Articles Posted in 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

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Wilkes-Barre Hospital’s radiology department x-rayed Daubert. His bill was $46. Radiology Associates forwarded his medical report and cell phone number to its billing company, MBMS. Daubert’s health-insurer contributed $21. Daubert did not pay the remaining $25. MBMS transferred his account to a debt collector, NRA, sharing Daubert’s cell number. NRA sent a collection letter. Daubert alleged that, visible through the envelope's window, were the sequence of letters and numbers NRA used to track Daubert’s collection account and a barcode that, when scanned by the appropriate reader, revealed that account number. NRA also called Daubert 69 times in 10 months, using a Predictive Dialer. Daubert sued, alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692, asserting that the information visible through the envelope could have revealed his private information and of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Daubert on his TCPA claim and awarded $34,500 ($500 × 69 calls); no reasonable jury could find that Daubert expressly consented to receive calls from NRA. The court reversed the rejection of his FDCPA claim; the use of the barcode was not a bona fide good faith error. View "Daubert v. NRA Group LLC" on Justia Law

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In New Jersey, GTL is the sole provider of telecommunications services that enable inmates to call approved persons outside the prisons. Users can open an account through GTL’s website or through an automated telephone service with an interactive voice-response system. Website users see GTL’s terms of use and must click “Accept” to complete the process. Telephone users receive an audio notice: Please note that your account, and any transactions you complete . . . are governed by the terms of use and the privacy statement posted at www.offenderconnect.com.” Telephone users are not required to indicate their assent to those terms, which contain an arbitration agreement and a class-action waiver. Users have 30 days to opt out of those provisions. The terms state that using the telephone service or clicking “Accept” constitutes acceptance of the terms; users have 30 days to cancel their accounts if they do not agree to the terms. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that GTL’s charges were unconscionable and violated the state Consumer Fraud Act, the Federal Communications Act, and the Takings Clause. GTL argued that the FCC had primary jurisdiction. Plaintiffs withdrew their FCA claims. GTL moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied GTL’s motion with respect to plaintiffs who opened accounts by telephone, finding “neither the knowledge nor intent necessary to provide ‘unqualified acceptance.’” The Third Circuit affirmed. The telephone plaintiffs did not agree to arbitration. View "James v. Global TelLink Corp." on Justia Law

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Fried bought a home in 2007 for $553,330; an appraisal estimated the home’s value at $570,000. Fried borrowed $497,950 at a fixed interest rate. Because the loan-to-purchase-price ratio was more than 80%, Chase, the servicer for Fried’s mortgage required her to obtain private mortgage insurance. Fried had to pay monthly premiums for that insurance until the ratio reached 78%; projected to happen around March 2016. After the housing market crashed in 2008, Fried had trouble making mortgage payments. Chase modified Fried’s mortgage under the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, by reducing the principal balance to $463,737. By reassessing the value of Fried’s home at the time of the modification, Chase extended Fried’s mortgage insurance premiums to 2026. The district court declined to dismiss Fried’s purported class action under the Homeowners Protection Act, 12 U.S.C. 4901. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the Act does not permit a servicer to rely on an updated property value, estimated by a broker, to recalculate the length of a homeowner’s mortgage insurance obligation following a modification; the Act requires that the ending of that obligation remain tied to the initial purchase price of the home. View "Fried v. JP Morgan Chase & Co" on Justia Law

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Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield provides health insurance products and services to approximately 3.7 million members. Two laptop computers, containing sensitive personal information about members, were stolen from Horizon. Four plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of themselves and other Horizon customers whose personal information was stored on those laptops, alleging willful and negligent violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681, and numerous violations of state law. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of Article III standing. According to the court, none of the plaintiffs had claimed a cognizable injury because, although their personal information had been stolen, none of them had adequately alleged that the information was actually used to their detriment. The Third Circuit vacated. In light of the congressional decision to create a remedy for the unauthorized transfer of personal information, a violation of FCRA gives rise to an injury sufficient for Article III standing purposes. Even without evidence that the plaintiffs’ information was in fact used improperly, the alleged disclosure of their personal information created a de facto injury. View "In re: Horizon Healthcare Inc. Data Breach Litigation" on Justia Law

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Hoffman, “a serial pro se class action litigant,” frequently sues under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, serving as both the sole class representative and sole class counsel. Hoffman has sued nearly 100 defendants in New Jersey state court in less than four years. Hoffman sued Nordic for its allegedly false and misleading advertisements for fish oil supplements. The suit was removed to federal court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to state a claim. Hoffman filed a second suit, alleging the same facts and legal theories, but with a smaller class, to reduce the amount recoverable and defeat federal jurisdiction. Nordic again removed the suit. The district court declined to remand the case and dismissed, finding the action procedurally barred under New Jersey’s entire controversy doctrine and, in the alternative, that Hoffman’s claims under the Consumer Fraud Act failed for substantially the same reasons they failed in the earlier suit. The Third Circuit affirmed. The district court was permitted to “bypass” the jurisdictional inquiry in favor of a non-merits dismissal on claim preclusion grounds. View "Hoffman v. Nordic Naturals, Inc." on Justia Law

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Named plaintiffs, 2008-2011 graduates of the Widener School of Law, claim that Widener violated the New Jersey and Delaware Consumer Fraud Acts by intentionally publishing misleading statistics, reporting that in 2005-2011, 90-97% of graduates were employed. In reality, only 50-70% of Widener graduates secured full-time legal positions. The school included non-legal and part-time positions without reporting the breakdown. In 2011, Widener improved its reporting, but allegedly continued to gather unreliable information by crediting secondhand accounts of employment and avoiding responses from unemployed graduates. The plaintiffs claim that publishing misleading statistics enabled Widener to inflate tuition. The plaintiffs moved to certify a class of “persons who enrolled in Widener University School of Law and were charged full or part-time tuition within the statutory period.” The district court denied class certification, finding that the plaintiffs could not meet FRCP 23(b)(3)’s requirement that common questions “predominate” over individual questions because they had not shown that they could prove damages by common evidence. The court noted differences in class members’ employment outcomes and that New Jersey has rejected a “fraud-on-the-market” theory outside the securities fraud context. Plaintiffs could not meet Rule 23(a)(3)’s requirement that the named plaintiffs’ claims be “typical” of the claims of the proposed class; students who enrolled in 2012 and later, after Widener improved its reporting, might prefer not to have Widener’s reputation tarnished by the lawsuit. The Third Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs’ theory was insufficiently supported by class-wide evidence. View "Harnish v. Widener Univ. Sch. of Law" on Justia Law

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Between 2002-2006, Lucht purchased treated lumber for a deck on his vacation home in the Virgin Islands. The lumber allegedly decayed prematurely and he began replacing boards in 2010; he claims he did not discover the severity of the problem until the fall of 2011. Lucht sued the retailer, wholesaler, and treatment company of the lumber in February 2013, alleging a Uniform Commercial Code contract claim; a common law contract claim; a breach of warranty claim; a negligence claim; a strict liability claim; and a deceptive trade practices claim under the Virgin Islands Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The district court rejected the claims as time-barred. The Third Circuit affirmed, citing the “‘gist of the action doctrine,” which bars plaintiffs from bringing a tort claim that merely replicates a claim for breach of an underlying contract. View "MRL Dev. I, LLC v. Whitecap Inv. Corp" on Justia Law