Articles Posted in Consumer Law

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St. Pierre used New Jersey E-ZPass and agreed to maintain a positive balance in a prepaid account from which highway tolls are automatically deducted. When he failed to maintain a positive balance, E-ZPass assigned his account to a private debt collection agency, which sent St. Pierre a collection letter for $1,200.75. The envelope in which the letter was sent had a glassine window through which was visible St. Pierre’s name and address, a “quick response” code and St. Pierre’s account number. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692a-1692p, prohibits the use of “any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails,” in the collection of a “debt,” defined as an “obligation . . . of a consumer to pay money arising out of a transaction in which the money, property, insurance, or services which are the subject of the transaction are primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” The district court concluded that the matter was not a debt, but a legal obligation in the nature of a tax. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of St. Pierre’s suit. Violation of section 1692f(8) is a legally cognizable injury that confers standing on St. Pierre but the FDCPA is not implicated where, as here, the bulk, if not all services rendered, are made “without reference to peculiar benefits to particular individuals or property.” View "St. Pierre v. Retrieval Masters Creditors Bureau, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law

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Tepper took a home equity line of credit with NOVA Bank secured by a mortgage. The Pennsylvania Department of Banking closed the Bank. The FDIC was its receiver. Tepper stopped receiving statements but attempted to remit payments. The FDIC neither cashed nor returned the check. Rather than attempt further payments, Tepper waited for a statement. Months later, the FDIC declared the loan to be in default and sold it, assigning the mortgage, to Amos, an Illinois LLC that is not a lender but only purchases debts for collection. Amos mailed Tepper letters demanding lump-sum payments and sent a notice, containing a higher amount due, stating that it intended to foreclose, then filed a foreclosure action. Amos was not yet registered to do business in Pennsylvania. Tepper requested loan statements and to resolve the default. An Amos officer refused to provide statements and said the Tepper home belonged to Amos. Amos's attorney sent an email attempting to collect an even higher amount. Tepper filed suit under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. The court decided: Amos is a “debt collector” under 15 U.S.C. 1692a(6); the loan is a “debt” (1692a(5)); and Amos violated the Act but was not liable for failing to register. The Third Circuit affirmed that Amos is a debt collector. Whether an entity acquired the debts it collects after they became defaulted does not resolve whether that entity is a debt collector: an entity whose principal purpose is the collection of any debts is a debt collector regardless whether it owns the debts it collects. View "Tepper v. Amos Financial LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Consumer Law

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The day Krieger fell victim to a credit card scam and discovered a fraudulent $657 charge on his bill, he contacted his card issuer, Bank of America (BANA), and was told that the charge would be removed and that, pending “additional information,” BANA considered the matter resolved. Krieger’s next bill reflected a $657 credit. Over a month later Krieger learned that BANA was rebilling him for the charge. He disputed it again, in writing. After BANA replied that nothing would be done, he paid his monthly statement and then filed suit, citing the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), 15 U.S.C. 1666, which requires a creditor to take certain steps to correct billing errors, and the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. 1601, which limits a credit cardholder’s liability for the unauthorized use of a credit card to $50. The Third Circuit reversed dismissal by the district court, first rejecting a claim that Krieger’s complaint was untimely. Only when BANA decided to reinstate the charge did the FCBA again become relevant, so that the 60-day period began to run. A cardholder incurs “liability” for an allegedly unauthorized charge when an issuer, having reason to know the charge may be unauthorized, bills or rebills the cardholder for that charge; the issuer must then comply with the requirements of section 1643, and when a cardholder alleges those requirements were violated, those allegations may state a claim under TILA section 1640. View "Krieger v. Bank of America NA" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law

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Rotkiske accumulated credit card debt in 2003-2005, which his bank referred to Klemm for collection. Klemm sued for payment in March 2008 and attempted service at an address where Rotkiske no longer lived but withdrew its suit when it was unable to locate him. Klemm tried again in January 2009, refiling its suit and attempting service at the same address. Unbeknownst to Rotkiske, somebody at that residence accepted service on his behalf. Klemm obtained a default judgment. Rotkiske discovered the judgment when he applied for a mortgage in September 2014. In June 2015, Rotkiske sued under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692 . The district court dismissed the suit as untimely, rejecting Rotkiske’s argument that the Act’s statute of limitations incorporates a discovery rule which “delays the beginning of a limitations period until the plaintiff knew of or should have known of his injury.” The text at issue reads: An action to enforce any liability created by this subchapter may be brought . . . within one year from the date on which the violation occurs, section 1692k(d). The Third Circuit affirmed, based on the statutory text. Congress’s explicit choice of an occurrence rule implicitly excludes a discovery rule. View "Rotkiske v. Klemm" on Justia Law

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After paying a total of $15,493.00 on his $5,000 loan, MacDonald filed a putative class action concerning the loan agreement. He cited RICO and New Jersey state usury and consumer laws, arguing that the agreement is usurious and unconscionable for containing a provision requiring that all disputes be resolved through arbitration conducted by a representative of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST) and a clause that delegates questions about the arbitration provision’s enforceability to the arbitrator. No CRST arbitral forum exists. The agreement also purported to waive all of the borrower’s state and federal statutory rights. The district court denied a motion to compel arbitration. The Third Circuit affirmed, concluding that the agreement directs arbitration to an illusory forum without a provision for an alternative forum, and the forum selection clause is not severable, so that the entire agreement to arbitrate, including the delegation clause, is unenforceable. View "MacDonald v. Cashcall Inc." on Justia Law

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More than 10 years ago, Tatis incurred a debt of $1,289.86 to Bally Fitness. Allied, a debt collector, sent Tatis a letter dated May 18, 2015 stating: “[The creditor] is willing to accept payment in the amount of $128.99 in settlement of this debt. You can take advantage of this settlement offer if we receive payment of this amount or if you make another mutually acceptable payment arrangement within 40 days.” The six-year New Jersey limitations period for debt-collection actions had already run. Tatis filed a class action, alleging that Allied’s letter violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. 1692) because Tatis interpreted the word “settlement” to mean that she had a “legal obligation” to pay and the letter “[f]alsely represent[ed] the legal status of the debt" made “false threats to take action that cannot legally be taken,” and used “false representations and/or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect." The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. Collection letters may violate the FDCPA by misleading or deceiving debtors into believing they have a legal obligation to repay time-barred debts even when the letters do not threaten legal action. The least-sophisticated debtor could plausibly be misled by the specific language used in Allied’s letter. View "Tatis v. Allied Interstate LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law

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More than 10 years ago, Tatis incurred a debt of $1,289.86 to Bally Fitness. Allied, a debt collector, sent Tatis a letter dated May 18, 2015 stating: “[The creditor] is willing to accept payment in the amount of $128.99 in settlement of this debt. You can take advantage of this settlement offer if we receive payment of this amount or if you make another mutually acceptable payment arrangement within 40 days.” The six-year New Jersey limitations period for debt-collection actions had already run. Tatis filed a class action, alleging that Allied’s letter violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. 1692) because Tatis interpreted the word “settlement” to mean that she had a “legal obligation” to pay and the letter “[f]alsely represent[ed] the legal status of the debt" made “false threats to take action that cannot legally be taken,” and used “false representations and/or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect." The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. Collection letters may violate the FDCPA by misleading or deceiving debtors into believing they have a legal obligation to repay time-barred debts even when the letters do not threaten legal action. The least-sophisticated debtor could plausibly be misled by the specific language used in Allied’s letter. View "Tatis v. Allied Interstate LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Consumer Law

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Panico, a New Jersey resident, incurred substantial debt on an MBNA credit card, which qualifie as “debt” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692a(5). MBNA assigned the rights to the debt to PRA, a debt collector. PRA’s collection efforts failed. In 2014, more than three but fewer than six years after the cause of action accrued, PRA sued. New Jersey’s statute of limitations barred collection ofsuch debts after six years; Delaware’s statute proscribed collection of such debts after three years. The credit agreement provided for application of “the laws of ... Delaware, without regard to its conflict of laws principles, and by any applicable federal laws.” PRA agreed to a stipulated dismissal. In 2015, Panico filed a putative class action under the FDCPA, arguing that PRA had sought to collect on a time-barred debt. The district court granted PRA summary judgment, finding that a Delaware tolling statute prevented the Delaware statute of limitations from running as to a party residing outside that state during the credit relationship, default, collections attempts, and ensuing litigation. The Third Circuit reversed. Delaware’s tolling statute has been interpreted as abrogating its statute of limitations only as to defendants not otherwise subject to service of process; it was not intended to export the state’s tolling statute into out-of-state forums and to substantially limit the application of the Delaware statute of limitations. View "Panico v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendants manufacture and distribute FDA-approved prescription eye drop medications for treating conditions such as glaucoma. Bottles are pre-packaged with a fixed volume of medication; labeling does not indicate how many doses or days of treatment a patient can extract from the bottle. The dimensions of the bottle’s dropper tip dictate the size of the drop dispensed. Scientific research indicates that a normal adult’s inferior fornix – the area between the eye and the lower eyelid – has a capacity of approximately 7-10 microliters (µLs) of fluid. If a drop exceeding that capacity is placed into an eye, excess medication is expelled, providing no pharmaceutical benefit to the patient. Expelled medication also may flow into a patient’s tear ducts and move into his bloodstream, increasing the risk of certain harmful side effects. These studies conclude that eye drops should be 5-15 µLs. Defendants’ products emit drops that are considerably larger so that at least half of every drop goes to waste. The Third Circuit reversed dismissal of a putative class action (Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332) under state consumer protection statutes. The consumers’ allegations of injury were sufficient to confer standing. Plaintiffs claim economic interests in the money they spent on medication that was impossible for them to use; their concrete and particularized injury claims fit comfortably in categories of “legally protected interests” readily recognized by federal courts. View "Cottrell v. Alcon Laboratories" on Justia Law

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Susinno alleged that on July 28, 2015, she received an unsolicited call on her cell phone from a fitness company called Work Out World (WOW). Susinno did not answer the call, so WOW left a prerecorded promotional offer that lasted one minute on her voicemail. Susinno filed a complaint, claiming WOW’s phone call and message violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibition of prerecorded calls to cellular telephones, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). The district court dismissed, reasoning that a single solicitation was not “the type of case that Congress was trying to protect people against,” and Susinno’s receipt of the call and voicemail caused her no concrete injury. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the TCPA provides a cause of action and that the injury was concrete. The TCPA addresses itself directly to single prerecorded calls from cell phones, and states that its prohibition acts “in the interest of [ ] privacy rights.” View "Susinno v. Work Out World Inc" on Justia Law