Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law

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Until 1997, Illinois residents could only purchase power from a public utility, with rates regulated by the ICC. The Electric Service Customer Choice and Rate Relief Law allows residents to buy electricity from their local public utility, another utility, or an Alternative Retail Electric Supplier (ARES). The ICC was not given rate-making authority over ARESs, but was given oversight responsibilities. The Law did not explicitly provide a mechanism for recovering damages from an ARES related to rates. Zahn purchased electricity from NAPG, after receiving an offer of a “New Customer Rate” of $.0499 per kilowatt hour in her first month, followed by a “market-based variable rate.” Zahn never received NAPG’s “New Customer Rate.” NAPG charged her $.0599 per kilowatt hour for the first two months, followed by a rate higher than Zahn’s local public utility charged. Zahn filed a class-action complaint, claiming violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. The court dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, or for failure to state a claim. After the Illinois Supreme Court answered a certified question, stating that the ICC does not have exclusive jurisdiction to hear Zahn’s claims, the Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court had jurisdiction and Zahn alleged facts that, if true, could constitute a breach of contract or a deceptive business practice. View "Zahn v. North American Power & Gas, LLC" on Justia Law

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Gubala subscribed to Time Warner’s cable services in 2004 and, as required, provided Time Warner with his date of birth, address, telephone numbers, social security number, and credit card information. In 2006, he cancelled his subscription. In 2014, upon inquiring, Gubala learned that all of his personal information remained in the company’s possession; none had been destroyed. Gubala filed a class-action suit for alleged violations of the Cable Communications Policy Act, 47 U.S.C. 551(e), which provides that a cable operator “shall destroy personally identifiable information if the information is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected and there are no pending requests or orders for access to such information [either by a cable subscriber, seeking access to his own information] … or pursuant to a court order.” The district judge dismissed the suit for lack of standing, stating that even if Gubala had standing, he failed to state a claim. He could not obtain an injunction, the only remedy he sought, because he had an adequate remedy at law (damages), but did not seek damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the lack of any concrete injury inflicted or likely to be inflicted on Gubala precluded the relief sought. View "Gubala v. Time Warner Cable, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs’ Indianapolis home had a mortgage serviced by J.P. Morgan Chase. In 2011 plaintiffs accused Chase of paying the wrong homeowner’s insurer using $1,422 from their escrow account. They had switched insurers without telling Chase. When Chase learned of the change, it promptly paid the new insurer and informed plaintiffs that their old insurer would send a refund. Chase told them to forward the refund to replenish the depleted escrow. When the refund came, plaintiffs kept the money. Chase adjusted their mortgage payment to make up the shortfall. When plaintiffs refused to pay the higher amount, the mortgage went into default. Instead of curing, they requested information under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. 2601–2617, which requires the bank to correct account errors and disclose account information. They demanded that Chase reimburse their escrow. Chase sent a complete account history. Plaintiffs divorced, ending their 25-year marriage. They sued Chase, claiming that its response was inadequate under RESPA and caused more than $300,000 in damages—including the loss of their marriage— and claiming breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Chase. Chase’s response complied with its RESPA duties. To the extent that any requested information was missing, plaintiffs suffered no actual damages. Nor did Chase breach the duty of good faith and fair dealing, assuming that Indiana would recognize the implied covenant in this context. View "Perron v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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A veterans’ group challenged an anti‑robocall statute, Ind. Code 24‑5‑14‑5, under the First Amendment. The law prohibits automated calls with recorded messages unless the recipient has previously consented or the message is immediately preceded by a live operator who obtains consent. The Seventh Circuit upheld the law, noting that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, which contains similar restrictions, has been sustained by the Ninth and Eighth Circuits. The court rejected a claim of content-based discrimination. While the law exempts messages from school districts to students, parents, or employees; messages to recipients with whom the caller has a current business or personal relationship; messages advising employees of work schedules, nothing in the law, including those exceptions, disfavors political speech. The exceptions primarily concern who may be called, not what may be said. The court noted the legitimate purposes of the law. View "Patriotic Veterans, Inc. v. State of Indiana" on Justia Law

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Smith’s husband obtained a Capital One credit card that he used for family consumer debts. Smith subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Smith’s husband did not join Smith’s petition and was not listed as a co‐debtor. The bankruptcy court confirmed Smith’s Chapter 13 plan. During Smith’s repayment period, Capital One, through attorney Kohn, sued Smith’s husband and obtained a Wisconsin state court judgment for amounts owed on his credit card; it has not attempted to enforce the judgment. Smith initiated a successful bankruptcy court adversary proceeding, arguing that Smith’s husband’s credit card debt was covered by the co‐debtor stay due under Wisconsin marital law and alleging violations of the co‐debtor stay, 11 U.S.C. 1301(a); the Wisconsin Consumer Act; and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692(d)(e). The district court reversed, holding that “consumer debt of the debtor” does not include a debt for which the debtor is not personally liable but that may be satisfied from the debtor’s interest in marital property. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Smith’s suggested expansion of the co‐debtor stay is contrary to its plain meaning and purpose, which is to prevent undue pressure that creditors could otherwise exert by threatening action against third-parties who have co‐signed the debtor’s debts. View "Smith v. Capital One Bank (USA), N.A." on Justia Law

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On February 10, 2015, Meyers was given a copy of his receipt after dining at Nicolet Restaurant in de Pere, Wisconsin. He noticed that Nicolet’s receipt did not truncate the expiration date, as required by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), 15 U.S.C. 1681. Meyers filed a putative class action, purportedly on behalf of everyone who had been provided a non‐compliant receipt at Nicolet, seeking only statutory damages. The district court denied Meyers’ motion for class certification, holding that Meyers had satisfied FRCP 23(a)’s four prerequisites, but failed to establish that class‐wide issues would “predominate” over issues affecting only individual potential class members. Fed R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3)). In a separate suit, the Seventh Circuit affirmed that sovereign immunity barred Meyers’ claim against the Oneida Tribe, the owner of the restaurant. The Seventh Circuit then held that Meyers lacked standing in his suit against the restaurant. Violation of a statute, completely divorced from any potential real‐world harm, is not sufficient to satisfy Article III’s injury‐in‐fact requirement so, the district court lacked authority to certify a class action. View "Meyers v. Nicolet Restaurant of DePere, LLC" on Justia Law

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TransUnion prepared a credit report which revealed, based on information obtained from Toyota, that Brill was in arrears on an extension of a vehicle lease. Brill claimed that his signature was forged by a former girlfriend. He demanded that TransUnion “conduct a reasonable reinvestigation” under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681i(a)(1)(A). At TransUnion's request, Toyota confirmed that the name on the extension was Brill; it did not try, and was not asked to try, to determine whether the signature was a forgery. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of Brill’s suit against Transunion. TransUnion had no duty to verify the accuracy of Brill’s signature. Toyota was in a better position to determine the validity of its own lease. It would be unrealistic to expect Transunion to verify the signature by communication with the Toyota employees who handled the transaction. Forcing a credit reporting agency to hire a handwriting expert in every case of alleged forgery would impose an expense disproportionate to the likelihood of an accurate conclusion. The Act’s identity-theft provisions call for a report to the police before turning to the credit reporting agency. Brill apparently made no such report. The court noted that Brill sued Toyota; the parties settled, under terms that are confidential, so it is not clear whether Brill has cleared the cloud on his credit. View "Brill v. TransUnion LLC" on Justia Law
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Meyers used his credit card to make purchases at the Green Bay are Oneida Travel Center and Oneida One Stop retail locations, owned and operated by the federally‐recognized Oneida Indian tribe. He received electronically printed receipts that included more than the last five digits of his credit card and the card’s expiration date. He alleged, in a putative class action, that the Tribe issued these receipts in violation of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, which states: [n]o person that accepts credit cards or debit cards for the transaction of business shall print more than the last 5 digits of the card number or the expiration date upon any receipt provided to the cardholder at the point of the sale or transaction, 15 U.S.C. 1681c(g)(1). FACTA defines a person as “any individual, partnership, corporation, trust, estate, cooperative, association, government or governmental subdivision or agency, or other entity.” The district court concluded that the Tribe was immune from suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that whether a tribe is subject to a statute and whether the tribe may be sued for violating the statute are two different questions. Any ambiguity must be resolved in favor of immunity; “government or governmental subdivision or agency” does not unambiguously refer to tribes. View "Meyers v. Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wis." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a purported class action against Moscov, his law firm Weinstein, Pinson & Riley, and a debt collection agency NCO Financial, alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692, arising out of attempts to collect on student loan debts allegedly owed by the plaintiffs. The complaint asserted that the defendants included a misleading and deceptive statement in a paragraph of the debt-collection complaint they filed against the plaintiffs in state court: Pursuant to 11 U.S.C. 1692g(a), Defendants are informed that the undersigned law firm is acting on behalf of Plaintiff to collect the debt and that the debt referenced in this suit will be assumed to be valid and correct if not disputed in whole or in part within thirty (30) days from the date hereof. Plaintiffs claimed that the statement was misleading and deceptive as to the manner and timing of their response to the state lawsuit. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded, finding that the statements fall within the category: communications which are plainly deceptive and misleading to an unsophisticated consumer as a matter of law. View "Marquez v. Weinstein, Pinson & Riley, P.S" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs each purportedly owed a debt; each creditor filed suit in Cook County seeking to collect on that debt. After each plaintiff failed to appear, a Cook County Circuit Court entered a default judgment. B&G, a debt collector, filed an affidavit for a wage deduction in the First Municipal District in downtown Chicago and obtained a summons against Plaintiffs’ respective employers. Plaintiffs allege it was this final act that violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) venue provision, 15 U.S.C. 1692i(a)(2), because B&G should have filed the affidavits in the Sixth Municipal District in Markham, Illinois (the municipal district closest to Plaintiffs) and not in the First Municipal District. The Cook County Circuit Court’s Municipal Department has been sub‐divided into six smaller units called municipal districts. B&G moved to dismiss on the basis that B&G’s filing of an affidavit for a wage deduction did not constitute a “legal action” against a “consumer” within the meaning of the FDCPA. The district courts agreed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that such actions are not against the consumer. View "Etro v. Blitt & Gaines, P.C." on Justia Law