Justia Consumer Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2008, California enacted a Property Assessed Clean Energy program (PACE) as a method for homeowners to finance energy and water conservation improvements. A PACE debt was created by contract and secured by the improved property. But like a tax, the installment payments were billed and paid as a special assessment on the improved property, resulting in a first-priority tax lien in the event of default. The named plaintiffs in these putative class actions were over 65 years old and entered into PACE contracts. The defendants were private companies who either made PACE loans to plaintiffs, were assigned rights to payment, and/or administered PACE programs for municipalities. The gravamen of the complaint in each case was that PACE financing was actually, and should have been treated as, a secured home improvement loan. Plaintiffs alleged that defendants engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices by violating consumer protection laws, including Civil Code section 1804.1(j), which prohibited taking a security interest in a senior citizen’s residence to secure a home improvement loan. Generally, a taxpayer could not pursue a court action for a refund of property taxes without first applying to the local board of equalization for a reduction and then filing an administrative claim for a refund. Here, defendants demurred to the complaints on the sole ground that plaintiffs failed to allege they first exhausted administrative remedies. The trial court agreed, sustained the demurrers without leave to amend, and entered a judgment of dismissal in each case. On appeal, plaintiffs primarily contend they were not required to pursue administrative remedies because they have sued only private companies and do not challenge “any aspect of the municipal tax process involved.” The Court of Appeal found that despite their assertions to the contrary, plaintiffs did challenge their property tax assessments. And although they did not sue any government entity, the “consumer protection statutes under which plaintiffs brought their action cannot be employed to avoid the limitations and procedures set out by the Revenue and Taxation Code.” Thus, the Court concluded plaintiffs were required to submit their claims through the administrative appeals process in the first instance. "Their failure to do so requires the judgments to be affirmed." View "Morgan v. Ygrene Energy Fund, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellants sought to develop thousands of acres of land in Belize, which they marketed as a luxury resort called “Sanctuary Belize.” In their sales pitch to U.S. consumers, many promises were made but not kept. In 2018, the FTC shut this down, calling Sanctuary Belize Enterprise (SBE) a “scam,” and alleging violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule for making misrepresentations to consumers. The FTC also brought contempt charges against Appellant stemming from past judgments against him. After an extensive bench trial, the district court found ample evidence of violative and contumacious conduct, ultimately ruling in the FTC’s favor.   Appellants appealed and the Fourth Circuit affirmed in large part, the one exception being vacating the equitable monetary judgments in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission. The court explained that the various permanent injunctions—including the prohibition of SBE individuals and entities from engaging in further misrepresentations—are appropriately tailored to prevent similar scams in the future. Further, the court held that the district court in Maryland was within its discretion to keep the case because the FTC’s allegations in the Sanctuary Belize case rested on the same facts as the telemarketing contempt charges stemming from AmeriDebt, which was litigated in Maryland and which no party had asked to transfer. View "Federal Trade Commission v. Andris Pukke" on Justia Law

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Apple entered into a $310 million settlement with a class of individuals based on claims that Apple secretly throttled the system performance of certain model iPhones to mask battery defects. Five class objectors sought to vacate the settlement on various grounds, including 1.) that the district court provided inadequate notice of the settlement to nonnatural persons; 2.) the settlement extinguished the claims of “all former or current U.S. owners” of certain devices who downloaded iOS software before Apple disclosed potential defect, but the settlement limited recovery to the subset of owners who can attest that “they experienced” the alleged defects; and 3.) that the district court cited the wrong legal standard in examining the settlement’s fairness by improperly applying a presumption of reasonableness to the settlement rather than applying a heightened scrutiny.The Ninth Circuit held that the district court applied the wrong legal standard when reviewing the settlement’s fairness. View "IN RE: NAMED PLAINTIFFS, ET AL V. APPLE INC." on Justia Law

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Polaris sells off-road vehicles that have roll cages, or rollover protective structures (“ROPS”). The labels on the Polaris vehicles stated that the ROPS complied with Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. Plaintiffs filed a class action against Polaris, claiming that the statements made on these labels were misleading, and that they relied on the statements when purchasing the vehicles.The district court granted summary judgment to Polaris. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The court agreed with the district court that Plaintiff could not bring his equitable UCL claim in federal court because he had an adequate legal remedy in his time-barred CLRA claim. However, the court held that it must still reverse the entry of summary judgment against Plaintiff because no decision was reached on the merits of the claim. Because the district court lacked equitable jurisdiction, which it recognized, it should have denied Polaris’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiff's UCL claim without prejudice for lack of equitable jurisdiction. View "PAUL GUZMAN, ET AL V. POLARIS INDUSTRIES, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

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In Sonner v. Premier Nutrition Corp. (Sonner I), 971 F.3d 834 (9th Cir. 2020), the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal without leave to amend of Plaintiff's class action complaint. This court held that federal courts sitting in diversity must apply federal equitable principles to claims for equitable restitution brought under California law and that, under such principles, dismissal was appropriate because Plaintiff could not show that she lacked an adequate remedy at law. After Sonner I was issued, Plaintiff filed a virtually identical complaint in California state court. Premier Nutrition responded by returning to the district court and seeking a permanent injunction against the state court action. The district court denied the injunction.The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the permanent injunction regardless of Sonner I’s preclusive effect. The panel did not determine the preclusive effect of Sonner I.The Ninth Circuit held that there was a strong presumption against enjoining a state court proceeding under the relitigation exception. Premier did not point to any clearly erroneous factual findings in the district court’s order, and the panel detected none. Res judicata principles are of high importance, but they can be addressed by the state court, and do not compel resorting to the heavy artillery of a permanent injunction. View "KATHLEEN SONNER V. PREMIER NUTRITION CORPORATION" on Justia Law

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Defendants are GoSmith, Inc., Porch.com, Inc. (which acquired GoSmith), and three individual corporate officers. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibits calls using automatic telephone dialing systems (“ATDS”) to cell phones, see 47 U.S.C. Section 227(b), and telephone solicitations sent to residential telephone subscribers who have registered their phone numbers on the national donot-call registry, see 47 U.S.C. Section 227(c). Both provisions provide private causes of action for damages and injunctive relief. The complaint alleges that Defendants’ use of ATDS to plaintiffs’ cell phones violated (and continues to violate) Section 227(b); and that Defendants’ text messages to Plaintiffs’ cell phones that were (and are) registered on the national do-not-call registry violated (and continue to violate) Section 227(c). The district court assumed that plaintiffs have Article III standing but held they lack statutory standing.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment dismissing the complaint. The panel held that Plaintiffs have statutory standing under Section 227(b) and (c) of the TCPA. Defendants argued that the TCPA protects only individuals from unwanted calls, and that plaintiffs, as home improvement contractors, fall outside of TCPA’s zone of interest. The panel concluded that all of the Plaintiffs have standing to sue under Section 227(b) of the TCPA. The panel, therefore, concluded that these Plaintiffs have standing to sue under Section 227(c). The panel wrote that after discovery, Defendants may seek to argue that they have rebutted the presumption by showing that Plaintiffs’ cell phones are used to such an extent and in such a manner as to be properly regarded as business rather than “residential” lines. View "NATHAN CHENNETTE, ET AL V. PORCH.COM, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs alleged that ViSalus, Inc., sent them automated telephone calls featuring an artificial or prerecorded voice message without prior express consent. The jury returned a verdict against ViSalus, finding that it sent 1,850,440 prerecorded calls in violation of the TCPA. Because the TCPA sets the minimum statutory damages at$500 per call, the total damages award against ViSalus was $925,220,000. Nearly two months later, the FCC granted ViSalus a retroactive waiver of the heightened written consent and disclosure requirements. ViSalus then filed post-trial motions to decertify the class, grant judgment as a matter of law, or grant a new trial on the ground that the FCC’s waiver necessarily meant ViSalus had consent for the calls made. Alternatively, ViSalus filed a post-trial motion challenging the statutory damages award as being unconstitutionally excessive. The district court denied these motions.Affirming in part, the panel held that members of the plaintiff class had Article III standing to sue because the receipt of unsolicited telemarketing phone calls in alleged violation of the TCPA is a concrete injury.The panel held that, when ruling on ViSalus’s motions to decertify the class, grant judgment as a matter of law, or grant a new trial, the district court properly refused to consider the FCC’s retroactive waiver. The panel explained that ViSalus waived a consent defense, and no intervening change in law excused this waiver of an affirmative defense.The panel vacated the district court’s denial of ViSalus’s post-trial motion challenging the constitutionality of the statutory damages award under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. View "LORI WAKEFIELD V. VISALUS, INC." on Justia Law

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Users of Reddit, a social media platform, posted and circulated sexually explicit images and videos of minors online. The victims, or their parents, sued Reddit pursuant to Section 1595, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. Rhe panel held that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. Section 230(c)(1), shielded defendant Reddit, Inc., from liability. The panel held that Reddit, an “interactive computer services” provider, generally enjoys immunity from liability for user-posted content under Section 230(c)(1). However, pursuant to the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2018 (“FOSTA”), Section 230 immunity does not apply to child sex trafficking claims if the conduct underlying the claim also violates 18 U.S.C. Section 1591, the criminal child sex trafficking statute.   The panel held that the plain text of FOSTA, as well as precedent interpreting a similar immunity exception under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, established that the availability of FOSTA’s immunity exception is contingent upon a plaintiff proving that a defendant-website’s own conduct—rather than its users’ conduct—resulted in a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1591. The panel held that FOSTA’s wider statutory context confirmed its reading. In Section II.C, the panel held that its reading was also supported by the legislative history of FOSTA. View "JANE DOES, ET AL V. REDDIT, INC." on Justia Law

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City of Reno’s complaint and declaratory relief under Nevada’s Video Service Law (“VSL”) and the federal Declaratory Judgment Act, respectively. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim of Reno’s complaint alleging that Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC failed to pay franchise fees for the video streaming services they provide.   Specifically, the panel first addressed the VSL. The VSL does not expressly create a private right of action for cities to sue for unpaid franchise fees. The test under Nevada law for whether a statute creates an implied right of action is set forth in Baldonado v. Wynn Las Vegas, LLC, 194 P.3d 96 (Nev. 2008). The panel held that all three Baldonado factors weigh against recognition of an implied right of action here. Concerning the federal Declaratory Judgment Act, the panel held that it does not provide a cause of action when a party, such as Reno, lacks a cause of action under a separate statute and seeks to use the Act to obtain affirmative relief. Here, Reno’s suit was offensive, not defensive, and Reno lacked an independent cause of action, so the Declaratory Judgment Act provided no basis for relief. View "CITY OF RENO V. NETFLIX, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were injured in unspecified accidents and treated by South Carolina health care providers. Seeking to pursue personal injury lawsuits, Plaintiffs requested their medical records from the relevant providers. Those records—and accompanying invoices—were supplied by defendants Ciox Health, LLC and ScanSTAT Technologies LLC, “information management companies” that retrieve medical records from health care providers and transmit them to requesting patients or patient representatives. Claiming the invoiced fees were too high or otherwise illegal, Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Ciox and ScanSTAT in federal district court.   The district court dismissed the complaint and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that South Carolina law gives patients a right to obtain copies of their medical records, while capping the fees “a physician, or other owner” may bill for providing them. However, the statutory obligations at issue apply only to physicians and other owners of medical records, not medical records companies. View "Tammie Thompson v. Ciox Health, LLC" on Justia Law