement and $5,000 for the fee resolution process. Her motion was opposed as vastly overstating the work performed with excessive hourly rates and an unwarranted adjustment. The judge “went through all the bills” and was “aghast” that counsel sought $343,000 in fees for “a very simple case.” The court did not consider whether Mikhaeilpoor should have accepted a Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer, but calculated 225 hours at a $350 hourly rate and found that $95,900 was the reasonable amount of attorney fees. The court of appeal affirmed. The trial court was in the best position to evaluate the professional services rendered before it; its decision is supported by substantial evidence. View "Mikhaeilpoor v. BMW of North America, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case arose from Portfolio Recovery’s action to recover a credit card debt from respondent Jason Sanders under a common-law claim for an "account stated." The parties filed competing motions for summary judgment - Portfolio contending that it was entitled to summary judgment on the merits of its account-stated claim, and Sanders contending that he was entitled to summary judgment on his affirmative defense that the claim was governed by, and barred by, the statute of limitations of Virginia, a state with connections to the underlying credit card agreement. The Court of Appeals held that neither party was entitled to summary judgment, and both parties sought review. This case presented two issues for the Oregon Supreme Court's resolution: (1) whether an account-stated claim was established as a matter of law when a credit card customer failed to object to the amount listed as the "new balance" on a credit card statement; and (2) how Oregon's choice-of-law principles revolve a conflict between competing state statutes of limitations when the relevant substantive law of the two states is the same. The Court concurred with the appellate court's finding that neither party was entitled to prevail on summary judgment, and affirmed that ruling. View "Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC v. Sanders" on Justia Law

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In this case where a judgment creditor sought to garnish the judgment debtor's bank account, which, at one time, contained funds both exempt and nonexempt from garnishment, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the county court finding that the bank account consisted solely of exempt funds, holding that funds exempt from garnishment remain exempt, even when commingled with nonexempt funds, so long as the source of exempt funds is reasonably traceable. Plaintiff obtained a judgment against Defendant and sought to garnish Defendant's bank account. The court ordered that the non-exempt funds in the account be transferred to the court. Defendant requested a hearing, asserting that the funds were exempt from garnishment because the only funds in the account were Social Security payments. Plaintiff stated that at one point the account held non-exempt funds commingled with the Social Security funds but that the non-exempt funds had been spent. The county court ruled that the funds were exempt. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant met his burden to prove that the remaining funds in his account constituted exempt Social Security funds. View "Schaefer Shapiro, LLP v. Ball" on Justia Law

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Reynolds purchased a Ford truck. Over the next six years, Reynolds had the truck repaired 15 times but it continued to malfunction. Ford denied Reynolds’s request that it buy back or replace the truck under the Song-Beverly Act. Reynolds filed suit, raising several claims, including one under the Song-Beverly Act. The parties settled for $277,500.00. Ford agreed to “pay [Reynolds’s ] attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses pursuant to Civil Code section 1794(d) in an amount determined by the Court ... to have been reasonably incurred by [Reynolds].” Reynolds sought fees of $308,696.25. Reynolds had retained counsel on a contingency fee basis. The court conducted a lodestar analysis and awarded $201,891--compensation for 457.85 hours at reasonable hourly rates ($225-500/hour), plus a lodestar multiplier of 1.2, “reasonable and appropriate" to the objectives of the Act. The court ruled Reynolds had no obligation to disclose the terms of the retainer agreement: “Many statutory fee-award provisions begin with the lodestar method but are governed by the specific statutory requirement that the final fee award be ‘reasonable’ in nature. No such requirement is found in the Song-Beverly Act. The fee award must be based on the court’s calculation of the ‘actual time expended ... determined by the court to have been reasonabl[y] incurred. ... The court does not have the discretion to consider whether plaintiff’s attorney received additional compensation by ... a separate retaine[r] agreement. The court of appeal affirmed. Ford's concern that it is improper for a court to disregard a potential contingency fee award in determining the statutory fee under section 1794 is a question “more appropriately directed to the Legislature.” View "Reynolds v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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In November 2013, Washington voters rejected Initiative 522 (I-522), which would have required labels on packaged foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) opposed state-level GMO labeling laws, including I-522. Over the course of the 2013 election cycle, GMA solicited over $14 million in optional contributions from its member companies, $11 million of which went to support the “No on 522” political committee. The payments to No on 522 were attributed solely to GMA itself, with no indication of which companies had provided the funds. Prior to the initiation of this lawsuit, GMA was not registered as a political committee and did not make any reports to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). The State filed a complaint alleging that GMA intentionally violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA)'s registration and disclosure requirements and the FCPA’s prohibition on concealing the sources of election-related spending. GMA countered that it cannot be subject to the FCPA’s registration and disclosure requirements because those requirements violate the First Amendment as applied. U.S. CONST. amend. I. The trial court agreed with the State, imposed a $6 million base penalty on GMA, and trebled the penalty to $18 million after determining GMA;s violations were intentional. The Court of Appeals largely affirmed, but revered the treble penalty, holding that one had to "subjectively intend to violate the law in order to be subject to treble damages." After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the conclusion that the FCPA, and that the FCPA was constitutional as applied. The Court reversed the appellate court on the treble penalty, holding that the trial court applied the proper legal standard to determine GMA intentionally violated the FCPA. The matter was remanded to the Court of Appeals for consideration of GMA's claim that the penalty imposed violated the excessive fines clauses of the federal and Washington constitutions. View "Washington v. Grocery Mfrs. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc. (SCL) on Cheryl Bratton's claims, holding that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to SCL. This case stemmed from SCL's practice of issuing refunds to its patients, for such reasons as overpayment on an account, in the form of prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued through Bank of America. Plaintiff brought this suit alleging, among other claims, constructive trust based on unjust enrichment, unfair trade practices under the Montana Consumer Protection Act (MCPA), money had and received, and declaratory judgment. During discovery, SCL asked Bank of America to issue checks to Bratton for her refunds, which Bank of America did. The district court granted summary judgment for SCL. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to SCL on Bratton's claims and by denying Bratton's cross motions for summary judgment. View "Bratton v. Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, Inc." on Justia Law