Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Huston v. Hearst Communications, Inc.
Huston, a Good Housekeeping magazine subscriber, filed a putative class action alleging that media conglomerate, Hearst, offered to sell and sold mailing lists containing her, and 9.1 million other subscribers’, identifying information. Huston sought statutory damages under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (IRPA) and an injunction requiring Hearst to obtain prior written consent before selling its subscribers’ information.The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. To establish an IRPA violation, the plaintiff must allege an appropriation of the plaintiff’s identity, without the plaintiff’s written consent, and for the defendant’s commercial purpose. IRPA prohibits the use or holding out of a person’s identifying information to offer to sell or sell a product, piece of merchandise, good, or service; it contemplates a use or holding out of an individual’s identity with the aim of effectuating a sale. Any use or holding out must either accompany an offer to sell or precede the sale, but it cannot follow the sale. Huston failed to allege that Hearst used or held out her identity to effectuate the sale of the mailing lists or her Good Housekeeping subscription. View "Huston v. Hearst Communications, Inc." on Justia Law
Gripum, LLC v. United States Food and Drug Administration
Gripum manufactures and distributes flavored liquids for use in e-cigarette devices. Gripum submitted a “premarket tobacco product application” to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2021. The agency denied the application, reasoning that Gripum had failed to demonstrate public-health benefits as required by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, 21 U.S.C. 387j. The 2016 “Deeming Rule,” promulgated under the Act requires denial of an application to market a new tobacco product if the manufacturer fails to show that the product would be “appropriate for the protection of public health,” considering the risks and benefits to the population as a whole, including users and non-users, the “increased or decreased likelihood that existing users of tobacco products will stop using such products and those who do not use tobacco products will start using such products.The Seventh Circuit upheld the denial. The FDA required Gripum to show that its flavored e-cigarette products were relatively better at reducing rates of tobacco use than products already on the market. It properly applied the comparative standard mandated by the statute. Gripum failed to provide evidence specific to its products; its studies of other products did not even compare tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products to flavored products resembling Gripum’s products. View "Gripum, LLC v. United States Food and Drug Administration" on Justia Law
Levy v. West Coast Life Insurance Co.
In 2001, Levy, a 37-year-old single mother of two, purchased a 20-year term life insurance policy from West Coast, with a $3 million benefit payable upon her death to her sons. In January 2019, Benita—in deteriorating physical and mental health—missed a payment. Approximately five months later, she died, having never paid the missed premium. West Coast declared the policy forfeited.Levy's sons filed suit, alleging breach of contract and that a late-2018 missed-payment notice failed to comply with the Illinois Insurance Code, which forbids an insurer from canceling a policy within six months of a policyholder’s failure to pay a premium by its due date (calculated to include a 31-day grace period) unless the insurer provided notice stating “that unless such premium or other sums due shall be paid to the company or its agents the policy and all payments thereon will become forfeited and void, except as to the right to a surrender value or paid-up policy as provided for by the policy.” West Coast’s 2018 notice incorporated much of the statutory language. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The Notice adequately alerted policyholders to the consequences of nonpayment; there was no need for the Notice to mention the company’s agents as alternate payees. View "Levy v. West Coast Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Stockton v. Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the decision of the district court dismissing all of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant at summary judgment, holding that the district court erred in granting summary judgment as to Plaintiff's excessive force claims against correctional officer Brian Piasecki.Plaintiff, the special administrator of the estate of Michael Madden, brought this action alleging deliberate indifference, use of excessive force, Monell liability, and state law claims against the state actors involved in the care of Madden while he was jailed in Milwaukee County. Over the course of one month, Madden developed infective endocarditis, which medical staff failed to diagnose. Madden died at the end of the month. The district court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims at summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, holding (1) the district court erred in awarding Piasecki summary judgment based on qualified immunity; and (2) the district court's judgment is otherwise affirmed. View "Stockton v. Milwaukee County, Wisconsin" on Justia Law
Cooper v. Retrieval Masters Creditors
The Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court in this (Cooper II) lawsuit brought by Jack Cooper against Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau (RMCB) asserting an additional violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) arising out of the same debt that was the subject of an appeal in a separate civil action between the same parties (Cooper I), holding that the sanctions award was improper.Plaintiff sued RMCB alleging that a letter from RMCB he received seeking to collect a consumer debt violated the FDCPA. Plaintiff then filed this separate action against RMCB claiming additional violations of the FDCPA arising from the same debt. RMCB filed a motion to dismiss the Cooper II complaint, arguing that it was improper claim splitting. The trial court dismissed the action with prejudice. Thereafter, RMCB moved for sanctions. The court granted the motion in part and imposed sanctions on two lawyers and their firm. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the district court's stated grounds for imposing monetary sanctions against counsel did not support the sanctions. View "Cooper v. Retrieval Masters Creditors" on Justia Law
Cooper v. Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc.
The Seventh Circuit vacated the fee award entered by the district court in this dispute over attorney fee awards to prevailing plaintiffs under consumer-protection statutes where damages are modest and the plaintiff has rejected a substantial early settlement offer, holding that the fee award was an abuse of discretion.Plaintiff sued Defendant for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S. 1692 et seq., in attempting to collect a debt. The district court granted summary judgment to Plaintiff on liability and awarded Plaintiff $500. Plaintiff and his attorneys then sought an award of attorney fees and costs of more than $66,000. The district court awarded fees and costs of less than $8,000. The Seventh Circuit vacated the award, holding that the district court's refusal to grant any post-offer fees was an abuse of discretion. View "Cooper v. Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc." on Justia Law
City of Chicago v. Mance
Outstanding debt for Chicago traffic tickets surpassed $1.8 billion last year. Under a 2016 Chicago ordinance, when a driver incurs the needed number of outstanding tickets and final liability determinations, Chicago is authorized to impound her vehicle and to attach a possessory lien. Many drivers cannot afford to pay their outstanding tickets and fees, let alone the liens imposed on their cars through this process. Mance incurred several unpaid parking tickets; her car was impounded and subject to a possessory lien of $12,245, more than four times her car’s value. With a monthly income of $197 in food stamps, Mance filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and sought to avoid the lien under 11 U.S.C 522(f). When a vehicle owner files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, she can avoid a lien under 522(f) if the lien qualifies as judicial and its value exceeds the value of her exempt property (the car). If the lien is statutory, it is not avoidable under the same provision.The bankruptcy and district courts and the Seventh Circuit concluded that the lien was judicial and avoidable. The lien was tied inextricably to the prior adjudications of Mance’s parking and other infractions, so it did not arise solely by statute, as the Bankruptcy Code requires for a statutory lien. View "City of Chicago v. Mance" on Justia Law
Pierre v. Midland Credit Management, Inc.
In 2006 Pierre opened a credit card account. She accumulated consumer debt and defaulted. Midland Funding bought the debt and sued Pierre in Illinois state court in 2010 but voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit. In 2015. Midland Credit sent Pierre a letter seeking payment, listing multiple payment plans, stating that the offer would expire in 30 days. The letter stated that because of the age of the debt, Midland would neither sue nor report to a credit agency and that her credit score would be unaffected by either payment or nonpayment. The statute of limitations had run. Pierre sued Midland under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2). Asking for payment of a time-barred debt is not unlawful, but Pierre contended that the letter was a deceptive, unfair, and unconscionable method of debt collection. She sought to represent a class of Illinois residents who had received similar letters from Midland.The district court certified the class and granted it summary judgment on the merits. A jury awarded statutory damages totaling $350,000. The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the suit. The letter might have created a risk that Pierre would suffer harm, such as paying the time-barred debt; that risk alone is not enough to establish an Article III injury in a suit for money damages, as the Supreme Court held in “TransUnion" (2021). View "Pierre v. Midland Credit Management, Inc." on Justia Law
Woods v. LVNV Funding, LLC
Woods claims an identity thief opened a credit card in his name, leading debt collectors to pursue him for the card’s unpaid balance, $723.55. The debt collector, Resurgent, initially rejected his claims that the debt was not his. After months of phone calls and letter writing, Woods succeeded in having the debt removed from his credit report. Woods filed suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. He alleged that the companies violated the FDCPA by using “false representation[s] or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt,” 15 U.S.C. 1692e(10). In Woods’s view, Resurgent’s collection letters were literally false, since they stated that he owed a debt that American Airlines had since determined was not his. Woods claimed that Resurgent violated FCRA by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation into his fraud claims, 15 U.S.C. 1681s-2(b)(1)(A).The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit. Literal falsity is not the standard under section 1692; a statement “isn’t ‘false’ unless it would confuse the unsophisticated consumer.” Resurgent’s investigation was reasonable, in light of Woods’s failure to respond to requests for information. View "Woods v. LVNV Funding, LLC" on Justia Law
Webster v. Receivables Performance Management, LLC
Ewing and Webster disputed debts they allegedly owed to debt‐collection companies. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt‐collection companies must report such disputes to credit reporting agencies, 15 U.S.C. 1692e(8), but the companies failed to do so. The plaintiffs sued separately, seeking damages. The companies prevailed at summary judgment. Both district courts determined that the companies’ mistakes were bona fide errors.In consolidated appeals, the Seventh Circuit first held that the plaintiffs suffered intangible, reputational injuries, sufficiently concrete for purposes of Article III standing; they have shown that their injury is related closely to the harm caused by defamation. The court affirmed as to Ewing and reversed as to Webster. In Ewing’s case, a receptionist accidentally forwarded Ewing’s faxed dispute letter to the wrong department. The company had reasonably adapted procedures; if its step‐by‐step fax procedures had been followed, the error would have been avoided. Unlike the one‐time misstep in Ewing, a lack of procedures invited the Webster error. Until debtors and their attorneys knew that the collection company no longer accepted disputes by fax, it was entirely foreseeable that it would continue receiving faxed disputes. There were no procedures to avoid the error that occurred. View "Webster v. Receivables Performance Management, LLC" on Justia Law