Articles Posted in Consumer Law

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In 2011, Roppo suffered serious injuries in an auto accident with Block, who was insured by Travelers. Travelers and the attorneys it retained for Block disclosed only the limits of Block’s automobile liability policy; they did not disclose the existence of his additional umbrella policy. Roppo eventually learned of the umbrella policy and then settled the case. She brought a proposed class action, challenging the company’s alleged practice of not disclosing the existence of umbrella policies. The case was removed to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d). The district court denied Roppo’s motion to remand to state court but allowed her to file a second amended complaint, which added Block’s defense attorneys as defendants. Her third amended complaint added a cause of action under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c). The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal with prejudice the complaint’s 11 counts, finding that the district court had jurisdiction and that her complaint did not sufficiently state claims of fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and negligence under Illinois law, or violations of the Illinois Insurance Code and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. View "Roppo v. Travelers Commercial Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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In 2013, an Australian teenager measured his Subway Footlong sandwich, which was 11 inches long. He photographed it alongside a tape measure and posted the photo on Facebook. It went viral. U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyers sued under state consumer-protection laws and sought class certification under FRCP 23. The suits were combined in a multidistrict litigation. Limited discovery established that Subway’s unbaked rolls are uniform; baked rolls rarely fall short of 12 inches. Minor variations occur due to natural variability in the baking process and cannot be prevented. No customer is shorted any food. With no compensable injury, the lawyers sought injunctive relief. Subway agreed to implement measures to ensure, to the extent practicable, that all Footlong sandwiches are at least 12 inches long. The parties agreed to cap class counsel's fees at $525,000. The court preliminarily approved the settlement. A class member and “professional objector to hollow class-action settlements,” argued that the settlement enriched only the lawyers and provided no meaningful benefits to the class. The judge certified the class and approved the settlement. The Seventh Circuit reversed. A class action that “seeks only worthless benefits for the class” and “yields [only] fees for class counsel” is “no better than a racket” and “should be dismissed out of hand.” View "Buren v. Doctor's Associates Inc." on Justia Law

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Boiron makes homeopathic products, including an over‐the‐counter remedy called Oscillo that retails for between $12 and $20. Oscillo is made by mixing one percent Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum (duck hearts and livers) with 99 percent water, repeating the dilution process 200 times, and then selling the result in pill form. The repeated dilutions render the finished product nothing more than a placebo. Boiron’s claim that Oscillo has a therapeutic effect on flu symptoms is “highly doubtful.” Conrad filed a class action against Boiron for deceptive marketing. About a year later Boiron offered Conrad $5,025, more than he could hope to win at trial. Conrad did not accept the money because it would moot his claim. The district court refused to certify Conrad’s proposed class and found his individual claim moot. The Seventh Circuit remanded; an unaccepted offer cannot moot a case. There are other measures available to address the problem (if it exists here) of “unreasonably and vexatiously” persisting in litigation, such as 28 U.S.C. 1927, but the district court did not decide whether they should be used. View "Conrad v. Boiron, Inc." on Justia Law

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Husband and wife paid $83,475 for a new Volvo T8, plus $2,700 for a charging station. Volvo’s advertisements claimed that the T8’s battery range was 25 miles. In practice their T8 averaged a eight-10 miles of battery‐only driving. Husband filed suit, asserting a class of others similarly situated under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d), and received a letter from Volvo that offered “a full refund upon return of the vehicle if you are not satisfied with it for any reason” and to “arrange to pick up your vehicle.” The next day Volvo moved to dismiss husband’s suit on the theory that he lacked standing because only his wife was on the car’s title. Before the court ruled on the motion, his wife was added to the complaint. Volvo moved to dismiss, contending that she lacked standing because its letter had offered complete relief before she filed suit. The district judge agreed and dismissed. The Seventh Circuit reversed, seeing “no reason why the timing of the offer has such a powerful effect. Offers do not bind recipients until they are accepted. An unaccepted pre‐litigation offer does not deprive a plaintiff of her day in court. View "Laurens v. Volvo Cars of North America, LLC" on Justia Law

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Over about 18 months, Groshek submitted 562 job applications to employers. The job application, which the employers provided, included a disclosure and authorization form stating that a consumer report might be procured in making the employment decision; the form also contained other information, including a liability release. After Groshek submitted the application, with the signed disclosure and authorization, the employers obtained a consumer report on him from a third party. Groshek filed a class-action suit under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681, which prohibits a prospective employer from procuring a consumer report for employment purposes unless a clear and conspicuous disclosure has been made in writing to the job applicant before the report is procured, in a document that consists solely of the disclosure. A consumer report may be obtained for employment purposes only if the applicant has authorized its procurement in writing. Groshek alleged that the violation of the "stand-alone document requirement" was willful and that, as a result, the employers failed to obtain a valid authorization before procuring a consumer report. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Groshek has not alleged facts demonstrating a real, concrete appreciable risk of harm and lacks Article III standing. View "Groshek v. Great Lakes Higher Education Corp." on Justia Law

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The Blatt firm filed a collection lawsuit against Oliva in the first municipal district of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Oliva resided in Cook County. Under the Seventh Circuit’s 1996 “Newsom” decision, interpreting the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) venue provision, debt collectors were allowed to file suit in any of Cook County’s municipal districts if the debtor resided in Cook County or signed the underlying contract there. While the Oliva suit was pending, the Seventh Circuit overruled Newsom, with retroactive effect (Suesz, 2014). Blatt voluntarily dismissed the suit. Oliva sued Blatt for violating the FDCPA as newly interpreted by Suesz. The district court granted Blatt summary judgment, finding that it relied on Newsom in good faith and was immune from liability under the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense, 15 U.S.C. 1692k(c). The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed. On rehearing, en banc, the Seventh Circuit vacated. The holding in Suesz was required by the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Jerman v. Carlisle, that the FDCPA’s statutory safe harbor for bona fide mistakes does not apply to mistakes of law. Under Suesz and Jerman, the defendant cannot avoid liability for a violation based on its reliance on circuit precedent or any other bona fide mistake of law. View "Oliva v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork, alleging that Kolbe sold them defective windows that leak and rot. Plaintiffs brought common-law and statutory claims for breach of express and implied warranties, negligent design and manufacturing of the windows, negligent or fraudulent misrepresentations as to the condition of the windows, and unjust enrichment. The district court granted partial summary judgment in Kolbe’s favor on a number of claims, excluded plaintiffs’ experts, denied class certification, and found that plaintiffs’ individual claims could not survive without expert support. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs forfeited their arguments with respect to their experts’ qualifications under “Daubert.” Individual plaintiffs failed to establish that Kolbe’s alleged misrepresentation somehow caused them loss, given that their builders only used Kolbe windows. Though internal emails, service-request forms, and photos of rotting or leaking windows may suggest problems with Kolbe windows, that evidence did not link the problems to an underlying design defect, as opposed to other, external factors such as construction flaws or climate issues. View "Haley v. Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co.," on Justia Law

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From 2003-2006, while employed as Director of Application for the American Hospital Association (AHA), Sayyed directed overpriced contracts to companies in exchange for kickbacks. Sayyed eventually pled guilty to mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, and was ordered to pay the AHA $940,450.00 restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. 18 U.S.C. 3663A. As of November 2015, Sayyed still owed $650,234.25. In post‐conviction proceedings, the government sought to enforce the restitution judgment under 18 U.S.C. 3613, which permits such enforcement “in accordance with the practices and procedures for the enforcement of a civil judgment.” The government served citations to Vanguard and Aetna to discover assets in Sayyed’s retirement accounts, then sought turnover orders alleging that the companies possessed retirement accounts with approximately $327,000 in non‐exempt funds. Sayyed argued that his retirement accounts were exempt “earnings” subject to the 25% garnishment cap of the Consumer Credit Protection Act. The district court granted the government’s motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that because Sayyed, who was 48‐years‐old at the time, had the right to withdraw the entirety of his accounts at will, the funds were not “earnings.” The CCPA garnishment cap only protects periodic distributions pursuant to a retirement program. View "United States v. Sayyed" on Justia Law

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Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), an effective consent to automated calls is one that relates to the same subject matter covered by the challenged messages. Akira, a retailer, engaged Opt for text-message marketing services. Akira gathered 20,000 customers’ cell phone numbers for Opt’s messaging platform. Akira customers could join its “Text Club” by providing their cell phone numbers to Akira representatives inside stores, by texting to an opt-in number, or by completing an “Opt In Card,” stating that, “Information provided to Akira is used solely for providing you with exclusive information or special offers. Akira will never sell your information or use it for any other purpose.” In 2009-2011, Akira sent about 60 text messages advertising store promotions, events, contests, and sales to those customers, including Blow. In a purported class action, seeking $1.8 billion in damages, Blow alleged that Akira violated the TCPA, 47 U.S.C. 227, and the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act by using an automatic telephone dialing system to make calls without the recipient’s express consent. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Akira. Blow’s attempt to parse her consent to accept some promotional information from Akira while rejecting “mass marketing” texts construed “consent” too narrowly. The court declined to award sanctions for frivolous filings. View "Blow v. Bijora, Inc." on Justia Law

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Medical service providers referred plaintiffs’ debts to defendants, who sent letters, demanding payment of the principal plus 5% interest. Plaintiffs claimed that this violated 15 U.S.C. 1692g(a)(1), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which states that debt collectors must specify the amount of the debt, and that Wisconsin law provides for interest (absent a contractual provision) only if a debt has been reduced to judgment, and any pre-judgment request for interest is forbidden. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Wis. Stat. 426.104(4)(b), the “safe harbor” for people who act in ways approved by the Administrator of Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions applies because the defendants sent the Administrator a letter asking whether they were entitled to add 5% interest to debts for the provision of medical services. The Administrator’s silence for 60 days resulted in deemed approval. The defendants were entitled to demand payment of both principal and interest, so the letters did not violate 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2)(A), which prohibits false representations about the character, amount, or legal status of a debt. The federal Act otherwise allows debt collectors to add interest when permitted by law. Plaintiffs’ debts arose under state contract law and are subject to the safe harbor provision. View "Aker v. Collection Associates, LTD." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law, Contracts