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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

3rd Circuit: Credit card customers’ claims against retailer and national bank fail

Courts Credit Cards Debt Collection Class Action Appellate Third Circuit


On June 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of a retailer and a national bank (collectively, “defendants”), holding that the proposed class failed to assert their claims for implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and unjust enrichment. The class, comprised of customers who applied for private-label credit cards offered and serviced by the retailer, argued they were prompted to purchase a debt-cancellation product, which would “cancel the balance on the customer’s account up to $10,000 when a covered person experienced a qualifying involuntary unemployment, disability, hospitalization, or loss of life.” The class’s first claim—that the debt cancellation product provided “‘little or no value,” and that they did not voluntarily enroll in the product because the retailer allegedly unilaterally enrolled card holders in the product—was no longer viable after discovery showed that customers voluntarily enrolled. The class posed a second claim asserting breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, arguing, among other things, that any legal authorization they gave was to the retailer and to the original issuing bank who sold the cards to the defendant bank. However, the district court rejected this second theory and granted summary judgement in favor of the defendants, ruling that the debt cancellation product was assigned to the defendant bank and stating the class failed to show that the retailer did not honor the terms of the debt cancellation product because they received exactly what was described in their contracts. Nor were the defendants unjustly enriched “because their collection of [] fees was ‘legally justified.’”

On appeal, the 3rd Circuit, among other things, reviewed and rejected a third theory presented by the class, which blamed the district court for fundamentally misinterpreting their claims and asserted that the retailer failed to notify customers that it had stopped enforcing certain terms of the debt cancellation product and implemented a new refund policy, holding that this theory was not grounds for reversal because it was not argued in court. Moreover, the appellate court agreed with the district court that the retailer stopped enforcing its rights under amendments made to the debt cancellation product, but did not change the formal terms.